When Trico Electric Cooperative’s Jaime Esparza made a service call at a regional food bank in Arizona, the nonprofit was expecting a tip or two on saving energy for its new cold-storage freezer.
Instead, the big-hearted journeyman lineman at the Marana, Arizona, co-op gave the nonprofit much more, earning him a “hometown hero” award from a national utility manufacturer. A referral to the co-op’s COVID-19 pandemic assistance program and Esparza’s gift of time helped the Sahuarita Food Bank save thousands of dollars amid higher demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The award has motivated me to go on and do more,” said Esparza, a veteran of the U.S. Army, Marines and Air Force. “We all have to strive and help out each other.”
The food bank acquired a larger cold storage freezer this summer to handle extra donations as a result of the pandemic. When Esparza told the food bank the appliance possibly needed a transformer to operate, the nonprofit faced the prospect of dipping into its own budget to pay for materials and labor.
Esparza met with Carlos Valles, the food bank’s executive director. “His main goal was to set a new 40-foot freezer into place, but he didn’t know the voltage system at the Sahuarita facility,” which turned out to be lower than the new appliance’s specifications.
Esparza took the case to co-workers, engineers who understood the scope of the problem, and then suggested that Valles apply for a co-op COVID assistance grant, a new program to help local groups. The co-op’s board of directors approved a $5,000 grant to cover the cost of the transformer. As for the labor, Esparza took care of the installation himself, returning to the food bank during his free time to install the unit.
“I never expected anything beyond some advice on various ways we could get our new cooler connected to the power grid,” said Valles. “All we expected was a little feedback to save a little money, and it evolved into something totally unexpected. He sent us up the chain of command at Trico to see what it could do for the food bank.”
Esparza’s involvement continued when he met with inspectors to make sure the job was done right.
A friend of Esparza’s nominated him for the national “hometown hero” award program at Koppers Utility & Industrial Products, which recognizes co-op who’ve helped others in their communities during the pandemic. The award comes with a $500 contribution to the charity of the recipient’s choice. Esparza didn’t have to think twice. He chose the food bank.
“This was a team project and could not have been completed without all those involved. I hope this inspires others to help people in need.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.