Midwood `Restaurant` Feeds the Hungry

Monday, 21 December 2009

Written by Christina PisanoSoup kitchens are traditionally associated with processions of the hungry crowding city sidewalks outside centers where food is offered in a mess-hall style for free or for a very low price. The long wait draws unwanted attention from passers by, heightening the shame often associated with poverty.

Masbia, meaning "satiate,” was founded in Borough Park in 2005. It became the first soup kitchen of its kind serving the hungry in a restaurant-style center, offering kosher food and a seat at a natural wood table with leafy green plants, to allow the diners some privacy. Patrons were offered entrees balanced with protein, starch, a vegetable, and dessert, as well as an array of fresh breads to complement the hot soup.

With the opening of its latest location on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood (between Avenues J and K), Masbia has attracted patrons from outside of the Jewish community. My Neighborhood Statistics, a report from the Mayor`s Office, mentions that Masbia`s latest kitchen has served 1.5 million patrons who received food stamps during 2008.

“Since we opened, we served 50 to 80 people a night. The number is constantly rising as word of our opening travels through the grapevine,” said Alexander Rapaport, executive director of Masbia. “We have the capacity to feed over 60 people at a given time, and are open 4 to 9 p.m. five days a week, Sunday through Thursday. A person usually eats for 20 to 30 minutes, which means we can serve a few hundred a night.”

A 2009 Poverty Report by the New York State Community Action Association of the city Department of Youth and Community Development has determined that 22 percent of Brooklyn`s 2.5 million residents are victims of poverty, nearly three quarters of whom are families with children.

“Although the number of people patronizing this site is far from its capacity, the ratio of families and children fed is higher than the two other Masbia sites,” said Rapaport.
Though poverty continues to be a daily battle for many of Brooklyn’s residents, Masbia’s Midwood location (in addition to its storefronts in Borough Park, Williamsburg, and Queen’s Rego Park) has helped aid the hungry in a rather unconventional way, providing those in need with a quiet and private place to eat.

A 49-year-old man sitting alone by a curtain-draped window in Masbia’s Midwood location illustrated that the restaurant-style seating provides the kind of dining that the poor rarely get to enjoy.

“When you’re unemployed and struggling, you can’t just walk into any restaurant and share dinner with the rest of the place. Here, there’s that chance,” he said.

The Young Israel synagogue of Flatbush donated toys and gold-wrapped “Hanukah gelt” chocolate coins collected during a recent drive to Masbia, to give to children visiting the Coney Island Avenue and other Masbia centers .along with a reception-style dinner, sponsored by the Council of Jewish Organization of Flatbush.

Making do as best they can with a combination of state and federal funds, and the donations that constitute the majority of their income, Masbia organizers hope to one day consolidate their centers so they can supply the rest of their kitchens.

“As of now, all sites are catered by local vendors,” said Rapaport. “Eventually the site on Coney Island Avenue will be operating as the central kitchen, supplying the food to all kosher soup kitchens in our network.”

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