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Serving up tacos for a good cause

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Guillermo “Memo” Sanchez was able to fulfill two dreams after his family was chosen to receive a Habitat for Humanity house.

The restaurant owner and father of two had long struggled to save enough money to buy a decent home.

He was able to pay for the Habitat for Humanity house through his own work on the home plus affordable mortgage payments. Finally able to set money aside, Sanchez opened his own restaurant in Medford.

“I was always hoping to have a nice home for my kids. Thanks to Habitat, I was selected and I got my nice home. With affordable payments, I had the chance to save money and open this restaurant. Instead of one dream, it became two dreams,” Sanchez said.

On Tuesday night, he helped raise money to make other families’ dreams come true by hosting a taco fundraiser at his restaurant, Memo’s Kitchen on Court Street.

It’s the second year Sanchez has used his chef skills to raise money for Habitat for Humanity Rogue Valley. Last year’s Taco Tuesday brought in $2,000.

“Memo has realized his dream of becoming a restaurateur, and now he’s paying it back so additional people coming up behind him can experience the same opportunity to grow,” said Brandon Thoms, programs and operations director for Habitat for Humanity Rogue Valley.

People who are chosen for a Habitat home contribute 500 hours of work building houses, volunteering at events or serving at the nonprofit’s ReStore home improvement shops. Friends, family, church members and others can help log hours, but the adults in the chosen family must contribute 200 hours of work, Thoms said.

“They really have a vested interest and it creates a real pride of ownership,” he said. “They know where the boards are in the house, and they know where the water lines run. They can really say they did it and really take care of it.”

Families are chosen because they lack adequate, affordable housing. Some are heavily burdened by rent, don’t have enough space for their family members or live in substandard conditions. They have to be able to afford mortgage payments that cover the basic costs of building their home, Thoms said.

Habitat for Humanity’s team spirit was on display during the Taco Tuesday fundraiser.

Staff members and volunteers served as the wait staff, shuttling street-style tacos to waiting customers.

“It’s a really fun time for us. And our customers are really patient with us and understanding as we kind of bobble a bit,” said Denise James, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Rogue Valley.

The simplified taco menu plus last year’s experience helped the fundraiser volunteers, most of whom lacked restaurant experience, she said.

Sanchez, on the other hand, has worked his way up from dishwasher to chef to manager to owner in the restaurant industry.

He came to the United States from Mexico in 1995 and settled in the Rogue Valley.

Sanchez eventually gained American citizenship, taking his pledge of loyalty to the United States in a ceremony in Salem.

“It was a beautiful feeling,” he recalled.

Sanchez and his children were selected for a Habitat home in 2010. With the help of family, he logged hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, while also continuing to work in the restaurant industry. The family moved into their new home in 2011.

“Finally when you have something nice, something brand new, it’s just like a gift,” Sanchez said.

He said everyone associated with Habitat for Humanity works hard during the Taco Tuesday fundraisers — and all year to provide homes for families in need. Sanchez said he’s always impressed with how people of all ages and from all walks of life pitch in to help.

“If you go to the construction site and you see people working, it’s just amazing. They do a lot for the community,” Sanchez said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Brandon Thoms of Habitat for Humanity serves tacos to customers at Memo’s Kitchen in downtown Medford Tuesday evening.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Brandon Thoms and Denise James of Habitat for Humanity serves tacos to customers at Memo’s Kitchen in downtown Medford Tuesday evening.