Respected leader set to retire in January 2024 after successfully building the organization into the largest nonprofit provider of home-delivered meals in San Diego County.
Alberto Cortés announces that after 21 years of dedicated service, he will be retiring from his position as Chief Executive Officer of Mama’s Kitchen, after elevating the organization into a national model for medically tailored meal delivery and the Food is Medicine movement.
“Making the decision to retire from this impactful organization that I’ve helped develop alongside our amazing staff, generous donors, dedicated volunteers, committed board, and devoted community members required thought, consideration, and care. Mama’s Kitchen will continue to thrive and care for our community’s most vulnerable individuals,” says Cortés.
Mama’s Kitchen is the largest provider of home-delivered meals in the region. Cortés’ leadership puts the organization in a place of strength and stability, allowing for continued growth and the ability to evolve in response to the nutritional needs of a changing community.
“Of course, we are sad to see Alberto retire, but we are immensely grateful for the hard work, time, and passion with which he has served Mama’s Kitchen and the San Diego community for over two decades,” says Mama’s Kitchen Board President, Caron Calabrese, Esq. “He has truly led this organization to new heights and made it a leading authority on solutions to nutrition insecurity and medically tailored meals in San Diego and beyond. Alberto has been the heart of Mama’s Kitchen and we’re excited to see him enter this new chapter. For someone who has made it his mission to care for others, we are happy for him to make time for himself.”
Cortés first joined Mama’s Kitchen’s board of directors in 1999. After several years of service in local public health initiatives, he was hired to lead the nonprofit organization as executive director on July 8, 2002. Under his leadership, Mama’s Kitchen has grown from a $1.7 million to a $5.5 million nonprofit agency, making it a leader in the sector.
During Cortes’ tenure, the organization has delivered an impressive 8.75 million meals. Today, Mama’s Kitchen is the largest nonprofit provider of home-delivered meals in San Diego and the sole provider of medically tailored meals, delivering more than 75,000 each month to critically ill individuals and children.
Cortés as a Visionary
In 2006, Cortés guided one of the most significant decisions of Mama’s Kitchen’s history to expand the organization’s HIV-focused mission to serve San Diegans with other critical illnesses. As the organization’s capacity increased over time, health conditions that can be improved with proper nutrition have been added, including cancer in 2006, type 2 diabetes and congestive heart failure in 2018, and most recently, chronic kidney disease in 2020. Since the founding of the organization, its commitment to HIV has never ceased.
Cortés hired Mama’s Kitchen’s first registered dietitian in 2013 and established the organization’s Nutrition Education Program to teach critically ill individuals how to manage their health through proper nutrition as a supplement to the medically tailored meals. He managed the launch of Mama’s Pantry in 2004, a service provided for over 16 years. He introduced the Emergency Food Assistance Program and a Medical Nutrition Therapy program in 2016. In 2020, Cortés secured the first managed care plan contract, allowing services to reach an even greater number of vulnerable people through Medi-Cal’s CalAIM initiative. Thanks to Cortés’ persistence and determination, Mama’s Kitchen works with more than 350 healthcare providers throughout San Diego County to serve and educate San Diegans with critical illnesses and further the organization’s trusted belief that everyone is entitled to the basic necessity of life – nutritious food.
When Covid-19 hit, operations could have been jeopardized due to an immediate and drastic increase in demand for meal delivery by more than 50 percent, while simultaneously challenged by an inability to have in-facility volunteers to prepare the meals, and a shortage of volunteer drivers to deliver them. Cortés led the nonprofit through the pandemic with grace. He was diligent in ensuring the safety of clients, volunteers, and employees, allowing the organization to increase capacity, all while never turning away an eligible client, never putting a client on a waiting list, and never charging a client for their services.
Mama’s Kitchen’s much-anticipated annual fundraisers of Mama’s Day and Mama’s Pies Thanksgiving Bake Sale have grown under Cortés’ stewardship to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations each year to support the organization’s nutrition programs.
