For many of the 1.4 million hungry people in New York there is little or no access to sustainable and locally sourced food. Out of necessity, many food pantries and soup kitchens historically stocked take-home bags and filled plates with mass-produced food from far away places, frozen veggies and canned legumes.
With the help of organizations like City Harvest and Grow NYC, that’s started to change. These types of organizations connect local farmers and restaurants with hunger fighting organizations. This summer, these efforts are coming to New York’s hungry and kosher-keeping community, with the help of Masbia a network of four kosher soup kitchens in Queens and Brooklyn that serves both a kosher and non-kosher community.
This summer, they are sourcing much of their summer fruits and vegetables, which they use to serve 500 people five days a week, from local farmers with the help of donations and partnerships.
The fresh produce, which the organization started collecting last summer, when they opened their first centralized kitchen, is pieced together from a variety of sources. In addition to donations from the Food Bank of New York and City Harvest, which often include local and sustainable food, Masbia, picks up unsold produce at several local farmers markets regularly.
Each week they are guaranteed donations from the Boro Park and the Windsor Terrace farmers markets, both of which are located in Brooklyn. They have also received a number of other “surprise donations” from places like the Union Square farmers market, which called Masbia on July 4th to see if they could pick up boxes and boxes of unsold vegetables. “We almost can get away without filling a produce order this summer,” explains Rapaport.
Donations have included squash, cherries, apples, eggplant and corn is starting to pop up. “It’s a real treat for people — [these foods] would’ve never been on our menu otherwise,” says Alexander Rapoport Masbia’s executive director.
The contents of each week’s food donation, however, is unknown until pickup, forcing the chefs to be creative in their menu planning on short notice. “It’s almost like being in bamidbar [the dessert] — where you didn’t know what the manna would taste like,” Rapoport added.
The donations also pose other challenges. Organic produce is often laden with small bugs which must be removed for the vegetables to be kosher. Each month, volunteers put in at total of 2000 hours of free labor and part of that during the summer is dedicated to insuring that the vegetables are cleaned well enough to pass orthodox kosher standards.
Despite its challenges, these efforts are worth while not only because they put fresh healthy food on the table and connect Masbia to a larger food community, but because all of this produce comes free. Ultimately, allowing Masbia, which has struggled financially during the recession to continue with its unique vision.