As the Philanthropy Journal moves through a new cycle on our editorial calendar, we will periodically republish articles from our archive. Please enjoy this piece on Masbia from February 2016.
By Charlena Wynn
When it comes to giving, thinking outside of the box can be rewarding. However, even creative ideas should be realistic and appropriate. Mission focused organizations specialize in funding, services, and mentoring among many other acts of kindness which are implemented through strategic planning, to ensure the needs of the underserved are met. Where does dignity fall under nonprofit’s strategic planning and program development? While simple, dignity can greatly impact the underserved and how nonprofits carry out their missions but also how they touch the lives of those they help.
Masbia, the first and only kosher soup kitchen in Brooklyn, New York, has continued to serve each patron with dignity since 2003. Formed by Mordechai Mandelbaum and Executive Director, Alexander Rapaport, the two envisioned serving “nourishing kosher meals daily for free” in a clean, well-lit space. For Rapaport, his charity is an extension of his kitchen table. Much like you may share a meal with a friend going through a difficult time, Rapaport believes this should be true for soup kitchens. Treating those who are hungry like “the people that they are,” can improve the ways in which nonprofits help those they serve.
“Waste, is not to be given to the poor,” says Alexander. Serving each patron with a side of dignity with their meal is critical to changing the culture of how we think about those in poverty. The food pantry and soup kitchen at Masbia does not seek to humanize people who are hungry, instead it recognizes their humanity by their own right by creating respectful experiences. Their approach utilizes basic customer service techniques which has been successful in fulfilling their mission. Nonprofits who incorporate customer service skills into their strategic planning, can have more successful outcomes and relationships with their clients.
Saying No to Leftovers
For Rapaport, there are many reasons why giving leftovers to soup kitchens is not helpful. For one, leftovers can signify a lack of care or concern for those in poverty by giving them old, bruised, or stale food. Masbia thrives on fresh meals made daily by their chief. Additionally, leftovers prevent Masbia from planning their menu for the day. The daily menu is posted on their website for each of the four locations, and without predictability Masbia would be unable to do so. The chef, makes the menu as he goes, so patrons can enjoy thoughtful and creative meals.
Additionally, leftovers are not practical for Masbia, who serves 20,000-30,000 pounds of food each week. In New York City (NYC) there is an estimated 19 million people living in poverty and Masbia is realistic about their goals: to feed those in need. They don’t assume to fix the issue of poverty particularly with a $2.5 million dollar yearly budget, which is relatively small considering the rate of poverty in NYC. “The money we raised today, is paying off debts from yesterday.” Each day, the soup kitchen is constantly working towards feeding more people. Even so, donated food and leftovers are not able to feed those that they serve currently. Many restaurants or organizations who donate food, may only have enough for a portion their patrons. Therefore, monetary donations go to stocking the soup kitchen and food pantry shelves to create nutritious meals and utilities such as power so the kitchen runs smoothly.
As a grassroots organization, many may want to involve farming and gardening techniques into their strategic plans as opposed to leftovers. Rapaport says while the intentions are good, this is unrealistic and not economically viable when feeding large groups of people who may skip a meal or two. The food should not only be nutritious but also filling and culturally appropriate. Leftovers and urban gardening cannot sustain organizations like Masbia. He questions, if leftovers are not economically viable and realistic for restaurants, why should soup kitchens utilize donated or leftover food?
Its goals are simple – strive to serve more meals to hungry men, women, and children. Simplicity, kindness, and focus are the driving forces behind Masbia and influence their strategic planning. While most soup kitchens operate as an extension of a large organization like a church or second hand clothing store, Masbia is different. Masbia’s focus is solely on feeding people who are hungry. Patrons of the nonprofit are not asked to give identifying information, submit to drug tests or counseling, and are able to enjoy their meal without interruption from staff or volunteers. Alexander explains that his soup kitchen is unconditional. With no agenda, Masbia patrons are able to remain autonomous and make the best decisions for themselves. They have seen success stories emerge from this approach such as cabby who was able to change his life because of their zero agenda strategy. Because he was not pressured, he was able to make changes for himself and continue to do so. Masbia is not focused on changing people but on serving a need – hunger.
With a clearly focused mission, goal, and strategy, Masbia has been able to provide a safe and respectful space for those who are hungry. Because of the transparency of the soup kitchen via their social media profiles, Masbia’s approach has created awareness for hunger, poverty, and the culture of poverty. While Masbia’s goal is to continue to feed more people each day, they have brought awareness to the lack of dignity and empathy those in poverty may face each day. They remain honest to themselves and those who take a seat in their restaurants. Nonprofits who do not empathize and allow their clients to remain autonomous can do a great disservice to the underserved. Dignity and respect, simple concepts, have a great return.
Charlena Wynn is currently pursuing her Master’s of Arts in Liberal Studies at NC State University with a concentration in examining the construction of Blackness in contemporary United States museums.