International Women’s Day Spotlight: Regina Gamboa from The Magnolia Project

Published On: March 7th, 2023By Categories: Partnerships4 min read

March is Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day on March 8 celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The Feeding San Diego network is made up of many exceptional women who put their whole hearts and minds into their work to transform lives and the community for the better. Here is one of their stories.

A New Project Brings New Hope

In the city of Imperial Beach, just 20 minutes south of San Diego, Regina Gamboa has transformed a former Italian restaurant into The Magnolia Project. What was once an empty storefront is now home to a beautifully designed people’s choice pantry where community members can shop for groceries and household items at no cost. Regina has a long history of serving her community as executive director and founder of Project 1:1, a non-profit organization that recognizes the needs of our underserved communities, including the homeless population. Since 2008, Project 1:1’s mission has been “Each One Reach One, Each One Love One.”

Regina Gamboa

Regina Gamboa

“Project 1:1 is my non-profit. And Magnolia is our new baby,” Regina shares excitedly. “The Magnolia Project is our people’s choice pantry. People can come in and shop for items they want, can’t afford, or are curious about. It started during the pandemic. I worked for 14 years with the homeless with Project 1:1. I’m not about money. I’m about people. It’s in my heart to start feeding food-insecure families and seniors. That’s why we decided to provide this for the families who really aren’t making ends meet, even though they’re trying.”

Food on shelves at the Magnolia Project

Inside Project Magnolia

The space is completely transformed thanks to Regina’s vision. What was once the dining room is now the pantry, which is stocked with rescued food from local stores like Costco, Aldi, Sprouts, and Vons. The former kitchen is now an instructional nutrition teaching kitchen where community members can enroll in classes. The pantry serves people from National City to the San Ysidro Border, from seniors to military families. This mom of four is fiercely proud of her work: “I know there are other people’s choice food pantries, but I’m going to say this as a proud mama bear, there’s none like us.”

Imperial Beach’s Mama Bear

When asked how she approaches her work of nourishing the community as a woman and mother, she shared her deeply moving story. Regina is a mother of four. One of her children passed away, and she has a severely handicapped daughter. She has been through many challenges in her life that have shaped her into the non-profit leader she is today.

“I approach this and everything I do with heart because I’ve been in the welfare line. I’ve been a single mom. I’ve been an addict,” she says. “I approach it without judgment, and I insist that everyone who volunteers treats everyone with dignity. I’m here because there’s a need, and it’s my privilege to give back to the community. I’m passionate about what I do, and I don’t do anything without passion. If you see me doing something, you know that I’m passionate about it.”

Family First

Regina is also very aware, on a personal level, of the importance of family. She shared with us her thoughts on the necessity of a strong support network to do the emotionally intensive work in the community that she does.

“From a mom’s heart, my advice is don’t take away from your children to serve others. I tell all my volunteers. If your baby is sick, don’t come here,” she tells us. “I say that because I’ve lost a child. I could not do this without my family. Everyone from my 97-year-old father to my disabled daughter works here. My dad is here every Friday packing eggs.”

What brings Regina joy and purpose is her ability to be a support network for the families that come through the pantry, many of them military, due to the proximity of Coronado Naval Base.

“I want people to know that there’s hope,” she said. “Whatever they’re going through is just temporary, I hope. And even if it’s not, we’re here to help them with whatever they’re going through.”

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Regina’s story is just one of the many incredible women who make up our network. Whether they run the agencies we partner with, work behind the scenes as part of our team, or donate their time as volunteers, we are grateful for all of them. Celebrate International Women’s Day this year by contributing your time to support the community!