NY Daily News: Kosher Soup Kitchen Masbia is Hungry for Aid

Posted on: June 27, 2011

NY Daily News: Kosher soup kitchen Masbia is hungry for aid 

In these tough times, even people who help people have to find ways to save money doing it.

For the last few weeks, Masbia has been serving chicken wings.

“We used to give whole chickens, based on family size, or maybe thighs and breasts,” said Alexander Rapaport, co-founder and executive director of the Brooklyn-based, kosher soup kitchen. “But for the last few weeks, we`ve started to give chicken wings only. We`re not exactly in a deficit, but we have to cut corners.”

In a way, Masbia is a victim of its own success. Founded in 2005 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Masbia now provides meals at additional locations in Williamsburg and Coney Island and, since November, on Queens Blvd. in Rego Park, Queens.

Thanks to the newer locations, the group has seen a 300% increase in individuals and families making use of its services.

“This fiscal year [2010-11], with all four kitchens fully operating, we have served 82,292 meals,” Masbia chef Moishe Brisk noted in a recent email to supporters. “That`s a 50% increase from last year and this year`s still not over!”

“When we opened the first one in April 2005, it was a very grass-roots kind of thing,” Rapaport said. “We kind of took a small railroad apartment on the first floor of the building and made it into a dining room. We made 25 meals that first night, and only eight people showed up.

“Slowly, as we got more formal and reliable, more people showed up and demand started to grow.”

Rapaport said co-founder Mordechai Mandelbaum was convinced that if they could create a kosher soup kitchen that enough people would come forward to support it to keep it running. “Part of that has been true, a lot of good people have come forward to volunteer and give money,” Rapaport said.

“But it has not been easy. It`s hard to keep a restaurant open in Brooklyn. Think how hard it is to keep a restaurant with no cash register open.

“It`s a huge challenge, even with all the good out there.”

Support from myriad groups, including the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and various City Council members, have helped guarantee funding to pay rents on their spaces.

But Masbia (Hebrew for satiate) still relies heavily on an army of volunteers who canvass the city collecting donated food that is then distributed to the needy.

Masbia operates five days a week, closing on Friday and Saturday. But the group distributes several hundred weekend meal packs on Thursday to help families get through the weekend.

“Anybody who walks in on Thursday gets a package, they just have to ask,” Rapaport said. “There is no means testing. We are all about respect to the client.

“It`s a miracle each week,” Rapaport said. “We still operate the Masbia the way we started, in an emergency mode. We have the cart before the horse. We are always overextended.”

More seniors use the Queens location, and mothers and children visit Coney Island, Rapaport said. More weekend packages are distributed in Williamsburg.

Masbia is hoping the City Council increases its appropriations in next year`s budget, which begins July 1.

There are a variety of ways to donate to the group, including by text-messaging. Call (718) 972-4446 or go to the website, www.masbia.org.

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