Tacos4Life is a growing taco chain with the goal of curbing world hunger by donating a meal for each taco or entrée sold to a child threatened with starvation — similar to Toms shoes but with tacos.
“Tacos4Life is a taco shop on a mission,” cofounder Austin Samuelson told The Baptist Paper.
The restaurant serves 14 kinds of chef-inspired craft tacos ranging from classics like fajita chicken to Korean BBQ steak and Hawaiian shrimp, and everything is made from scratch.
For every taco, salad, rice bowl or quesadilla the restaurant sells, they donate 24 cents to Feed My Starving Children, which provides a meal for a child in need.
‘Statistics that rocked our world’
The idea began in 2009 when Samuelson and his wife Ashton, graduates of Ouachita Baptist University, heard a representative of World Vision share “a few statistics that rocked our world,” Samuelson said.
What mainly got their attention was that, at the time, 18,000 children per day were dying of starvation and malnutrition worldwide.
“The second thing he said was that our planet produces enough food to feed everyone. It’s a distribution problem. It’s an awareness problem,” Samuelson continued. “That led into the third thing he said that really hit home. He said if we as believers, as Christians, followers of Christ, would do something about this, we could help this number go to zero.”
The couple started sponsoring children through World Vision, but knew they needed to do more. Toms had made popular the one-for-one model, and Ashton loved to cook. Following God’s leadership, in 2011 they opened a pizza shop, which turned into the first Tacos4Life in Conway, Arkansas in 2014.
Now the chain of 18 restaurants operates in six states: Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Those in Arkansas and one location in Tennessee are corporate-owned, but all others are franchises, and more franchisees are needed.
Tacos4Life developed their own technology to track in real time every entrée sold, and each week they send a check to Feed My Starving Children for the corresponding donation. At this point, Tacos4Life has provided more than 20 million meals for struggling children.
The rice-based meals include vitamins, soy protein and dehydrated vegetables.
“They’re scientifically formulated so that if that were the only meal a child got in a day, it has all the nutrients in it for them to be able to continue on and develop mentally and physically,” Samuelson explained.
In countries where HIV is prevalent, the rice-based meals enable children to “take their medicine and for it to be able to work because they’re not just eating hollow carbs,” he added.
Feed My Starving Children assembles the meals and distributes them to more than 70 organizations ranging from Compassion International to a missionary couple with an orphanage in Guatemala.
“Their goal is that they want to get the food to groups that are on the ground, that are committed. They’re not dropping food from an airplane and saying, ‘Good luck,’” Samuelson asserted. “We try to get it to organizations that are doing holistic things in the community. Most of them are using it as a means to be able to plant churches or tell people about the love of Jesus.”
Hunger also is a problem in the United States, Samuelson acknowledged, but God has called Tacos4Life specifically to address children in places where they may not live another day if they don’t receive food.
‘Until God tells us to stop, we can’t stop’
He said a memory that motivates the couple comes from a trip to Swaziland (now Eswatini) several years ago.
“There were about 150 children there that day, and I was scooping and Ashton was handing out and talking to the kiddos,” he recalled. “We were about halfway through this big bowl of Feed My Starving Children rice, and I’m looking at them thinking the food is going down faster than the line is going down.”
The children line up youngest to oldest, girls first and then boys, he remembered, and he stood that day looking into the eyes of 10-13-year-old boys with no food to give them.
“We were able to scrounge around, and we bought some stuff,” he went on. “There was kind of a banana hut down the road, but it was white bread and bananas, not a nutritious meal, not a warm meal. I just remember Ashton and I looking at each other with tears running down our faces saying, ‘Until God tells us to stop, we can’t stop.’”
For more information visit tacos4life.com. Each location raises about 1,000 meals a day.