Several days before Mollie Pier’s son, Nathaniel, died of complications from AIDS, she joined together with his doctors, Nathaniel and his longtime partner, Michael, as the couple exchanged rings and vows in his hospital room.
After Nathaniel died on Dec. 27, 1989, Pier stepped up her volunteer work on behalf of gays and lesbians, leading groups for parents within and outside the Jewish community, and helping to found Project Chicken Soup, for which several dozen volunteers cook and deliver kosher meals twice a month to people with HIV in Los Angeles.
“There was a terrible sadness that permeated my entire days,” Pier, now 91, said of the period following Nathaniel’s death. “But I was determined to continue working on behalf of gays and lesbians and people with AIDS, in his memory.
“My son was one of the first doctors in New York who treated people with AIDS,” she continued. “I like to say that he helped people with his knowledge of medicine, and I help people with my knowledge of cooking.”
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Pier, an avid baker who still leads the baking team at Project Chicken Soup, has done much more than that. After her son came out to her in the early 1980s, she addressed his fear of rejection in a letter: “I said, ‘You are my son, I love you, and I’m proud of you, and any way of life that makes you happy makes me happy, too.”
Pier became a leader in the Los Angeles branch of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and in a similar group founded for Jews through Valley Beth Shalom. She moderated discussion groups, gave speeches and, before each performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, baked up to 600 cookies for members to enjoy. “In my PFLAG group, I was the first mother to lose a son to AIDS, so I was asked to lead a group for people who also lost loved ones,” she recalled.
Pier had already been helping temple sisterhoods cook brunches for people with AIDS when, after Nathaniel’s death, she began gathering with volunteers to provide more of such meals in a kosher kitchen in Hollywood. The effort, known as Project Chicken Soup, began, she said, with 20 clients, gleaning funds early on from The Jewish Federation when Pier reported that “these people didn’t just need counseling, they were very sick and very poor and needed food.”
Pier still spends up to four hours calling clients two Fridays a month to ensure they’ll be home for their Sunday food delivery. “I’ve had a strong connection to tikkun olam since I was a child, and this work provides me with a spiritual connection to my son,” she said.