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Mama’s Kitchen

Organizations that serve the county’s neediest residents have lost funding and volunteers

San Diego Union Tribune

April 16, 2020

Over the past 30 years, Mama’s Kitchen has never had to turn away an eligible person for the at-home food delivery and pantry services it has offered ever since the AIDS pandemic devastated San Diego’s LGBTQ community in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now a new pandemic is threatening to overwhelm the resources of the San Diego nonprofit, which has expanded over the years to serve the needs of critically ill people with HIV, cancer, heart failure and diabetes.

Over the past six weeks, Mama’s Kitchen has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of clients it serves. At the same time, it has seen a massive decline in volunteers because many of its helpers are over 65 and sheltering at home because of the coronavirus. To fill the gap, paid staff are working longer hours.

Meanwhile, the organization had to cancel its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Mother’s Day weekend gala known as Mama’s Day, which officials were counting on to bring in close to $200,000. CEO Alberto Cortés said the organization expects its COVID-19-related expenses over the next few months to increase by about $450,000, so it has launched an emergency campaign at

“In these unprecedented times, we are working to serve a population that is most at risk to life-threatening complications if infected with coronavirus,” Cortés said. “We need to keep them home and safe.”

Mama’s Kitchen

Mama’s Kitchen is one of hundreds of local nonprofits hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 24, the Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego released a survey of 420 local organizations. It found that more than half of respondents said that because of the pandemic they are either “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely” to make their payroll by the end of May.

Mama’s Kitchen is just one of many dozens of charities that hold galas each spring to fund their programs for the rest of the year. Since mid-March, virtually all of these events have been canceled. Many groups have improvised by taking their fundraising drives online.

But Julie Sarno, a volunteer committee member for multiple charitable organizations in San Diego County, said there’s nothing like a gala to inspire donors to give generously from the heart.

“It’s not the same,” said Sarno, who said all five of the galas she was helping to organize from March through August have been canceled, postponed or moved online. “I think when everyone comes together for the evening there’s the enthusiasm and momentum of the live event. You always raise more.”

Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services in Escondido, had to cancel next week’s fundraising event. He’s planning an online virtual tour of the organization’s facilities instead. But he said there’s no substitute for having supporters onsite to see how their dollars are making a difference.

“We want people to see us on the front lines,” he said. “Without donors, we can’t do what we do.”

Over the past month, Anglea said Interfaith has reconfigured all 45 of its programs and services to follow health and social-distancing orders. Food aid is now offered on a drive-thru basis; rental and unemployment assistance appointments have moved online; daily breakfast service is now grab and go; the overnight shelter is now open 24 hours a day; and Interfaith is working with the county to operate two North County motels where the homeless can shelter in place.

Interfaith Community Services

But the need is outpacing supply. Over the past month, Anglea said, the number of families seeking free groceries at Interfaith has grown from an average of 30 or 40 a day to nearly 300 on Wednesday. At the same time, it has lost nearly 90 percent of its roughly 600 volunteers, because they’re either over 65, have other health issues or are caring for small children at home. On the plus side, a few dozen new volunteers, many of them younger people whose companies shut down last month due to state orders, are helping out in food service.

Anglea said Interfaith’s greatest needs are for volunteers, donations and sanitary supplies such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and face masks. For details, visit

Hands of Peace, a three-week cultural program that brings about 40 American, Israeli and Palestinian teens together in San Diego each July for dialogues and healing, has canceled this year’s program and moved all of its fundraising online at It’s a disappointing end for an event that has been in the planning stages for nine months. But there’s a silver lining, said Diana Kutlow, Hands of Peace development director.

“We’re going to use this rare pause to conduct a thorough evaluation of our programs, assess the impact our alumni are having on their communities, and reimagine how we can do an even better job empowering youth as leaders of change,” Kutlow said.

The Children’s Nature Retreat, a 20-acre animal sanctuary in Alpine, closed its doors on March 19 following the announcement of shelter-in-place orders.

“We lost all our revenues overnight from visitors, school field trips, fundraiser events, such as an Easter egg hunt and group wellness events,” said executive director Agnes Barrelet. “Without the gala and with no revenues, our future is uncertain. We now have to only rely on donations and the need is immediate.”

A gala scheduled for June was expected to raise $100,000 for the retreat, but it has been postponed to the fall. To keep the sanctuary’s nearly 150 domesticated animals fed and cared for until the doors can reopen, an emergency fundraising drive has been launched at

Escondido’s 20-year-old San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum in Escondido, now closed due to health orders, had to postpone its March 28 gala, which was expected to raise $100,000. In the meantime, it held a “flash fundraiser” online that raised $10,000.

“Without the contributed revenue coming in, our museum has been struggling to find our way through this difficult time,” said Wendy Taylor, the museum’s executive director. “Donations are essential to our ability to survive.”

Taylor said donations of any size are welcomed at

Sarno has kept tabs on the many other nonprofits and other organizations that have recently canceled, postponed or moved online their spring and summer galas. They include most of the county’s live theaters; Just in Time for Foster Youth; San Diego Museum of Art; San Diego Youth Symphony; Vista Academy for Visual and Performing Arts; San Diego Police Foundation; Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns; Women of Dedication; San Diego Zoological Society; Autism Tree Project; and many more.

Sarno has worked sporadically in fundraising since 2001, including a four-year stint as development director at North Coast Repertory Theatre. She said that following the Great Recession, many large foundations that provide grants to nonprofits reduced their giving because their investment income had declined. That could be the case again this year with the stock market once again on a roller-coaster ride, so small nonprofits should be prepared for some long-term financial repercussions.

“People who are philanthropically minded should realize that their donations at this time are more important than ever,” Sarno said. “If they can give, give to the charities and nonprofits that are important to them and they should consider doing it soon. They really need the help.”

By PAM KRAGEN APRIL 16, 2020 San Diego Union Tribune