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Youth On Their Own hosts virtual luncheon with make-at-home tamales

Youth On Their Own hosts virtual luncheon with make-at-home tamales

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El Charro Executive Chef Partner Gary Hickey, above, showcases a Family Tamalada Box during filming of video for the Youth On Their Own 2020 Virtual Fall Luncheon, which will be live-streamed at noon on Nov. 8.

There’s more than one way to host a fall fundraising luncheon in the middle of a pandemic, and supporters of Youth On Their Own plan to highlight virtual technology with home-delivered tamales and sides from El Charro during the YOTO Family Sticks Together 2020 Virtual Fall Luncheon at noon, Sunday, Nov. 8.

Gary Hickey, El Charro executive chef partner, is excited to celebrate the fundraiser with his video walk-through of meal prep for the “Family Tamalada Boxes” that will be aired during the upcoming live-streamed event, which will also feature stories of YOTO graduates and supporters.

“I will be going through the box and pulling out ingredients and going through how to prepare the tamales with Sonoran rice, refried beans and salsa. It will be really fun for people to put together and we are seeing lots of positive reactions from people who have been stuck at home,” Hickey said. “There is not much entertainment available right now and we think that the opportunity to put together one of Tucson’s iconic dishes will be well-received.”

He said the Tamalada Boxes are based on the concept of El Charro’s Tamale of the Month cyber company. The subscription-based program offers specialty tamales for home shipping; for the luncheon, Tamalada Boxes will be available for order through Monday, Nov. 2, and will be home-delivered prior to the virtual event along with special activity kits to show YOTO pride.

For Hickey, the project holds personal meaning: He was a YOTO student in 1991 and 1992.

“I came from a broken household. My mother worked a lot and did the best she could, but I was a rambunctious teen and ended up being homeless for quite a bit of time,” he said.

After dropping out of school, he was approached by Ann Young, the founder of YOTO, who was a counselor at Amphitheater High School.

“That led to me returning to school to get a stipend and moving in with friends. I was very young and am glad to have been part of YOTO,” said Hickey.

He also credits YOTO for helping him to grow his career as a chef.

Hickey is happy to pay the philosophy of food philanthropy forward: In addition to support of YOTO and organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, El Charro is one of several local restaurants partnering with Make a Wish Arizona to raise funds through a four-week online cooking seminar (

Hickey said the charitable projects align with El Charro’s philosophy of giving back to the community that has helped it grow into one of Tucson’s most successful restaurant businesses.

“El Charro always been a big supporter of many youth organizations like YOTO, so it was a no-brainer to be involved this year and virtual events seem the way to go. There are still at-risk youth and kids in need, and if they don’t have classrooms to go to, what are they doing? We have to work to keep them in school,” Hickey said.

To facilitate student engagement and fulfill its mission of supporting high school graduation and continued success for homeless students, YOTO has increased its stipend for high school students to $160 monthly; additionally, it distributed more than $200,000 in emergency support to students over the summer.

Bethany Neumann, YOTO director of development, said flexible financial assistance has been particularly vital to students who require support with cell phone, internet bills and other necessities during school closures.

“The vast majority of our students — about 85 to 90% — are online only. Most of them are staying with extended family or friends and couch surfing, so they connect with school and YOTO from laptops or phones. We get applications clearly written completely on iPhones or Samsungs,” said Neumann.

Neumann said YOTO was well-poised when the pandemic hit since it had just invested in a new online portal through which students can enroll and access services and resources. However, she said that the closure of schools has impacted its ability to logistically connect with students through school “liaisons.”

“Schools are also the venue through which we give out stipend checks and distribute mini mall supplies (basic needs such as food and toiletries), so we have had to rethink how we distribute services, which would have been so much harder had we not started the portal in February,” said Neumann.

Additionally, she said students have felt a loss of the “family” that YOTO provides through human connections.

“One of the most important things for these youth is to have knowledge that people are thinking of them and want them to succeed and go on. No one has an eye on these kids and they have to figure out how to keep the momentum going all on their own, which is tough,” Neumann said.

Ultimately, supporters hope the upcoming event will raise at least $100,000 for the organization.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at

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