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UNION GROVE — Tony Stephens Jr. spends every weekend grocery shopping, meal prepping and cooking as a way to provide healthy meals to his neighbors in Union Grove, who are in need.

Tony's Community Meals
Smoked BBQ pulled pork on a homemade bun with bacon mac and cheese. – Credit: Tony Stephens Jr.

The resident, who moved to the area about three years ago, has taken his love for cooking and pays it forward through what he crafts in his kitchen.

Pandemic sparks idea

Stephens, who works 12-hour days during the second shift as a full-time CNC machinist, began what is now known as Tony’s Community Meals through work.

Meal prepping has always been a part of his routine and during the pandemic, he found himself cooking for his coworkers due to the difficult times.

Even with cooking for himself and others, there were still meals that had gone uneaten.

“At the end of the week, I’d have a bunch of meals. I don’t wanna throw them away, so I started giving them out,” explains Tony.

Tony began paying it forward to his neighbors.

“I started seeing people in the Union Grove page, people that needed them, so I started giving them to them, rather than throwing in my freezer, or throwing them away,” says Tony.

From a few meals now to about 100 meals a week, Tony’s quest to help others has reached further than he imagined.

Tony's Community Meals
Homemade pepperoni pizza. – Credit: Tony Stephens Jr.

At least half of the meals are provided free of charge, and people donate to cover the costs of ordering a meal for themselves for the other half, regardless if they are experiencing tough times or not.

“My objective isn’t to feed as many people as I can. I’m trying to get as many people as I can to get meals that they normally can’t buy for themselves,” shares the organizer about his mission.

Community pitches in

Tony’s Community Meals don’t focus on Tony, but rather the community is uplifted through this endeavor.

“Cooking is a stress reliever for me. So the fact that I can cook a lot (means a lot)” to the organizer.

Tony's Community Meals
Bacon-wrapped meatloaf. – Credit: Tony Stephens Jr.

While Stephens may be the one working hard in the kitchen, others in Union Grove have stepped up to provide for the village.

The town is pitching in to help by giving what they can.

“This town is just amazing,” he shares.

Tony credits Piggly Wiggly, especially Keith Peterson, for providing proteins for meals. The local bowling alley has given funds so that Tony’s act of service doesn’t cost him anything.

Some people have donated ingredients, cash, and even time to help distribute meals. Teens in the area are stepping up to make desserts and gain volunteer opportunities.

It’s not just about providing for those who may be going through a tough time, but also giving everyone the opportunity to taste his craft and be a part of something good.

Meals with purpose

Everything he makes comes from real ingredients and is made from scratch, which can be hard to come by these days.

“Everything I make is from scratch, as much as I can I make my own…ketchup…I make my own, mustard…I make my own, barbecue sauce, pasta…I make my own,” says Tony. “I don’t like using processed food. I don’t like using box, canned, frozen.”

The meals he makes have a purpose in addition to being unique and crafted with care and community in mind.

Another thing that sets Tony’s Community Meals apart from other resources is that he has made just about everything.

Tony has provided meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some of the more memorable meals include prime rib, chicken shawarma, stir fry, smoked pulled pork and brisket, jambalaya, enchilada lasagna, traditional lasagna, and more.

Tony’s Community Meals is about providing healthy and delicious meals for those who might otherwise not be able to afford this style of from-scratch cooking.

Tony's Community Meals
A lasagna meal with salad, bread, dressing and something sweet. – Credit: Tony Stephens Jr.

Try Tony’s meals

From sauces to entrees, his meals are available to anyone interested.

Donation values are set for the different meals. Those who can pay it forward to cover the cost of the meal can enjoy the meals offered weekly. In addition, those who are in need are welcome to order without paying the donation price.

People in Union Grove are welcome to browse the menu that he posts on his Facebook page. The menu is often shared in The Grove Community Group as well.

Tony's Community Meals
Pulled pork baked potatoes. – Credit: Tony Stephens Jr.

“If you see something you need, order. If you see something you want to try, donate,” says Tony.

Either way, a meal will be given out and a tummy will be filled.

Meals can be ordered by messaging Tony through his Facebook page.

Want to give? Tony is always accepting items for ingredients. He is also in need of a deep freezer and refrigerator at this time.

Donate via Venmo or Zelle @Tony-StephensJr or by connecting with him to arrange other payment options.

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