Medium: The Hidden Hungry
By Erin Riglin and Wendy Rhodes
One charity’s quest to fill the stomachs of New York City’s growing food-insecure population.
Coney never saw it coming. He has master’s degrees in computer science and mathematics. He enjoyed a lucrative career in information technology for four decades.
But as the years passed, the digital age outpaced him.
“One day it just happened, and you’re just hit like a brick in the face and all of a sudden, ugh, a new reality,” Coney says.
Coney is not his real name. He is afraid his children will be ashamed if they find out he sometimes goes hungry.
Food insecurity is defined as not having the financial means to obtain three nutritionally adequate meals a day. It can affect anyone at any time.
Each year, one in five New Yorkers will find themselves, at some point, unable to afford food. Many have jobs and roofs over their heads, but find that there is simply not enough money left over to eat.
Some people go hungry because of harrowing circumstances like illnesses or gaps in public assistance. Many senior citizens, like Coney, are retired or unable to find work.
People who are used to supporting themselves may find traditional soup kitchens unnerving. Long lines and sometimes unsafe or unclean surroundings can be off-putting for people who are used to providing for themselves and may not want others to know that they cannot afford to eat.
But New York charity Masbia, named after a Hebrew word meaning “to satiate,” is changing the way food-insecure people eat.
Executive Director Alexander Rapaport is the co-founder behind what he calls “a restaurant without a cash register.”
Flower-laden planters adorn the entrance to the pristine restaurant where waiters serve first-rate kosher food on white china. Hebrew music plays softly over the low din of diners, some wearing suits.
Reservations are encouraged. This ensures that surrounding business are not disturbed by long lines, and that diners may plan meals around their time-crunched schedules.
“People come in our doors with an empty stomach and leave with a full stomach,” Rapaport says. “It is very gratifying.”
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