For more than three decades, Mama’s Kitchen has been preparing and delivering medically tailored meals to critically ill San Diegans. For 23 of those years, Brad and Summer Stech have volunteered their time to bring nourishment to residents in University Heights and City Heights—sometimes with their three children in tow. Brad, Summer, and their kids have spent countless hours giving back to their community and developed special friendships with several Mama’s Kitchen clients. The Stech family was recognized for their commitment and dedication with Mama’s Kitchen’s Humanitarian Award at its Tree of Life Ceremony in December.
What made you want to become a volunteer for Mama’s Kitchen?
Summer: I was the first one to start volunteering with Mama’s Kitchen. It was actually in 2000. We had just moved to San Diego from Boston, and we didn’t know anyone. We were walking around City Fest in Hillcrest, and we came across the Mama’s Kitchen booth. I had been volunteering at a soup kitchen in Boston and we would bring a lot of the food that was left over to the park nearby … [for] people who were unable to make it to the kitchen. So, when I saw Mama’s Kitchen and I saw what their mission was and talked to the volunteers, it really resonated with me.
Brad: Summer’s delivery route was in University Heights and she would tell me about a client that had given her a book or some other rewarding experience, and after getting settled into my work routine, I realized I had some available time to offer.
What do your volunteer duties entail?
Brad: We’ve done a few other things over the years, but, primarily, we do meal delivery. At this point, we do it every other week. We pick up our meals, then hit the road. We deliver to about 10 people, sometimes a little bit less, sometimes a little bit more. We drive around City Heights and stop at all the different places. Some clients need more help than just handing them the bag, but for the most part, it’s just a handoff and maybe some chit chat for someone who needs it. [It] takes us usually no more than an hour from pickup to completion.
How did volunteering become a family affair?
Summer: Our kids have always been part of this. We’ve been doing this for 23 years, and our oldest is 18, so Mama’s Kitchen has been in our life longer than our children have. But as the years went on, sometimes they were just sitting in the car—let me tell you, we know every bathroom stop in City Heights thanks to toddlers in the car—and, as they got older and they were able to do more, they were able to get out at each stop and help bring the bags up and deliver the meals. We’ve had clients who really looked forward to seeing the kids—we had one client who always had candy for them. They’re older now, so they’ve gotten busier. But there’s always one of us going to pick up meals and deliver. Sometimes there’s five of us, sometimes there’s three of us, or two of us. But it’s been a very big part of their lives. They don’t know a life without some kind of commitment to delivering meals for Mama’s Kitchen.
What do you like best about volunteering at Mama’s Kitchen?
Brad: Seeing clients get better has always been one. And some of the memories of when the kids were younger, like the candy stop, or another house where the backyard was kind of overgrown and the kids loved go to what they call the “jungle house.” That and the people at Mama’s Kitchen—interacting with the people who work there or volunteer on a regular basis.
Summer: Well, Brad stole my thunder. The same thing is true for me—it’s the connections with the staff. At Mama’s Kitchen over the years, we’ve seen people come and go, but all of the staff at Mama’s Kitchen are so dedicated to the mission and it’s inspiring, as a volunteer, to continue to see people who make it happen. Having those relationships has been amazing. And also, the connections we’ve been able to make with clients and being able to make connections with our community, it’s just been endlessly rewarding.