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Masbia Serves Good Meals With Dignity rss

Posted on: August 3rd, 2010

From the sidewalk, the storefront window of Masbia in Rego Park, Queens, looks like one of many eateries in the neighborhood. But this restaurant-style kosher food kitchen is designed to offer a free hot dinner to people in the community who cannot afford a meal.

At Masbia, people in need can enjoy a meal in a restaurant-style setting. The kitchen in Rego Park is one of four in New York.

At Masbia, people in need can enjoy a meal in a restaurant-style setting. The kitchen in Rego Park is one of four in New York City.

The Queens site, which opened in March, is a collaborative effort between Masbia, a nonprofit organization, and Met Council on Jewish Poverty, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation of New York. It is one of four community kitchens in the Masbia network that also serve the Brooklyn communities of Borough Park, Flatbush, and Williamsburg.

“Dinner was delicious,” says a middle-aged man, who wished to remain anonymous, on a recent evening. “Really good. No complaints. A well-balanced, nutritious meal. As someone who only has one meal a day, this really hits the spot.”

On the menu that night are vegetable soup, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, watermelon, apples, rolls, and hot tea. A water bottle sits on each table along with cups, assorted condiments, and a prayer book for anyone who wishes to say grace after meals.

A curtain fanned to the side with a sash separates each table and lends the room an upscale-restaurant décor. If someone chooses to release the sash, the curtain can also provide privacy during the meal. At each table, paintings adorn the walls and many depict scenes of life in a Jewish village of another era.

“I was surprised there was a place like this, and the food is so good,” continues the man who had enjoyed his meal. “Because usually you don’t think something that is free will be good.”

Yehuda Weinberg, who runs the Queens Masbia, notes that the food is prepared at the Flatbush kitchen and delivered fresh each day. Masbia is open Sunday through Thursday from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. Any leftover food is frozen, packed in containers, and given out Thursday evenings for those who wish to take home a Shabbat meal.

“It’s not too easy right now,” says the man. “Two years ago, my wife died. I was laid off. I’m an accountant, trying to work part-time and per diem now. I didn’t have much money for food after I paid the rent, electricity, and medical bills – I have a bad heart. And if I did have the money left over, I couldn’t afford food as good as this – only pasta.”

And it’s not just the quality of the food that diners appreciate.

Safe, Clean, and Comfortable

“Everyone gets treated with respect and dignity,” says a woman who came for an earlier dinner that evening. “It’s a safe and comfortable environment. It’s always clean here. The staff is meticulous about that, and everything is up to par.”

The woman, who learned about Masbia through flyers posted in the community, adds, “It helps a lot of people. I consider it a mitzvah that people have the opportunity to have this, especially in today’s economic environment, when a lot of things are being taken away.”

The Rego Park Masbia serves more than 1,500 meals a month to adults, senior citizens, and families, according to Rose Turshen, a program manager at Met Council.

“Many of the people who come here are Jewish, but we serve all ethnicities,” says Weinberg. “More than half are senior citizens. A lot are Holocaust survivors.”

Two staff servers, often assisted by volunteers, serve the dishes on trays to the diners.

“It’s a pleasure to come here,” the man says as he stands to leave. “Every morning I wake up, I thank God for Masbia.”

It’s a gratitude that is not only expressed at the Rego Park Masbia.

Alexander Rapaport, executive director of Masbia, says he recently learned of a message written in Yiddish and left on a napkin at the Williamsburg location, which read, when translated:

3rd of Av

To the esteemed people involved,
You really enlivened me!
I was very hungry,
I don’t have any money,
I am leaving satiated.
Next year in Jerusalem.
Signed: I would like to stay anonymous.