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In Long Beach, a Mujer-Owned Tortilla DIY Non-Profit Raises Money for L.A.’s Homeless and More

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n the kitchen of her Long Beach apartment, Sandy Wall is transforming masa into miracles.

Last January, the 24-year-old launched Pueblita Tortillas, a small non-profit enterprise supplying fresh, made-to-order corn tortillas to her L.A. community, while raising donation dollars for organizations in need.

Wall, who works full-time in television development, grew up in San Bernardino, learning to cook at the side of her mother and—more frequently, while mom was working—her older brother, George.

“Cooking is huge in my family,” she says. “It’s kind of like our love language.”

A move to Oceanside for college, and later Los Angeles, opened her eyes to Southern California’s massive houseless population and the stratum of systemic poverty fueling it.

“I never saw people who were houseless like that,” Wall recalls. “Growing up in a low-income area, it was an even playing field. We were all poor, but we had homes.”

Outside of her entertainment industry 9-to-5, Wall sought to do something about this growing social emergency, recognizing the thin line that threatens to separate Californians from the essentials of survival.

“If my mom had ever messed up, that could have been us in an instant,” she says. “That inspired me to start working with them more and to get to know them personally. I’m the kind of person who’d rather dive into something than look at it from the outside.”

Wall embraced volunteer work in her limited spare time, helping provide hot meals, organize clothing drives, and cook Mexican dishes for programs that help the houseless.

Meanwhile, she was using her position in the industry to join forces with YEA! (Young Entertainment Artists) and launch a Latine Task Force that provides resources for the Latinx community working in Hollywood.

Still, Wall wanted to do more for those who lack opportunity and shelter. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit—and between the protests this activist frequented—she grew introspective about her values, searching for another way to extend her hand.

“I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and get my toes in the water to help out the community,” she recalls. “2020 was a rough one.”

Photo by Christina Shook.

Locked up at home, one day her mother and she reminisced over the phone about Mexico, when mom began waxing nostalgically about the quick, casual corner tortillerías the family frequented on trips to visit Sandy’s abuelo in his pueblito of Alcaraces, Colima.

An idea came to Wall over the next few days: She could enrich her community by employing her love of cooking, making and selling fresh tortillas, then donating the profits to fund the causes she cares about. Pueblita was born.

She tapped the powers of Instagram and posted flyers at her neighborhood church to get the word out.

During Pueblita’s first month, Wall selected Manna Meals, a food donation program for the unhoused she had worked with at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, to be the first recipient of her donations.

“I was able to donate $250 based on only about a dozen packs of tortillas,” she says. “It wasn’t as large a number as I wanted, but wow, who knew tortillas could make a difference? I was like, ‘I’m gonna need a factory.’”

Each month, Wall will pick a different organization to donate to and encourages customers to tell her what causes they’d like to see be supported, as well.

Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

L.A. TACO ordered a dozen Pueblita Tortillas through DM one recent afternoon. At our agreed-upon reservation time, Wall met us outside of her place in the Alamitos Beach neighborhood, handing over a warm stack of white corn tortillas wrapped in steam-beaded plastic stamped in a Lotería-inspired logo of two entwined, California-shaped arms.

Medium-thick, tender, and redolent with the smell of hot corn, we devoured a few of the flavorful tortillas right away, before chauffeuring the rest home to prepare tacos for dinner. The soft tortillas plumped slightly with our blazing comal's kiss, before bearing the weight of an overindulgence of ingredients.

Wall interchangeably sources both yellow and white masa that she sources from local Mexican supermarkets, usually Northgate Market. She uses a steel Tor-Mex press to flatten her laboriously kneaded balls of dough into flat full moons. Each dozen takes her about 60 to 90 minutes, from the kneading to the finishing touch on her comal. All tortillas are made to-order.

Though her reach may be small at the moment—customers are predominantly Long Beach-based but range from all over—she notes how many people aren’t accustomed to tortillas beyond the flavorless output of the massive masa conglomerates helping to devastate Mexico’s agricultural economy.

“One thing I’ve learned is how so few people don’t know what fresh tortillas taste like,” Wall says. “I have a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you’re selling Guerrero?’ And I’m like, ‘No, what?! Of course not.’ Then they taste the flavor, the thickness of it, and how it compliments certain dishes, and they’re like ‘wow!’”

Photo by Christina Shook.

In March and April, Wall is teaming up with nearby Urban Reset and LBC Resources to raise funds to buy ten tablets, plus backpacks and school supplies, for students who need them in a joint effort they call #MissionPossible.

Citing Homeboy Industries as a big influence, Wall is just getting started in using her cooking to affect change in California.

Wall, who also makes local deliveries and will sometimes bring Pueblita to other cities, is proof that one committed person alone can make a difference to their community, as well as additional evidence of the power that Mexican cooking has to transform lives.

She dreams of a point when Pueblita can support staff spreading her tortillas throughout the city, exponentially increasing her ability to help non-profits beyond what she and her boyfriend can do alone.

“At the end of the day, I’m not trying to make a living off of this, this is just my passion project that keeps me motivated to do the work,” she says. “The only costs I save for myself are literally to pay for expenses. It’s not really for me, it’s for everyone else.”

Her ultimate ten-year goal is to open a restaurant with a full menu and the same M.O. of giving back to others. Big brother George has already been told he will have to report for chef duty at that time.

Wall also hopes to someday go beyond donations, using whatever agency she possesses to directly work with and fund organizations that create progressive legislation to help people in need.

“I’m a doer,” Wall says. “I know money helps a lot, but I really want to get behind the nitty-gritty so we can help people on the streets, help renters, make food more affordable, and things like that. So we can see the actual change in our communities right away.”

Photo by Christina Shook.

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