“I Don’t Feel Alone Anymore”

December 21, 2020

“I miss everything….the food…. the people,” Nelson Toala says wistfully.

He’s talking about the job he loved – the one that allowed him the opportunity to cook for two U.S. Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and the same job that provided him the means to buy a home.

Mr. Toala spent 15 years as a chef at Austin’s historic Driskill Hotel.  His cooking skills, rock-solid work ethic and friendly demeanor made him a popular employee.  Landing that job was the final step in a long journey to financial security.  When he and his wife, Maria, came to the U.S. from their native Ecuador, Mr. Toala didn’t speak English- but he was determined to learn.  Working two jobs, he took English classes at night.  After that, he went to culinary school at Austin Community College and eventually landed the job at the Driskill where his employers quickly noticed his hard work.  He absolutely thrived in the hotel’s kitchen.  “We used to prepare quail and pack it with cream cheese and different herbs and then we’d bake it.  Oh my gosh, that was my favorite,” he recalls.

But in March, the pandemic forced the Driskill to furlough many of its employees, including Mr. Toala.  Shortly thereafter, he suffered a stroke that left him disabled and unable to work.  “That changed my life completely. Now I cannot take care of my basic needs myself.  It’s not easy for a person who is used to working,” says Mr. Toala who was the primary provider for his family which includes his two granddaughters, ages 10 and 12.

Fortunately, Meals on Wheels Central Texas was there to help.  “The meals that they have been sending to my door make a huge difference because that is the meal we use every day to survive,” he says.

And our assistance goes well beyond home-delivered meals. “They have been providing me with a huge range of social services including a case manager,” he explains. We also helped him with his house payments and his utility bills through funds provided by BSS Plus, a collaboration of 12 local nonprofits, including MOWCTX, dedicated to housing people who are experiencing homelessness, and preventing homelessness for residents at risk of losing their housing. 

Mr. Toala is currently going through physical rehabilitation in hopes he can one day return to the Driskill.  “That’s my dream…to go back and work again.”  Until that day, though, he takes comfort in the help he receives from MOWCTX: “I don’t feel alone anymore.  I feel like my family and I are in good hands.”

MOWCTX client Nelson Toala and his family are among the Central Texans featured in this year’s Austin American Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign. The event is a partnership between the newspaper’s Editorial and Community Development departments and introduces readers to Central Texans in need and the non-profit agencies that provide services to them. To help the Toala family this holiday season, shop their wish list below.