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Des Moines catering company turns into nonprofit to combat hunger

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Angie Ramos turned her Des Moines catering company into a nonprofit to feed children in the area a home-cooked meal after school. Along with eating the food, they also get to play games and grab other necessities on the way out.

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One day a young girl walked into Angie Ramos’ catering business asking for a job. She had her siblings with her. Ramos could tell they were hungry, so instead of a job application (because the girl was much too young), Ramos offered them food.

A similar event happened shortly after. This time, two young men came into her business asking to use the restroom and for some water. Ramos gave them water and permission to use the restroom, but also asked if they were hungry. After hesitating, they also admitted they were hungry.

And that’s when her idea sparked.

"And then it just trickled from there. There's more people to come through here. So I said: 'Just a wait a minute. I can do something,'" Ramos said. "It really does cost little to cook homemade in bulk. So why not? Let's feed everybody. I'm not saying everybody, I can never help everybody. But the fact is, I can make a slight dent."

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A group of middle school boys play Jenga while waiting for 'Miss Angie' to serve them food after school. Ramos has a rule: all kids at Hot Tamale after school must put their phones away in paper envelopes. The boys greeted her, grabbed an envelope, and made themselves at home.

Ramos recently turned her Hot Tamale Catering company into a nonprofit to offer a safe space and a healthy meal to kids in Des Moines’ southside. She changes the menu every day, but one thing stays consistent: she always cooks from scratch with only fresh ingredients. No junk.

Some of the stories the children come in with can be hard to hear, especially since Ramos remembers her experiences with hunger as a child.

"I think that's what builds my strength right now...It's a little gesture, but this little gesture that I can do for the community, it's going to go way, way, far, and for the simple fact the child is going to grow up and remember the moments they had here," she said.

The dozens of children who come to her shop every Monday and Friday can eat, play games and take a few personal hygiene items if they need on their way out. Ramos sets out little things from toothbrushes and toothpaste to deodorant and feminine products. She doesn't ask where the children live or what their economic status is. She only cares about their stomachs being full.

"We're striving, we have a mission to not only break barriers, but break the insecurities of hunger and hygiene," she said.

Ramos knows some children and families don't have time to stay or can't make it during her open hours, so she packs food for them to go.

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A favorite for kids coming in to see Ramos after school is her baked macaroni and cheese. She always tries to switch up the menu--going from Mexican cuisine to Italian to Chinese. "Those homemade foods stick to their bellies, not junk," Ramos clarified.

The fan favorite right now among the kids who stop by is her baked macaroni and cheese, but she does take requests in advance. The kids asked "Miss Angie" if they could have a nice steak dinner one night. And she obliged, along with fresh fruits and garlic bread. It takes Ramos approximately four hours every week to prepare all the meals. But she said it's worth the extra time to give the kids a sense of consistency.

"I'm not going to fail them you know? It's going to get to the point where I got to run my business and take care of them. So financially you know, you're thinking: 'Well, why are you doing this Angie because maybe you're struggling?' Well I'm sorry but I'm going to find a way. And I have always been able to find a way," she said teary-eyed.

She thanked the people who helped her get the nonprofit off the ground including her original Hot Tamale customers and other groups in Des Moines with similar goals.

Ramos said one challenge is expecting children to come to her—so she has plans to expand her services to bring food directly to the schools and offer other programming.