Jan 15, 2024

A Food Bank Commemorates its First Half-Century; its Director, Two Decades at the Helm

Marie Jachino has a saintly role model

By Ed Goldman

We’re chatting over homemade tacos in Marie Jachino’s office at Elk Grove Food Bank Services, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Filling the wall behind me is a starkly beautiful portrait of the late and sainted Mother Teresa, whom Jachino unhesitatingly proclaims “is my idol.” Painted by the immensely talented David Garibaldi, it’s in Jachino’s direct line of vision six days a week when she reluctantly deigns to sit still at her desk. She may be technically past traditional retirement age but still has the restless energy that got her this job two decades ago. 

In fact, as we rise to go on a tour of the bank’s immaculate HQ and the converted warehouse that stores and serves the food, clothes and low-budget niceties of life to 14,000 area people-in-need per month—and for the past eight years, their pets, as well—a near-invisible shard of chopped onion makes an almost imperceptible suicide leap from one of our paper plates to the carpet. Jachino, who was about 5’6″ tall a split second before, has now doubled over to toddler height to scoop up the offending food fragment as she continues walking, straightening when we reach the door.

Edgy Cartoon

Marie Jachino. Photo by Valerie Erwin.

It’s a study in perpetial motion and makes me think of the get-ahead tip for wanna-be execs: “Think like an owner.” But Jachino thinks at a much higher level than that: I’m not sure even über-mom begins to cover it. Maybe Mother Teresa could weigh in.   

“My two sons are my greatest achievements and loves of my life, along with my granddaughter Avery James,” she tells me later. “But the Elk Grove Food Bank has been a calling in my life.” At another point, she says she feels “married to this place.” Bridegrooms should be this doted on.

I wrote about Jachino (pronounced Jah-KEE-no) twice for the Sacramento Business Journal. The first time was to simply report on the food bank’s existence in a city one wouldn’t normally associate with poverty. Most of the homes in Elk Grove’s suburbs, which stretch for miles in all directions, are mid-to-high-end family households, many with swimming pools, multiple bedrooms and cricket-ready front and back lawns, more than a few with tennis courts and several boasting three- or more-car garages.

The second time was when Jachino successfully lobbied the state for a $4 million grant, a measure championed and piloted through the turbulence of the Legislature by then-Assemblyman/now Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper. At the time (2018) she said she was so overwhelmed to receive the gift that “I’ve been crying off and on all week.”

As we tour the beneficiaries of that award—the massive warehouse and her administrative offices, which are cheerful but utilitarian, sitting on two acres a few blocks off Elk Grove Boulevard—I’m taken by how many middle-aged-plus retirees volunteer for often labor-intensive jobs that require bending, lifting, operating load-in equipment and delivering supplies to Food Bank clients physically unable to get to the facility. 

“Twenty-five percent of our clients in the past few years have been low-income seniors,” Jachino says—and of them, “the biggest population is Asian: mainly Hmong and Mandarin.” 

Jachino oversees a staff of 14 and hundreds of volunteers. Unlike many charities, only six cents of every dollar raised by Elk Grove Food Bank goes toward administration. “I hope we can keep that balance,” she says. So far, they have: the ratio is unchanged from when I first interviewed her seven years ago. 

While the fiscal accounting segment of her operation is automated, Jachino’s staff, paid and unpaid, does much of the work by hand—and heart. While I’m there, on a brisk winter day, I see them treat their clients with respect and the kind of human warmth no portable heater could provide.

I ask Jachino what compelled her to take this job, especially since she began it for pay after retiring years ago from a career with the State Department of Aging. She explains that her father was of Italian heritage, her mother Slavic. “I grew up around older people,” she says, “not just because I went to visit them but because we sometimes all lived together. I happen to love people.” 

She laughs lightly at the irony that after years of caring for senior citizens, she’s now one herself. She’s on the Elk Grove Senior Center’s board of directors and, when prodded, admits she’d love to serve on the California Commission on Aging. 

Note to Governor Gavin Newsom: Jachino would be an ideal appointment—especially with her idol not being currently available.  

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).