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“This Is Big”

Debbe Magnusen, Founder & CEO of Project Cuddle, in her home in Costa Mesa, California

“In 1996, I was getting ready to adopt my eighth and final child. At that point, our house was literally full and there was no more room at the inn, you could say. I could no longer personally give a home to the babies that needed one.

“But that same year, a story hit the news that a dead newborn was found wrapped in bloody, women’s underwear and locked in a filing cabinet in Buena Park. It tore my heart in two and I remember crying, ‘I don’t understand. Why didn’t they call me? I’m right here. I would have taken care of that baby until someone else could.’

“But then a very calm voice inside of me, almost like God tapping me on the shoulder, said, ‘Well, how are they supposed to find you?’

“And there was this moment of clarity that washed over me and it all suddenly clicked into place. I said, ‘Of course! I need to get a toll-free number!’

“For the next couple of days after that, I just paced around the house mumbling to myself, ‘This is big, this is big, this is big’ like a crazy person – and no one understood what the heck I was babbling about. But I knew what needed doing and I was ready to put it into action. So I got the toll-free number, brought in a bunch of my foster friends and we all took turns as hotline operators. I remember, in those early days, having to run home every night at 6pm to switch the hotline to a new foster mom’s phone number; we manned it 24-hours by each taking shifts.

“Opening day for our hotline was officially on July 8th, 1996. They ran a little announcement in the O.C. Register with a tiny thumbnail photo. We had an ‘unbirthday cake’ in honor of all the babies that had never been born. Telemundo came out and did a story on our launch.

“Well, not even twelve hours after our story ran, the hotline rang. It was a woman saying, ‘I’ve been raped. You better figure something out. I’m due any day, and if you don’t help me I already have a plan to leave this baby in a park.’

“It threw me because I thought we’d be getting calls after the baby was born. I had no idea we’d get calls from pregnant women looking for help before the birth. I had to mobilize quickly to handle the situation, while not coming on so strong that I scared the poor girl away.

“It was a scramble, but I’m happy to say we saved the baby and placed it in a good home. That whole situation shone a light on all that Project Cuddle really could be, all the good we could do. It taught me that these pregnant women need help as much as the babies do. So many of these girls really do want to do the right thing if we give them an easy, non-judgmental, confidential way to do it.”

– Debbe Magnusen, Author, Foster Mom & Founder of Project Cuddle / Costa Mesa, California

About The Author

Hearts of Costa Mesa

Hearts of Costa Mesa is a curated journey through the rich diversity of Costa Mesa life. We'll be sharing vignettes and stories through the reflections of Costa Mesa's residents and regulars. This is an ongoing project, a tapestry we'll continue to weave over time. Please contact us through the website if you'd like to participate. Read all the Hearts of Costa Mesa vignettes here.

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