Cortés has shepherded the transition of Mama’s Kitchen’s from working out of a church basement to its current, fully owned facility on Home Avenue, where operations continue to grow. He has helped to lay the groundwork for the next generation of food as medicine for the San Diego community, and Mama’s Kitchen will continue down the path that has been so thoughtfully and tirelessly paved by Cortés.
In addition to the expansion of nutrition programs and services, Cortés also helped
guide the organization’s shift to function under the paradigm of Food is Medicine. Over the past ten years, Mama’s Kitchen progressed from simply the provision of food to providing complex medically tailored nutrition. Cortés has collaborated with other nutrition delivery nonprofits across the country, positioning Mama’s Kitchen to become a founding member of the national Food is Medicine Coalition and California Food is Medicine Coalition. This medically tailored nutrition programming has been recognized by healthcare providers around the nation for its ability to improve the health and well-being of critically ill clients, while simultaneously reducing healthcare costs.
21 years of achievements and accolades
During Cortés’ time with Mama’s Kitchen, he and the organization have received multiple awards of recognition, including the following:
● Selected as one of the “50 People to Watch” by San Diego Magazine (Alberto Cortés, 2003)
● Received a Congressional Record Recognition from Congresswoman Susan Davis (Alberto Cortés, 2005)
● Honored with “The Jess Jessop Founders Award” from The San Diego LGBT Community Center (Alberto Cortés, 2005)
● Received a Resolution from Christine Kehoe, 39th Senatorial District, State of California (Mama’s Kitchen, 2005)
● Received a Resolution from City Council, City of San Diego (Mama’s Kitchen, 2005)
● Received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Former U.S. Representative Susan A. Davis (Mama’s Kitchen, 2005)
● Received a Commendation from Lieutenant Governor Cruz M. Bustamante, State of California, (Mama’s Kitchen, 2005)
● Received Local Hero of the Year Award during Hispanic Heritage Month from KPBS & Union Bank of California (Alberto Cortés, 2005)
● Received a Certificate of Appreciation from Barbara Boxer, United States Senator (Alberto Cortés, 2005)
● Received the 20 Years/20 Heroes Award from Lambda Archives (Alberto Cortés, 2007)
● Selected for a three-month Sabbatical Grant Award from the Fieldstone Foundation (Alberto Cortés, 2015)
● Received recognition on the Veterans Wall of Honor at the LGBT Community Center (Alberto Cortés, 2015)
● Nominated as a California State Legislature “Nonprofit of the Year” in celebration of California Nonprofits Day (Mama’s Kitchen, June 2017)
● Won the University of San Diego “Kaleidoscope Award for Good Governance” (Mama’s Kitchen, January 2019)
● Won the North County Philanthropy Council Spirit of Carol Sigelman Award (Alberto Cortés, 2022)
● Selected as one of San Diego Business Journal’s Latino Leaders of Influence (Alberto Cortés, 2022)
“My time with Mama’s Kitchen was only one chapter of a 36-year career in the nonprofit sector that started in response to the AIDS epidemic – an epidemic that impacted my life, while also providing a clear sense of purpose. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve San Diego. I look forward to witnessing Mama’s Kitchen’s continued growth, evolution, and success serving the ever-changing and challenging nutritional needs of our communities,” reflects Cortés.
Calabrese adds, “The timing is right for Alberto to begin his well-earned retirement in January 2024, with strong leadership and staff in place across the board at Mama’s Kitchen. The board of directors is confident that there will be continued growth and
fulfillment of the mission as the staff welcome a new CEO to the management team next year.”
Mama’s Kitchen has formed a search committee to identify and select Cortés’ successor. More information about ways to celebrate Cortés and his achievements will be forthcoming, including a campaign that will be enacted in his name to continue his legacy of caring for our community.
Follow mamaskitchen.org for more details in the coming months.