Pilar's Tamales owner achieves nonprofit status for philanthropic foundation launched in 2019

Sylvia Nolasco-Rivers, owner and founder of Ann Arbor-based restaurant Pilar’s Tamales, has been organizing humanitarian fundraisers since 2001, when her home country of El Salvador experienced a devastating earthquake. 

“I said to my husband and my mother at the time, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to have to do something,’” Nolasco-Rivers says. “I made some phone calls — a little food, a little music — and it was such a beautiful gathering of the community.”

She continued partnering with both local and international organizations for similar events (always catered with fresh tamales from Pilar’s) over the next two decades, officially founding Pilar’s Foundation in 2019. The foundation was granted 501(c)(3) status by the IRS last fall, which has opened several doors for the organization and its partners.

Nolasco-Rivers says the location for the foundation's next event was made possible through the new status. A drive-through meal pickup to raise funds for Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County's (JFS) Afghan refugee resettlement and integration program will take place on March 27 at Zion Lutheran Church, 1501 W. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor.

“I remembered talking with a member of their congregation who knew about my work,” Nolasco-Rivers says. “He said, ‘If you ever become a nonprofit organization, we would be able to host your events for you,’ and that stayed with me.”

A one-time refugee herself, Nolasco-Rivers believes in the power of community aid. 

“My family came to this country in the early ‘80s as refugees from El Salvador, so I certainly know the feeling of coming into a whole new country and home with new people, culture, and food, and it’s scary,” she says. “But with love and support and friendly faces, it’s possible to find yourselves re-rooting. That’s why this work with JFS felt very close to all of our hearts.”

Nolasco-Rivers encourages those interested in volunteering or donating to learn more at the Pilar’s Foundation website, but she also notes that there are many other ways to make a community more welcoming.

“Do what you can and do what you're able to do, but the biggest thing is: do it with your heart,” Nolasco-Rivers says. “I really love what I do and I feel really blessed to do work that fills my heart with joy and feeds people good food.”

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at sabinebickfordbrown@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Pilar’s Foundation.