The HIV epidemic in San Diego County peaked in 1990 with a record 1,300 new diagnoses. In response to the epidemic and to help neighbors whose HIV/AIDS prevented them from going to the grocery store and cooking meals, one San Diego caregiver, with the help of dedicated volunteers, began delivering free meals to ensure these community members received proper nutrition. Since then, new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in San Diego County have decreased nearly every year, while Mama’s Kitchen has continued to grow and expand upon the services it offers to people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and their children. The nonprofit now serves people diagnosed with cancer as well as HIV/AIDS, providing food and compassion to more than 1,300 people per year. In total, Mama’s Kitchen has delivered more than 8 million meals over the course of its 27 years.
In addition to free meals, Mama’s Kitchen offers emergency food assistance support, personal nutrition coaching, and nutrition education workshops. The organization is able to offer these free services and programs through its dedicated volunteers, fundraising events, and generous donors.
Mama’s Kitchen hosts an annual food tasting event, Mama’s Day, in support of its efforts to provide nutritious meals for people with debilitating illnesses. This year, the 28th annual event was held two days prior to Mother’s Day on May 10 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine. In attendance were nearly 50 of San Diego’s best chefs from restaurants such as Nine-Ten Restaurant, Small Town, Nason’s Beer Hall, Not Not Tacos, and The Porchetta Shack. Other culinary partners included Stehleon Vineyards, Breakfast Republic, and Temecula Olive Oil Co., while the event was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, Duane Morris, Shamrock Foods, and the Gay & Lesbian Fund for San Diego of The San Diego Foundation, among other companies and nonprofits.
The 2018 event generated $170,000 for the nonprofit, providing enough to deliver 58,000 meals to Mama’s Kitchen clients. The 2019 event had the lofty goal of raising $220,000 or enough to provide more than 75,000 meals. Tickets for the event cost $150 per individual and $500 for a four-person group.
While Mama’s Day features a variety of culinary delights from some of the region’s top chefs, it’s about much more than food: “Our passion and mission to help our neighbors in need is exemplified at Mama’s Day, where hundreds come to enjoy not only the delicious food, but also the great company of others that have the same passion for giving back to our local communities,” said Mama’s Kitchen Executive Director Alberto Cortés.
Although not as large a fund-raising event as Mama’s Day, the Mama’s Pies annual bake sale has been ongoing for 14 years and has provided enough funds to supply hundreds of thousands of meals for the nonprofit’s critically ill clients. The annual event takes place around Thanksgiving and involves the sale of pies that have been donated by local bakeries, restaurants, and caterers. These community partners bake either apple, pumpkin, pecan, or Dutch apple pies, which are then sold for $25 each.
Nearly 100 volunteer sellers take pie orders until the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, engaging in a bit of friendly competition to see which person or team can sell the most pies. The pies can then be picked up from one of more than 20 San Diego Wells Fargo locations, or sellers can designate a private pick-up site if they’ve sold more than 40 pies. Last year, the campaign hoped to raise more than $140,000 to fund 48,000 meals for San Diegans. Seller Tray O’Neal ultimately earned the top seller distinction for having sold 308 pies, while four others sold more than 100.
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life Ceremony has been an important event for Mama’s Kitchen since the nonprofit was first established in 1990. The event is held annually on World AIDS Day to remember all those affected by the disease and to highlight the ongoing efforts to end the epidemic. The 2018 event took place on December 1 at Village Hillcrest and included singing and a candlelight vigil, in addition to memories shared by the friends and family members of people who passed away after an AIDS-related illness.
While the annual event is free to attend, guests have the option to purchase and dedicate heart ornaments (one for $15 or two for $25) in support of Mama’s Kitchen.
Other Community Endeavors
Beyond its two flagship fund-raising events and the annual Tree of Life Ceremony, Mama’s Kitchen maintains an active presence in San Diego and shows its support for the communities it serves by marching in the San Diego Pride Parade. Attracting more than 250,000 people, this is one of the largest LGBTQ Pride parades in the US.
While the nonprofit is able to purchase the majority of the food for its meals through donations and fundraising activities, it does accept non-perishable food donations as part of Ralphs Food Drive. These items can be dropped off at the Hillcrest Ralphs or Mission Valley Ralphs on the first and third Sundays of each month, or at the Mission Hills Vons or Downtown Ralphs on the second Sunday of the month. Preferred items include canned tuna, peanut butter and jelly, canned salmon, and spaghetti sauce. Alternatively, donors can support Mama’s Kitchen by pledging money as part of its Virtual Food Drive. Donating money as opposed to food has the added benefit of allowing the nonprofit to purchase products in bulk at wholesale prices and to purchase the items most needed at a particular time.