Melissa Rivers also shares her Thanksgiving plans

By Michele Corriston
Updated November 05, 2015 05:35 PM
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Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty

When Joan Rivers died last September, she left behind a legacy of groundbreaking comedy – and generous philanthropy.

For more than 25 years, Rivers supported God’s Love We Deliver, a New York-area charity created to provide meals to those battling HIV/AIDS that now serves people with many illnesses. Ten years ago, she organized the cheekily named “Can We Walk” team for the annual God’s Love Race to Deliver, a four-mile run in Central Park.

Now, her daughter Melissa Rivers is taking up her mother’s beloved cause.

Because she can’t be in N.Y.C. in person for the Nov. 22 event, she started a virtual team and is encouraging fans to celebrate Joan’s life by donating on Crowdrise.com.

“It’s become a New York institution, and it was something that meant a lot to my family,” Melissa tells PEOPLE of God’s Love We Deliver. “My mom was such a diehard New Yorker.”

Growing up, Melissa remembers helping Joan deliver food with the nonprofit every Thanksgiving.

“It was just a really big part of our whole family tradition, to be a part of this,” she says.

This year marks the first time Melissa will be hosting the holiday at her own home since her son Cooper, now 14, was born. Before, the family gathered for a big party in Joan’s glitzy New York apartment. Like her mother, Melissa is inviting “lots of friends and family” to the Thanksgiving table, though she won’t be the one cooking the turkey.

“Oh hell no,” she says, laughing. “I’d like people to want to come back!”

About a year after Joan, 81, stopped breathing during vocal chord surgery, Melissa and Cooper are coping with the loss day by day.

“Grief is a process, and we’re still in the thick of it,” Melissa says. “It’s only been a little over a year. But we’re doing okay.”

To register for the Race to Deliver, click here.

On Crowdrise, “Can We Walk” virtual team members will win a t-shirt for donating $100, a copy of Joan’s book for $500 and a commemorative pin for $1,000.