In 1989, Mollie Pier co-founded Project Chicken Soup (PCS), a nonprofit organization that makes and delivers free kosher food to Angelenos living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses. Today, at 92, she still volunteers, spending eight hours a month in the kitchen and calling recipients when their meals are ready.
On Nov. 11, Pier was honored at Temple Beth Am by Project Chicken Soup for her efforts over the past 23 years. The event featured food from Jewish chefs around Los Angeles as well as speeches from Pier’s colleagues, a silent auction and performances from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, Cantor Magda Fishman of Temple Beth Am, Cantor Juval Porat of Beth Chayim Chadashim and pianist David Silverstein.
Of her honoring, Pier said, “It’s just overwhelming. I can’t believe this is me; I don’t think I deserve what everybody else thinks I do. It’s just breathtaking.”
More than 1,500 volunteers work for PCS each year, helping to serve as many as 30,000 meals. Every month, 125 clients each receive 20 meals, and the organization plans to double that number once fundraising goals are reached.
“Most of our clients are low income, and many are food insecure,” said Cathryn Friedman, executive director. “There is evidence regarding the importance of appropriate nutrition for people living with HIV/AIDS and the role it plays in delaying [or] preventing the progression to late-stage disease. For people with cancer or other serious illnesses, an inability to acquire [or] prepare food results in food insecurity and negative health consequences. PCS services contribute to improved health status.”
Food at the event included all the traditional Jewish dishes, with a modern twist. Alex Reznik, formerly executive chef at the now-shuttered kosher steak house La Seine, served pickled herring and smoked whitefish, and Akasha Richmond, who owns AKASHA, made kale Caesar salad with olive oil croutons and parmesan. Susan Feniger of Street provided chilled Asian noodles with deviled egg and sriracha sauce.
“Molly’s been the driver of some work that literally needed to be done,” Feniger said. “She’s made a strong statement certainly for all of us. We’re in the hospitality business, and we try to give back. To be here to support her is critical.”
Another guest chef, The Foundry on Melrose’s Eric Greenspan, who defeated Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America,” made potato and apple kugel with garlic horseradish crust. “We spend so much time in an insular world in our kitchens,” he said. “It’s important every once in a while to poke your head out and take a look at the world around you and make sure that you’re a part of it. ‘Try to do a mitzvah a day,’ is what my dad always said, so this is definitely one of them.”
Joanne Feldman, a volunteer with PCS for five years who owns Mr. Pickles Kosher Catering, said she is proud of the work that the group has done. “We have been blessed to have somebody as wonderful as Mollie Pier being a part of the glue that holds this organization together,” she said. “She does it with such love and heart, and it’s amazing.”
Ronna Sundy, events coordinator at Temple Beth Am, said she and her family were given help by PCS when they needed it.
“My adopted daughter’s father died of AIDS, and the family was fed through PCS,” she said. “They fed us during shivah, and it was a wonderful thing. What Project Chicken Soup has done for the community and for everyone is also part of Temple Beth Am’s being. We give back and want to help everyone. Mollie is volunteering, still, at 92 years old. I would only like to follow in her footsteps.”
Pier co-founded PCS not only to help the sick, but for personal reasons as well. Her son Nathaniel, a doctor who treated AIDS patients, came out as gay in the late 1970s. In 1989, he died of the disease, and she wanted his legacy to live on.
At the event, Pier said that was happening. “I think he’d be proud of me, as I was of him. I have a very spiritual feeling that he helped so many people with his medical knowledge.”
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