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By Alberto Cortés
Executive Director, Mama’s Kitchen
March 13, 2012 (San Diego) -- March is National Nutrition Month and while most of us are focusing on how we can develop sound eating and physical activity habits, there are many who are wondering how they will be able to shop or cook their meal tonight. Why? Because they are suffering from a debilitating illness such as HIV/AIDS or cancer that doesn’t enable them to live an everyday existence.
Take for example Betty, a 62-year-old single mom with HIV. She contracted the disease in the early 90’s from her husband who did not disclose his status to her. Once she found out she was pregnant, Betty left her husband, who was also abusive, and set out to make a life for her and her unborn child. Betty’s son Jason was luckily born without contracting HIV from his mother; however, he was born mentally challenged and physically fragile. He is now 17 years old and relies on Betty for 24-hour care.
Nutrition plays a vital role in both Betty and Jason’s lives. Betty needs proper nutrition for her antiretroviral drugs to work. Jason, who was recently diagnosed as one of just three cases in the world with Developmental Epilepsy/Neonatal Diabetes Syndrome (DEND), needs access to nutritious meals to maintain his blood sugar levels. If they are to drop too low, it could be fatal.
In a life that is constantly throwing Betty curveballs, one thing she can count on is the meal delivery service she receives from Mama’s Kitchen seven days a week, for 365 days per year. Betty is one of the 572 San Diego County residents to whom the volunteers and staff of Mama’s Kitchen delivered 347,690 meals free-of-charge in 2011. On March 9, 2012, Mama’s Kitchen delivered its sixth millionth meal after twenty-one years of servicing San Diego’s HIV/AIDS and cancer population.
This is just one story. There are several thousand stories like Betty’s in San Diego County and around the nation. Food is a basic necessity in life. And for those battling HIV/AIDS or cancer, food is also critical to improve their health and wellbeing. Without it, these people suffer far more than just starvation. Without proper nutrition, their medication could not work, their body would not metabolize correctly, and their vitals could drop to dangerous levels and ultimately, they could lose their lives. By receiving nutritional assistance from organizations like Mama’s Kitchen, these individuals also have a better chance of remaining independent and not in the emergency room and being saddled with medical debt.
I urge San Diego residents to support organizations that provide nutritious meals and critical nutrition services to those battling life-threatening diseases such as cancer or AIDS. Across the county, requests for nutritional assistance have increased significantly, while funding hasn’t kept up with the pace.
For example, in 2011 Mama’s Kitchen saw an increase in individuals it served. The individuals served in our AIDS Nutrition Program increased by nine percent. Our Critical Illness Nutrition Program, which delivers meals to San Diego County residents under the age of 60 who have any type or cancer that impairs their mental and/or physical capacity to prepare their own meals, jumped by 23.3 percent. Even more astounding was the nearly 70 percent increase of children we service in the Critical Illness Nutrition Program. We must band as a community to support those suffering debilitating diseases, as well as their children.
Every food item, volunteer hour or dollar donated aims to fight hunger here locally and can ease the burden for many individuals and families in our region. Hunger knows no season, and it’s time to help replenish the food supplies and resources stocked full during the winter holidays.

Because of Mama’s Kitchen’s meal delivery services, Betty will have the nutrition she needs to take care of her health, and in turn she can continue to be the mother she always dreamed of being. Most importantly, her son Jason will have the life he deserves thanks to a healthy Betty. 

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