Imelda Hartley Makes Happy Tamales to Make a Difference

Monday, June 6, 2022
Phoenix College student Imelda Hartley has received an grant to support her business, and community.
Phoenix College student Imelda Hartley has received an grant to support her business, and community.


Phoenix College student Imelda Hartley has received a $5000 business development grant to grow her business, Imelda's Happy Tamales.

Student Imelda Hartley has received funding to support her business, and the community. Through a partnership with the National Urban League and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the initiative delivers education, access and aid to Black and Hispanic small businesses. The grant was announced in a May 13 letter from the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Founded by The ODP Corporation, Elevate Together is supported by a coalition of like-minded companies with a mission to strengthen our local communities, foster job creation, and close the racial wealth gap.

Hartley says the grant was “a big surprise for me!” But it may just be the start. She has applied for other grants of up to $65,000 with her goal to buy a food truck to make her socially conscious business more mobile.

The mission of Happy Tamales according to Hartley is to create a social impact helping victims of domestic violence. “We’re not just selling tamales,” Hartley says, “We sell hope” and through our tamales we empower and transform lives.

It all started with making tamales for friends and family at Christmas. Hartley was soon taking orders. Her kids took some to school and their teachers wanted to place orders. It really took off as a business following a social media posting by Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard touting Happy Tamales as a success story of Consular Entrepreneurship Program for Women of Mexican Origin Abroad (PCEME).

Soon, Hartley will be making Happy Tamales for a much larger audience – at Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, AZ February 12, 2023.

That’s right. Imelda Happy Tamales is one of 220 minority-owned small businesses chosen as an approved supplier of the Super Bowl. The opportunity was offered by the Super Bowl LVII Business Connect program, a supplier diversity initiative designed to promote equitable and inclusive procurement practices at NFL events.

Hartley says she endured domestic violence for twenty years. “I just didn’t know how to get out of it, but once I learned about the co-dependency cycle and I empowered myself I did it,” she said. “Domestic Violence is like a spinning wheel that just continues spinning in different cycles. One day he would take me to the movies and buy me flowers, and the next day he would beat me up. This is called the honeymoon phase Only that there is not a honeymoon at all. I learned about how domestic violence affects children’s emotional, mental, and physical health. I started getting worried about my children mental well-being and decided to end the abusive relationship with my partner. Now I take adversity as life lessons I can use.”

Happy Tamales gives back more than just the proceeds from tamale sales. It provides employment and connects victims with other resources such as housing, child care and mentoring. She’s starting the Imelda Hartley Foundation to provide these services directly. In April, Hartley presented at a “Bring Change to Mind” mental health workshop for high school students. Her session was titled “Collaborating on Campus.” Hartley has a great vast of knowledge on different topics regarding mental health and she loves sharing it. She believes knowledge should be shared and not kept to yourself.

Hartley’s social activism was born in a PC political science class taught by Dr. Albert Celoza. She recalls that the students were challenged to get involved whatever their philosophy or cause was and that they were shown how to get involved. Especially during Modeling UN.

Soon she was taking small business startup classes and came across a small business incubator called Seed Spot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering diverse, impact-driven entrepreneurs who are using their business ventures to create social change locally and around the world. And the Consular Entrepreneurship Program for Women of Mexican Origin Abroad offered classes in her native Spanish that gave her a sense of belonging she hadn’t found elsewhere

Hartley’s philosophy is “Start first with your community.” She is a single mother of 14 kids, and she enlists them in her social outreach. “We fed over 200 meals to homeless people on New Year’s Eve, complete with cookies and hot chocolate, she recalls. They called them ’happy meals’ I know exactly what is the feeling of being homeless. Years ago, I’ve slept in my car or under a tree and drank water from restaurant water fountains, so I know exactly how it feels.”

“During the pandemic, we donated gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, disposable gowns and infrared thermometers in Mexico,” Hartley recounted.

Hartley is a newly elected student senator at PC, so her social outreach efforts will soon be expanding on campus. She will soon be implementing a program once she starts the talking with NAMI about distributing what she calls “PC Care Bears” imprinted with “You’re not alone” to help students battling anxiety and depression.

Hartley is fostering her approach at home, too. Her son Ernesto Garcia is going to London soon for a modeling job, one daughter is an aspiring architect who’s already winning competitions, and another overcame her shyness by speaking to a group of over 150 fellow students.

Hartley credits PC with teaching her the importance of volunteerism, civic engagement and community service. She singled out her social work teacher Sandra Leal, whose class required forty hour of volunteer work. Hartley plans to continue her social work studies through NAU online. And soon she will start a project inside prison to empower incarcerated females with a special program that she developed.

“Never stop reaching out to someone,” Hartley encourages.