“We strive to treat everyone with dignity and compassion,” shares lifelong Imperial Beach resident Regina Gamboa, the co-founder of the Magnolia Project, an innovative concept for helping individuals and families with food insecurity, that started in January 2023 in Imperial Beach. With a lot of prayer, a group of 42 volunteers, six of whom are part of the “power team,” Regina and her husband James are all in, often funding needed items from their own pockets. Several of the helpers have been her lifelong friends. She looks for volunteers that have a “servant’s compassionate heart to serve the community.”
Magnolia Project has a welcoming ambiance, with fresh produce highlighted in the middle, and other essentials lining the walls in an organized fashion. When asked how Magnolia Project differs from other food banks, Regina shared that she built it based on her own past experiences as a single mom on food stamps and also while distributing generic food boxes during the pandemic. Striving for a more positive experience, she created a space that emulated a store experience, rather than having people stand in line. The goal is to empower people and let them make choices, rather than just receive a pre-packaged box. Appointments to shop are encouraged and patrons are welcome, regardless of income. Cold bag items are also offered, like a variety of proteins, deli items, milk, eggs, and more, when available.
The pantry at Magnolia Project was not designed as a store in which to stock up for the long haul, but rather a resource to help those in need to get through to their next paycheck. Regina notes that one in four adults and children in the area are suffering from food insecurity. Often, military families and others who have a job but find it hard to make ends meet as costs rise, need an extra hand to stretch their resources.
Magnolia Project started with a list of 32 families, and has now grown to 1500, with an estimated 720 people receiving help each month. And that number is increasing by 12 to 15 new families monthly. Volunteers connect with clients personally in the store and get to know their preferences. With an estimated 69 percent of their clients being seniors and 42 percent of Hispanic descent, volunteers strive to steer them towards nutritious food options, especially those with health issues like diabetes. For example, suggesting brown rice, rather than white rice, for glycemic level control. Building relationships also includes knowing about pets and asking if food is needed for them as well. Hygiene, cleaning, canned goods, goldfish crackers, sweet treats, and other essential products are also available. “Project Stork” offers diapers, wipes, and pads for families, with distributions on the third Saturday of the month. No appointment is needed, and Project Stork is hoping to continue its resource of offering new baby clothes.
In the past, Magnolia Project has offered an array of healthy nutritional classes like making tortillas, kombucha, tasty snacks, and other healthy recipes. Without additional funding, this has been put on hold for now, but will hopefully resume to help clients develop healthy habits.
A nurse by profession, Regina has always loved to cook and be in the kitchen, where she learned from her now 97-year-old father, a retired Navy chef who made meals for President Johnson aboard the USS Sequoia. Previously, she and her husband started Project 1:1 to focus on feeding the homeless population in an individualized manner. It took her two years to get the needed permits to open Magnolia Project, and then not having time to do both, she entrusted that work to others that continues as The Feed. The organizations work collaboratively, when needed.
Food rescue is tackled daily by volunteers on a route in the “big orange van” that includes picking up items from Costco, Vons, Aldi, Smart and Final, and Specialty Produce. Each morning volunteers stock the shelves to prepare for customers. They are working toward a policy of zero waste. Even international foods, from Asian to Mexican, Kosher to Middle Eastern, and more are available. Northgate Market just came on as a food partner and will help them build these sections. Magnolia Pantry also has an alternative section for those with dietary issues.
Volunteers are currently needed to help with picking up food in the mornings before noon on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from Costco, Vons on Saturn, and Smart and Final in Coronado and Chula Vista. Helpers need to have a clean DMV record and be able to lift at least 25 pounds. Although there is no pay, you will be allowed to choose from a great selection of groceries for yourself or somebody you know in need. You can choose to cover one store or take a full route. Please text 619-227-7222 for details.
Regina has received several grants in the past to keep Magnolia Project going, but those have come to an end, and she is looking for additional funding sources to be able to stay open in the new year. They are also hoping to be able to sell four branded desserts to raise some of the needed funds in the future. Mary Washington, a volunteer at Magnolia Pantry recently baked breads as a fundraiser and remarked, “It gives me joy and puts a smile in my heart to be able to give my time to such a great cause. I love the fact that Magnolia gives people a choice and dignity.”
Shopping hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, from noon to 4 pm, by appointment. This charming non-profit pantry is free to those who need it in the South Bay. Regina is hoping to connect with anyone who can assist them in getting the needed funding to continue. Magnolia Project 1:1 is located at 633 9th Street in Imperial Beach. For more information, please call 619-777-6723, and be sure to check out projectoneone.org.
Project 1:1 “Each One Reach One, Each One Love One”