This fall, Alberto Cortés celebrates his 20th year as Executive Director/CEO of Mama’s Kitchen. Alberto’s impactful leadership over the past two decades has shaped Mama’s Kitchen into a San Diego institution and indispensable resource for the most vulnerable members of our community.
We sat down with past board chair Tom D’Amico to reminisce about Alberto’s history with Mama’s Kitchen. Tom first met Alberto in 1999 when they both served on the board together. He spoke about how he first became acquainted with Mama’s Kitchen.
TD: I was watching a news program on TV and the volunteer coordinator at the time was asking people to sign up to volunteer with Mama’s Kitchen. I called in to learn more and the coordinator called me right back. At that point in my life, I felt the need to do some volunteer work. I started out delivering meals. It was a really fulfilling job because you could see the impact of the work right away and how the meals were making people stronger.
A few years later, I knew I wanted to be on the board to help the organization in a leadership capacity. I became board chair in 2001.
In 2001, after the organization’s executive director announced their retirement, Tom was tasked with leading the process of hiring Mama’s Kitchen’s next Executive Director.
MK: What stood out about Alberto during the hiring process?
TD: When you interacted with him, he brought a sense of calm. He’s an extremely caring and sincere person. I knew he was the right person for the job because of his experience working in the HIV/AIDS community as well as his natural ability as a steadfast leader.
MK: How has Alberto’s leadership changed the framework of Mama’s Kitchen?
TD: He’s been a leader in moving the organization forward. As resources, access, and medications for HIV/AIDS became more available, we started wondering what the organization would do if the need for our services didn’t continue to grow. We were building the ability to serve more and more people so quickly, but what if that growing need tapered. Alberto asked the board if Mama’s Kitchen should consider using this increased capacity to do more for people battling other diseases. He was a frontrunner in championing the expansion of our service to serve other populations, in addition to the HIV/AIDS community.
MK: How has Alberto worked collaboratively with other likeminded agencies?
TD: Mama’s Kitchen has always collaborated with other organizations who were doing similar work or serving the same community. I remember him consulting with Project Angel Food, an organization doing similar work in Los Angeles. They were constantly on the phone with one another, sharing ideas. I think the reason Mama’s kitchen is so well known in the San Diego is because of Alberto. He developed the necessary relationships to advance the mission.
I remember he would work to ensure that both sides of political parties were aware of the good work we did. Alberto was always bringing people to the kitchen to better understand exactly what we did.
MK: Where do you see Mama’s Kitchen in the next 20 years?
TD: I feel a lot of pride in where the organization is today. I celebrate the decision we made 20 years ago to hire this amazing leader because of the significant ways he has grown the organization. I see Mama’s Kitchen only growing more and helping more people. We have added to the number of clients we can help through 5 critical illnesses to-date. We have contributed to the body of science around the advantages of medically tailored meals. And we have contracted with 3 major healthcare providers to reach even more individuals in need.
Alberto is so well respected throughout the community and that’s allowed him to really act as a champion for Mama’s Kitchen and those we help.
MK: Thank you, Tom, for all that you have done for Mama’s Kitchen, for volunteering and serving on the board. We appreciate you sharing these stories of Alberto with us and celebrating his leadership and the future of Mama’s Kitchen.
TD: It’s my pleasure. This is an exciting time for Mama’s Kitchen! I can’t wait to see what’s next for us.
This year, Mama’s Kitchen will serve more than 704,000 meals. We will also celebrate the delivery of the 11 millionth meal served since our inception in 1990. In just a few short years, we expect to deliver 1,000,000 meals annually.