February 12, 2014
By Jeannette Josue
BROOKLYN, NY – Enter Masbia and you will immediately be greeted by a smiling host, who’ll then show you to your table. Moments later, an equally friendly server will offer you a hot and nutritious kosher meal, a fresh salad, and a beverage. The only difference between Masbia and other New York restaurants is that there is no tab to pick up or tip to pay at the end of each meal. That’s because Masbia—which means “to satiate” in Hebrew–is a very unique dining experience.
Masbia Soup Kitchen focuses on providing free and delicious meals to the hungry in a welcoming, restaurant-style atmosphere. Alexander Rapaport, currently the executive director, and his partner, Mordechai Mandelbaum, opened the first and only kosher soup kitchen in Borough Park, Brooklyn in 2005. Their mission is to make all who enter feel comfortable, especially large families.
“There is some scripture that said people didn’t die of hunger, they died of shame, for asking,” Alexander explains. “So taking away that stigma means giving people access to food, and doing it with dignity means people will come.”
Masbia currently has three operating sites in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. According to chief development officer, Beau Heyen, Masbia has already served 5,583 meals and distributed 7,840 pantry bags, representing 70,560 meals for the month of January 2014. Despite this high volume, the kitchen operates with only a total of three full-time salaried professional staff members including Chef Rubin Diaz. Donations from City Harvest, a food rescue organization, city farmer’s markets, and local community-supported agriculture’s, are delivered three times a week, and a daily target of 500 hot meals as well as “Weekend Take-Home Package” program is met with the aid of volunteers from the local communities. Additional help is provided by much-needed private donations.
Volunteers in the KitchenAmazingly, that works out to over 700,000 meals each year, and for 2014 the figure is expected to climb to one million—all on a budget of only about two million dollars. Because it’s so well-organized, in fact, Masbia was able to respond to the urgent plea from Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn’s 39th Congressional District to help some of the victims made homeless by Superstorm Sandy, and they served 600 evacuees at the armory in the Park Slope neighborhood.
In addition, Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, five other food pantries, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce collaborated to collect nonperishable food as a part of the first “Brooklyn Eats Cares” in December, 2013. “This is the time when we also need to help those Brooklynites who are less fortunate than ourselves,” says Carlo A. Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
As funding for social services is cut and more families go hungry, Masbia has every intention of helping as many of them as possible. “There are good people out there who will partner with you,” says Alexander with a wide smile, “and keep a place like this open.”
Want to get involved?
Masbia is a nonprofit soup kitchen network and food pantry, providing hot, nutritious meals daily for hundreds of New Yorkers in desperate need of food, and every week handing out hundreds of weekend take-home packages of groceries. In 2009, Masbia expanded from one kitchen and dining hall in Brooklyn’s Boro Park, to a three-kitchen network throughout Brooklyn and Queens.
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