Love. This is the theme of the Gardena Genesis Community church’s decades-old food bank ministry, Mama Rosa’s Pantry. It’s clear in the ministry’s unique implementation and dedicated volunteers—and it’s clear in the emotion in Food Bank Director Jami Levy’s voice.

Food bank volunteers—including church members and nonmembers—don smiles and matching aprons. Photo provided by Iki Taimi.
Food bank volunteers—including church members and nonmembers—don smiles and matching aprons. Photo provided by Iki Taimi.

“There’s no reason anyone should go hungry,” Levy stated.

The food bank, which is open from 2-5 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of every month, serves 400-700 people each month. Shelves are stocked with staples like canned goods, beans, rice, and cereal. The farmer’s market area is stocked with 500-1,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. About a year ago, the team implemented a bodega model, which allows guests to shop around and choose items versus being handed a prepackaged box. Guests can also find recipes using items offered in the food bank.

The food bank receives a great deal of support from the City of Gardena and local community organizations. Partnerships include the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Feeding America program, and Gardena Community Services; plus, it receives donations from Trader Joe’s, Smart & Final, Amazon, Whole Foods, Panera, and more.

It’s about meeting needs—like giving a cake to someone whose child’s birthday is coming up. “We want to feed and clothe, but most importantly befriend them,” Levy said. “Frequently, they say, ‘This is an answer to prayer.’ They’re able to do extra stuff for their children that they maybe wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

According to Levy, 50 percent of the food bank’s major volunteers are from the community—people who started as customers and now volunteer to work with the food bank. “I love how there are a mix of church members and community residents that volunteer to serve,” said Iki Taimi, pastor of Gardena Genesis Community church. “It creates an opportunity for people to experience service that reaches past just our church. It also allows our church to be part of the lives of residents from all over Gardena.”

The most recent outreach development was the opening of a thrift store run by the church, named ReGenesis: Recycle. Repurpose. Restore. “We have prayed about this service opportunity for quite some time and are really excited about opening a thrift store to complement our community ministries,” Taimi said. The grand opening was held last month, and the thrift store is now open 1-4 p.m. on Fridays.

These community service ministries have allowed the church to live out its motto: “Where Loving God Is Serving People.”