June 30, 2014
By Petra Halbur
There’s a soup kitchen network in New York City founded on the principle that fresh, healthy food served with dignity is a right, not a luxury.
At Masbia, a kosher soup kitchen with three locations across New York City, volunteers serve hot, nutritious meals to those in need in a restaurant-styled environment. masbia
“Living in poverty is a 24/7 experience,” says Masbia’s chief development officer, Beau Heyen. “You’re constantly thinking about where your next meal is coming from, how you’re going to pay your bills … If we, even for thirty minutes, can alleviate that and say, ‘Here, have this great, filling, healthy, hearty meal in a place that is warm, and friendly and caring,’ it can really change someone’s perspective and at least give them a little bit more hope.”
According to Heyen, the soup kitchen’s co-founders Mordechai Mandelbaum and Alexander Rapaport were Torah study partners when they came up with the idea for what would eventually become Masbia. Both men had grown up in households with open-door policies for the less fortunate and one day their topic of conversation shifted to their shared concern for those down on their luck who lack such hospitable neighbors.
“They were talking about how hard it must be if you don’t have a predictable place to go and wouldn’t it be great if there was predictable place for people to come and have a meal?” Heyen says.
Though neither Mandelbaum nor Rapaport had much work experience with nonprofits or the food industry, they pooled their skills and resources together and opened their first soup kitchen- initially just called “Soup Kitchen”- in Boro Park on April 3, 2005.
Nine years later, the progress Masbia has made is truly inspiring. On their opening day in 2005 they served just eight meals. Now, they serve around five to six-hundred meals a day through their hot meal program and an estimated twenty-seven thousand more each week through their take-home pantry bags. In total, Heyen says they expect to serve 1.5 million meals in 2014 alone.
What’s more, Masbia strives to ensure that each of those 1.5 million meals is nutritious and of the best quality possible… which can’t be said about all soup kitchens.
“There’s a funny thing about a lot of soup kitchens,” Heyen says. “When they do have fruits and vegetables, it’s the bottom of the barrel,” Heyen says, “We try to use as many fresh [ingredients] as possible.”
The attention to quality doesn’t go unnoticed, or unappreciated. According to Heyen, the staff get the most feedback from their diners when the pantry packages have fresh produce. “They’re very excited because that’s usually hands-off for a lot of these people. They can’t afford it or it’s not top priority,” he says. “So, when they get this beautiful [bag] of greens or broccoli or carrots or whatever it is, they’re excited because it’s not necessarily something they would go buy on their own.”
The food served is also kosher, of course, but that’s not something Masbia cares to overemphasize. “I would probably guess that those who come in who don’t eat kosher, who aren’t orthodox, probably don’t realize we’re kosher,” says Heyen. “And by design, we like that.”
Masbia receives everyone. It’s a policy so fundamental to Masbia it’s even reflected in their logo, which is not, as one might assume an “M” for “Masbia” but the Tent of Abraham, a structure that, according to biblical history was open to the four winds so that anyone was welcome to come or go.
“We really want to be open to everyone,” Heyen says. “It’s why our model is a storefront. When people walk down the street they think we’re a restaurant, and that’s what we want.”
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