The profane and racist letter, typewritten and postmarked December 26, surprised Emilia Flores when she returned to her Dallas taqueria from a Christmas visit to her mother in Mexico. She texted me a photo of the letter, which you can see below, soon after she received it. Its message is shocking, especially considering that it arrived in response to an act of charity.
Each winter since 2015, Flores has been putting out a rack for coats at her Taco Stop. A sign above it reads, “Are you cold? Take one. Do you want to help? Leave one.” Late last month, she and the program received national media attention, including from the Washington Post, cable news networks, and the Weather Channel.
It was inspired by a similar effort she saw during a trip to Mexico City: three coats hanging on nails hammered into a bridge under a similar sign in Spanish. “It just really touched my heart,” Flores says. “I thought, What a simple, great idea that we could all do. So I asked my guys to give me a sign, and we put it up. Had to clean out my closet and bring my own coats because those were the only ones that were going to be hanging there.” People started leaving coats the second day. “They would even take what they were wearing and give it.”
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Some days, the rack held just a few coats or a scarf knotted around the rod. Some days, it was packed. Flores soon added a second rack. Donation boxes that came to be jammed with gloves, scarves, hats, and thermal underwear were placed beneath the racks. Local TV news stations ran stories about it the second year, in 2016. I learned of it when I dropped by for a meal. Flores, a native of Durango, Mexico, and a practicing psychologist, happened to be there. I interviewed her and subsequently wrote about the program for the Dallas Observer.
Flores’s inspired a similar effort in London and at my friend Nick Zukin’s Mi Mero Mole taqueria in Portland, Oregon. “I thought it was a brilliant idea … We now are able to help hundreds of people a year with the program,” Zukin says. The Dallas community likewise continues to support Flores in her mission. First United Methodist Church in Richardson, for example, has donated three hundred coats at Taco Stop just in the last month.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that Flores has spurred others to good works, given what I’ve seen of her demonstrated commitment to helping others and keeping her word. In 2015, the year I first curated the annual Taco Libre festival in Dallas, she called me to say she would be late for vendor load-in. The reason? She was involved in a vehicular accident. I told her to go to the hospital. She didn’t listen to me. Instead, she showed up to the festival site with her crew, set up, and served tacos for the duration of the event. She was in visible pain, rigidly standing on her feet for several hours. Even as I urged her to leave and go see a doctor, Flores didn’t budge. She didn’t receive medical attention until the following day.
A couple of years later, she donated tacos to my friend and frequent taco travel partner Jon Daniel’s 24 Hours of Tacos fundraiser for Dallas-based Foundation 45’s free mental health counseling for people in the Dallas arts community. Flores is the embodiment of one my favorite expressions: “Tacos are a force for good.”
Which makes it heartbreaking that someone saw fit to send Flores such a disgusting letter. Still, she assures me that she remains undeterred. “There are people who are unhappy, no matter what you do, no matter who does it,” she says. “We do what we do, and it’s going to happen.”
If you would like to donate a coat, visit Taco Stop at 1900 Irving Boulevard in Dallas.