QChronicle: Fighting hunger with elegance and grace

Thursday, February 17, 2011QChronicle: Fighting hunger with elegance and grace - #qchron
by Jason Cohen 

REGO PARK, N.Y. -- With the belief that no one should ever go to sleep hungry, the nonprofit group Masbia opened its fourth soup kitchen in Rego Park almost a year ago. Masbia, which brought in about $30,000 at a breakfast fundraiser last Sunday — with the promise of more to come — boasts that it is the only kosher food pantry in New York.

In addition to Rego Park, Masbia also operates soup kitchens in Flatbush, Boro Park, and Williamsburg. Two years ago, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Henry Orenstein helped bring Masbia to Rego Park.

However, finding the right location for a building wasn`t the easiest thing, said Aaron Laub, an active donor to the soup kitchen, whose family assisted in finding the location for the building. Many landlords didn`t want a soup kitchen, but eventually Masbia found a building that used to be a restaurant and renovated it.

“The place is renovated into a beautiful dining room,” Alex Rapaport, the executive director of Masbia, said.
Rapaport said the soup kitchen is a very special and important place: essentially a restaurant without a cash register.

Every week from Sunday to Thursday the doors are open for people to enjoy a hot meal and relax from 4 to 8 p.m. There are two waiters on staff and volunteers each day to help with setup of the dining room, serving the food and cleaning up, he said. Each day people can choose from two side dishes, vegetables, chicken, canned food, dessert, soup and other types of hot foods.

“We have more than 1,000 hours a month of volunteers, “Rapaport said. “You can come in, no questions asked.”
The soup kitchen serves about 120 people a night, and on Thursdays packages of non-perishable items are given out, because it is closed on Fridays sand Saturdays. Details are available at masbia.org.

“There should be an emergency place to fall back and have a hot meal,” Rapaport said. “There`s no emergency room for hunger.”

However, Rapaport explained, operating and maintaining a soup kitchen on a daily basis isn`t the easiest thing. Because the soup kitchen gives free meals to people, it is quite difficult to make money.

“The entire funding of Masbia of Queens is private donations,” he said. We`re under extra pressure to pay our bills. When people come and volunteer, it actually saves us money. Some days it`s very tough. We need much more money than we have.”

Rapaport added he hopes that Masbia is always there to support the less fortunate in the community and provide hot meals for anyone that need one, however at the same time, he hopes that there will come a day that no one will need the soup kitchen.

Last Sunday, Laub and his wife, Tzipora, hosted the fundraiser at their home in Kew Gardens Hills. Laub said it was a success, the food was very good and everyone had a great time. Prior to the breakfast, there were many political-style signs advertising the event throughout central Queens. It was a catered breakfast, he said, attended by 150 people, including congressman and senators.

“It`s an elegant eatery,” Laub said. “People can go and eat without feeling like begging. Everyone gets treated with dignity.”

Laub said he contacted Rapport about hosting the breakfast just because he and his family wanted to do a mitzvah and assist the soup kitchen.

“They don`t want recognition,” Rapaport said. They are very modest in what they do.”

The Laubs invited many people from their temple about the breakfast, Rapaport said, adding that the family is committed to making sure the soup kitchen stays open and helps provide meals for people.

One person who knows firsthand about what it is like to serve people hot meals at the soup kitchen is waiter Yehuda Weinberg of Kew Gardens. Yehuda who is 26, began working there last summer and said it is a unique job experience because he is making money and working, but giving back to the less fortunate at the same time. Each day he arrives between 2 and 3 p.m., sets up the tables, serves food from 4 to 8 and cleans up until 9.

“It is important for organizations like Masbia to be there,” Weinberg said. “A lot of people always want to help.”

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