Mama’s Kitchen revamps culinary fundraiser in light of restaurant industry woes

Sample bites at a past Mama's Day fundraiser for Mama's Kitchen charity.
(Kateryna Federova )

The 31st annual Mama’s Day event, which raises money to deliver free meals to shut-ins, will return May 6, but in a more intimate style


For 31 years, the San Diego charity Mama’s Kitchen has hosted an annual food-tastings fundraising event named Mama’s Day, with all proceeds going toward preparing and delivering free healthy meals to critically ill homebound San Diegans.

During the first two months of the pandemic, the number of clients Mama’s Kitchen served skyrocketed nearly 70 percent because elderly and immune-compromised people couldn’t risk exposure to COVID-19. But the pandemic had other unexpected impacts on Mama’s Kitchen.

The San Diego restaurant owners who donated food and workers to staff booths each year at the nonprofit’s Mama’s Day event each May are now facing their own pandemic-related challenges. Although restaurants in San Diego are busy these days, they’re struggling to find enough staff to stay open more than four or five days a week, and rising food and labor costs have reduced their income.

In the years before the pandemic, 60 or more restaurants would take part in Mama’s Day. This year, Mama’s Kitchen will have just 12 restaurants participating in the event, which will be presented May 6 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine.

As a result of the reduced participation from restaurants, Mama’s Day will be reimagined as a more intimate event with more interactive experiences, a live band, an opportunity drawing and more. And to support the participating chefs who don’t have the workers to man their booths this year, students from Grossmont College’s culinary program will be helping out. As in years past, San Diego cookbook author and YouTube star Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien will serve as the event’s host.

“San Diego restaurants have always been a major part of the success of our Mama’s Day event, but we recognize they’re currently facing many challenges, especially with staffing,” said Mama’s Kitchen CEO Alberto Cortés.

Dessert samples at a past Mama's Day fundraiser hosted by Mama's Kitchen.
(Kateryna Fedorova )

Mama’s Kitchen was founded in 1990 to provide home-delivered meals to HIV and AIDS patients who were confined to their homes and unable to cook for themselves. In the years since, Mama’s Kitchen has expanded its client base to serve people with illnesses such as cancer, congestive heart failure, Type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Today it serves more than 800 clients, which is up 50 percent from spring 2020, Cortés said.

The first Mama’s Day fundraiser was held in 1991 and the popular event — always held on the Friday before Mother’s Day — would draw most of the city’s top fine-dining chefs for a friendly competition over who could serve the most creative and crowd favorite bites. Up to 700 people would attend the annual event, which raised as much as $200,000 each year.

As a meal provider to the hungry, Mama’s Kitchen has also experienced the challenge of rising food costs.
Cortés said year-to-year food expenses are up 41 percent from 2021. At this rate, he said the cost of food alone could increase the nonprofit’s projected costs for 2022 by $500,000.

Mama’s Day was not presented in 2020, but it returned in 2021 as a virtual event that raised $32,500, which provided funding for about 13,000 home-delivered meals. Cortés said this year’s goal is to draw 300 participants and raise $125,000, which will provide 50,000 home-delivered meals.

Mama’s Day takes place from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. May 6 at Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine, 3777 La Jolla Village Drive. VIP tickets, which include an early-entry private reception at 5:30 p.m., are $250. General admission tickets, with entry at 6:30 p.m., and $150. Details at