Creativity Meets Charity

Founded by a Quincy native and headquartered in Boston's North End, Project Paulie is a retail business that sells colorful beanies for a cause. Each hat design helps raise awareness and give back to local nonprofits.

Story by Jennifer H. McInerney

Photography by Jack Foley


When the world shut down abruptly in March of 2020, and people in the service industries lost their jobs, and members of the general public retreated into a period of uncertainty, Nicky Bandera started cooking. Among the newly jobless, the Quincy native felt compelled to help others in similar situations. From the kitchen of her Dorchester home, over a period of about seven months, she and her family prepared thousands of lasagnas to feed the growing list of people in need in her community.

“We originally hoped to feed 20 families, but it ended up being 3,500 families,” she says. “My husband started the sauce at 5 a.m. and we cooked all day, leaving lasagna care packages on our porch for pickup. We were grateful to be able to focus on doing something good during a terrifying time.”

Bandera has long been involved in volunteerism, giving of her time as an elementary school student to Father Bill’s Place, a shelter in Quincy, and, while in college, to the Magic Johnson Foundation, among others. Throughout her professional career, she has gravitated toward jobs that incorporate a socially conscious or charitable bent. Most recently, just before the pandemic shutdown, she worked for a tequila marketing firm supporting Speed Rack, an all-female, high-speed bartending competition that raises money for breast cancer research organizations ($1 million raised to date).


“For me, creativity and charity have always gone hand in hand,” says Bandera. “I think it’s important to find ways to connect with and serve the community we live in.” The lasagna endeavor grew exponentially due to the support of people from the community who donated money and ingredients to fuel what ultimately became known as Project Paulie—inspired by a character in the film “Goodfellas” who breaks bread with his friends while incarcerated.

Providing dinners every single day proved unsustainable, but the notion of feeding and taking care of her community lives on in the Project Paulie line of hats, which are emblazoned with a hand-embroidered tomato logo. Twenty percent of the purchase proceeds from each hat goes directly to a designated charity.


The Tomato: A Talking Point and A Turning Point

Tomatoes, it turns out, are an integral ingredient in Bandera’s latest philanthropic efforts—starting with the simmering tomato sauce in her thousands of lasagnas and continuing in an emblematic fashion with the ever-expanding line of Project Paulie hats. The assorted beanies, caps and bucket hats in the product line feature a plump tomato, symbolizing the Project Paulie’s sentiments of “We Feed Each Other.” Hat designs are available in a full range of colors—a total of 28 and counting—and assorted cozy materials. The intention of the tomato crowning each hat, Bandera explains, is to get people talking about the many local organizations in need of funds, donations, volunteers, and other valuable support. The momentum is building: some 10,000 hats have been sold thus far.

In addition to aiding broader-reaching nonprofits, such as Project Bread, Planned Parenthood and the Trevor Project, Project Paulie serves smaller grassroots organizations, including DOVE, which has direct ties to the South Shore. DOVE, which stands for Domestic Violence Ended, seeks to end domestic and partner violence and offers free and confidential services to families and individuals who need caring support.

Project Paulie recently wrapped up temporary pop-up shops on Newbury Street and in Boston’s Seaport, and has since moved to a permanent location in the North End. The merchandise is also available for purchase online. Though Bandera and her family have officially closed their lasagna kitchen, they continue to serve up home-cooked Thanksgiving dinners for families at the shelters with which they’ve built relationships.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to serve my community in this way,” Bandera concludes.

Learn more about Project Paulie and the full line of hats and new wearable items at