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Meet LGBT Pride Month Local Hero Jonathan Bailey

Portrait photo of Jonathan Bailey
Ron Stein
Portrait photo of Jonathan Bailey

Local Hero Jonathan Bailey is embarrassed.

He was recognized as LGBT Pride Month’s Local Hero for his volunteer work at Mama’s Kitchen, a San Diego organization that’s been giving warm meals to those in need for 25 years (and in March delivered its 8 millionth meal). “There’s so many people who have given more than I have, and given every single day. And I can’t claim that,” he said.

But Bailey has done a lot to earn his nomination. The honor isn’t an accident.

Alberto Cortés, executive director at Mama’s Kitchen, noted in his nomination that Bailey is an exceptional mobilizer. Bailey’s been volunteering his time at the Kitchen for about two decades, filling a lot of roles. He started as a fill-in for sick drivers or cooks. More recently, he's used his exceptional mobilizing skills to lead special events for Mama’s Kitchen, including its 25-year anniversary. It was a gala that served family style meals such as chicken, potatoes and gravy.

When Bailey isn't serving at the Kitchen, he's running i.d.e.a., a marketing group he founded with another Kitchen volunteer, Indra Gardiner. His work with both organizations is quite similar: He turns big ideas into real results. One of the key events Bailey has orchestrated for the Kitchen is the annual fundraiser called "Tree of Life," which takes place on World AIDS Day — Dec. 1.

When Bailey first started at the Kitchen 20 years ago, it was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. "It was scary. And it was dark. And a lot of us didn’t know what to do,” he said. Amid this confusing time, Bailey found his connection to the Kitchen, and a way to make a difference that meant a lot to him and his community — serving a basic need of warm, lovingly prepared meals.

The Kitchen also serves cancer patients. Bailey noted that The Kitchen wisely broadened its mission; in a way, it made their work palatable to more people. It wasn't about AIDS or being gay. It touched all communities in San Diego. This way, it was even more about the food.

“I grew up in a big Italian family,” Bailey says. “Food was central to the culture.” At a young age, Bailey said his mom would find “strays” who were eating alone and bring them to their table. “Food is love” is something of a mantra for Bailey. And it’s a core principal at Mama’s Kitchen, too.

Bailey’s final remark in his Local Hero interview was: "It’s not over. Mama’s Kitchen still needs support. That’s why I continue to give what I can."

LGBT Pride Month Local Hero Jonathan Bailey

See past LGBT Pride Month honorees here.

Meet fellow 2016 honoree Mattheus Stephens.

Corrected:
Nominate your hero by filling out this form.
Questions or comments on this story can be directed to Nate John at njohn@kpbs.org.