SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – For decades, Mama’s Kitchen has been working to serve those living with HIV & AIDS in the San Diego community, and World AIDS Day was another opportunity for the organization to bring awareness to the issue. In observance of the day, the organization will hold its annual Candlelight Vigil and Tree Lighting Ceremony.

The iconic holiday tree that sits in the middle of the Village Hillcrest Retail Center is more than just a festive decoration. It’s called the “Tree of Life.” The hanging ornaments, with handwritten notes, are used to remember those in our community who have lost their lives to the disease.

“It was very uncertain,” says James Damon. “No one was knowing what was going to happen to you.”

Damon, who goes by JD, has lived with HIV for more than three decades. He was diagnosed while he was serving in the military overseas in Korea.

“They decided it would be best if I came to the states,” says Damon. “Then from there, I stayed in the Air Force for about two more years.”

He says early on during the AIDS epidemic, it was hard. He would have to take about five different medications per day.

“The medicines that we were taking were very toxic,” Damon says.

Damon has been delivering food for Mama’s Kitchen for 24 years. The organization started as a volunteer response to the AIDS epidemic in the ’90s.

In 2020, San Diego County was reported to have more than 13,000 people with HIV living here.

“It’s very fulfilling when you know they’re going to get their proper nutrition, and you sometimes see them at their worst, and sometimes at their best, and how thankful they can be,” Damon says.

The Candlelight Vigil and Tree Lighting will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1.