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Mama’s Kitchen’s expanded mission includes those with cancer

In 2006, 16 years after Mama’s Kitchen was established, the organization’s board of directors recognized another pressing need in San Diego. By 2006, Mama’s Kitchen had grown from two volunteers delivering meals and two people who were living with AIDS, to an organization of more than 800 volunteers reaching out to over 530 clients across San Diego County. Nevertheless, the board recognized that there were other critically ill members of our community who were equally as vulnerable to hunger, but for whom there existed no such service.

After conducting interviews, focus groups, extensive research and surveys, on Feb. 23, 2006, the board voted to expand the organization’s mission — a historic decision that marked the culmination of a long and thoughtful process. Shortly before this decision was made, Mama’s Kitchen reaffirmed its commitment to the HIV/AIDS community by delivering the 3.5 millionth meal, along with Mama’s message of hope and compassion to people who do not have the friends, family, or finances to help them through treatment.

This new chapter marked a giant step forward for Mama’s Kitchen. The organization began reaching out to people affected by cancer; providing a helping hand on their long, difficult and often expensive road to recovery.

Mama’s Kitchen stayed true to its original intent, to prevent hunger among people who are too ill to shop or cook the food they need to stay healthy. As “Phillip” (a Mama’s Kitchen) client shared, “cancer takes all your energy and gives me a lot of pain. It’s hard to walk three blocks to a grocery store and can take me 30 minutes of brutal pain both ways. People don’t realize once you can’t work or buy food how difficult things become.”

In 2009, county health officials named cancer the leading cause of death in San Diego County, with an estimated 12,500 cases diagnosed each year. The need for expanded services was becoming much clearer; however, Mama’s Kitchen had developed such a strong reputation as an HIV/AIDS organization that few people knew that the organization also reached out to people with cancer. After consulting with fellow members of the Association of Nutrition Services Agencies (ANSA), Mama’s Kitchen concluded that the answer lied in community outreach.

In April 2009, Mama’s Kitchen embarked upon a collaboration with the San Diego Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure to create the Breast Cancer Outreach Project. The Breast Cancer Outreach Project at Mama’s Kitchen was created to raise awareness about its services at events and organizations where potential breast cancer clients attend, work, play and worship. By doing so, Mama’s Kitchen could supply these San Diegans the nutritious meals they need to successfully recover from surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and to ultimately beat cancer.

In its first 21 years of service, Mama’s Kitchen evolved into the only organization in San Diego County that delivers breakfast, lunch and dinner county-wide, for 365 days a year to men, women and children who are affected by AIDS or cancer, free of charge. In 2010, 324,144 nourishing meals were prepared and delivered to the front doors of 509 San Diegans, helping them overcome unnecessary barriers to living happy and healthy lives.