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Tamales for a good cause

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Phoenix woman, helpers hope to sell 15,000 handmade tamales by Monday to help fund a church mission in Mexico
Ilda Ortiz lifts the lid off fresh chicken tamales at her Phoenix home. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Salud Mendez, left, Ilda Ortiz and Marilyn Huesca make tamales at Ortiz’s outside kitchen in Phoenix. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Tamales are packaged and ready to sell. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Using her talent for cooking delicious Mexican food and her knack for bringing people together, Phoenix resident Ilda Ortiz is a woman with big goals.

Having made a monthly venture for the past nine months to a church mission named Hogar Casa Simeon, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Ortiz said she felt a strong need to do even more.

Home to elderly community members who are alone in the world, or who have been abandoned by their families, the mission provides a place to live as well as medical care.

Volunteers like Ortiz help cook, clean and provide various types of support for residents of the facility. Run entirely by volunteers and with donated funds, the facility is in dire need of funding to buy everything from adult diapers to medications, as well as money to finish the church portion of the building and install a garden for the seniors to enjoy time outdoors.

Launching her project last weekend, Ortiz plans to sell 15,000 tamales by Monday, to raise just over $31,000 entirely from hawking her husk-wrapped goodies. Rallying community volunteers and some fellow members of her church, Sacred Heart in Medford, she officially kicked off the weeklong project last Saturday.

By Wednesday, just four days later, Ortiz and her helpers — including at least one member of the mission who traveled from Mexico to help make tamales — had already assembled more than 10,000 pork and chicken tamales.

“Just 5,000 more,” Ortiz said with a grin Wednesday.

Originally from Santa Anna, California, Ortiz spent much of her childhood in Mexico and moved to the Rogue Valley when she was a teen. With a passion for “telling people about Jesus,” Ortiz said she came up with the idea while praying about wanting to help the people at Hogar Casa Simeon.

Like a finely tuned machine, Ortiz, her mother, Salud Mendez, and Sister Marilyn Huesca, who traveled to the Rogue Valley last week from Mexico to support the “15,000 Tamale Project,” spread the masa in cornhusks and methodically added meat filling, bundling a dozen tamales into Ziploc storage bags Wednesday afternoon.

Surrounded by orchards and her own large garden tucked between the freeway and her home along Highway 99, Ortiz, who speaks limited English, was all smiles but also emotional when she spoke of the place she most wanted to help.

Medford resident Selene Macias, Ortiz’s niece, said her aunt has a big heart and is always helping others.

“I asked her, when she started to do the prep, how did you come up with this idea? And she said she was at this retreat, and God put it on her heart,” Macias said.

“I told her, ‘That’s a lot of tamales!’”

Macias said $30,000 for a facility in Mexico will feel like a windfall for the impoverished area.

“It’s not like us, where we can make a lot of money. There, someone works all day long, and it’s worth maybe $10. It’s really hard,” she said.

“Thirty-thousand dollars worth of tamales will make a big difference for people there.”

Macias said her aunt and volunteers will sell the tamales by dozen and half-dozen — $25 and $12.50 — and even by single tamale if needed.

Spreading filling into dozens of masa-filled husks Wednesday, Ortiz said she had received as much as she hoped to do for the seniors in Jalisco.

“I receive more from doing this and from helping because I am speaking to the people about the Bible and doing something good. Bringing them happiness,” she said, tearing up.

“I want to do more to try and help. I prayed about putting my money into something to help. I hope we make more than 15,000 tamales.”

Tamales can be purchased — and volunteers can offer to help — by calling Ortiz at 541-842-0129.

For tamale lovers traveling between Phoenix and Talent, a big fluorescent pink sign will be posted along Highway 99, just south of Rising Sun Farms, throughout the weekend. Ortiz said supporters can donate directly to Hogar Casa Simeon by visiting any Wells Fargo Bank (Amigos Casa Simeon, 9060534774) or by donating extra money when buying tamales.

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.