Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s most popularly recognized as an occasion to eat too much, watch television, fight with your in-laws, and occasionally give thanks, but the reality is much more diverse. In “My Thanksgiving,” we’re talking to a handful of Americans across the country — and world — to get a broader sense of the holiday. For some of our interviewees, they have no traditions at all. But the day — steeped in American mythos, an origin story that comes with great complications — is at least passively observed by even the most agnostic of patriots. Here, Ivy, a mother and wife who lives in New York City, talks about being diagnosed HIV+ in the 1990s and her subsequent work with the non-profit God’s Love We Deliver every Thanksgiving. God’s Love We Deliver was a nonprofit born out of the need to address the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, it services all New Yorkers in need, no matter what their illness may be.
In 1990, I tested positive. So all of the sudden, I was a straight woman in the field of gay men dying. I was in this community overnight at the height when everyone was dying and nobody was taking care of the community. I’ve been pretty much committed to them and to their mission because they took care of our community. So I’ve never left.
For many years, I was very closeted. So I [volunteered] and didn’t tell other people. It was just my family. As they grew, they would want to invite other people. I was very closeted about my situation and it’s a little hard for my 17-year-old to understand that. He grew up knowing about my situation. I don’t know if you’ve seen How to Survive A Plague. But the reality is, they can’t relate that to their lives because it’s not like that anymore. So for them, they have to navigate that in-between story.
I’ve been involved with God’s Love We deliver for close to 27 years. I do all the holidays if I’m in the city unless I’m going to visit other families out of state.
My whole family does the delivery [on Thanksgiving]. The kids usually pick a family member or a friend to bring in the car to do the deliveries as well. God’s Love delivers to all five boroughs of New York City. Usually, when we go pick up [food], they’ve already set up routes and you just get what you get. It usually takes about four hours, by the time we get out of the house and get the car, depending on how far we have to deliver. Usually [the meal we deliver] is turkey, pumpkin pie, potatoes, mashed potatoes, or squash. We also give a gift basket usually and it can have things like blankets. I believe that we actually deliver about 4,500 holiday meals. And all of the bags are done by school children in New York City. My kids used to do it until they got into high school. They don’t want to do it anymore. They don’t want me to just show up in school.
We’re a family that fights over who wants to do this. So [my husband] inevitably has to stay behind. He’s vegetarian so he has to put up with dealing with the turkey and everything. We usually come home and we are tired. So, we don’t eat at 3 o’clock because we’re still delivering at 3 o’clock. We eat at eight.
My oldest is 17 and my youngest is 13. They’ve been doing this since they could walk. They still love doing the deliveries. That was them learning how to navigate maps. They learned a lot about client privacy. They take it very seriously. They know the goodwill of doing it, but more than that, it’s part of the history of our family.
[GLWD] came from a community that nobody wanted to address. It was able to create an environment that is now a lifeline to a lot of people in New York who are sick don’t have anybody else. It’s helping people who don’t have the type of stigmatizing health issues like HIV and AIDS. I feel like the power of that story is so big: that a community that was so pushed aside was able to create this and take care of general New Yorkers.
Thanksgiving is the commitment of this chaotic thing. And once you commit, it’s always fun. It’s a time to pause and be super grateful for many things. The luxury of really just doing a full-on cooking thing — it’s wonderful. And then with God’s Love, that’s nothing but wonderful, because I get to see my fellow New Yorkers committed. I’m obviously thankful for my family. I’m thankful that I’ve stayed in the community that makes this city so amazing, including everybody that has AIDS, to have created something like God’s Love. Those are the kinds of things that one takes stock of every year.