“If there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman... Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.”
This text, from Deuteronomy 15:7-8, along with four commentaries from the Talmud, was the framework for the discussion considered by 30 participants attending the Engage Community Brunch held at JCC Manhattan on Sunday, December 7th. In small groups, people attempted to answer:
- What do you think it means to provide someone “sufficient for his needs”?
- Should there be limits?
- How might this principle be instituted today?
After the discussion, Rabbi Brian Fink, director of Engage, introduced Beau Heyen, COO of the Masbia soup kitchen and food pantry. Masbia is unique in that it is the only program in the city that functions as a “restaurant without an address.” Two friends came up with their vision while studying Talmud together in 2005 as an attempt to provide in a dignified way to provide for those who are hungry. The first night the initial “restaurant” opened in Borough Park, only eight people showed up. After one month, 100 meals a night were being served. Key to the mission of Masbia, unlike many government operated social services programs, is that there is no intake process. People are welcomed into a restaurant setting where they are served tableside by volunteers rather than a cafeteria-style food line so common in soup kitchens. There are currently locations in Brooklyn and Queens.
Masbia serves a kosher meal consisting of soup, bread, salad, a protein like chicken, a starch, vegetable, and dessert at a cost of $6 per meal, thanks to donations. They operate with a budget of $2.2 million per year gathered from primarily private funding and partnering with UJA Federation and Met Council. Over 250 volunteers and a paid staff of only 15 serve meals Sunday through Thursday. By the end of 2014, Masbia will have served over 780,000 meals.
Would you like to volunteer for Masbia with Engage? Contact Susan Kranberg, Brooklyn Engage community organizer, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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