Six packages per minute was the rate at which groceries left the Masbia food depot on a Wednesday afternoon in September, bound for neighbors in need.
Rosh Hashanah began on Sunday and volunteers at Masbia, a network of kosher soup kitchens and food pantries, were racing against time, assembling large packages of food for the festivities. The packages were attached to the bikes of DoorDashers, who transported them to residents of Borough Park and Flatbush. Masbia has partnered with DoorDash Dash Project Initiative in March to deliver groceries to area families, for which DoorDash covers all costs.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, marks the start of the peak holiday season. Yom Kippur and Sukkot quickly follow in the first weeks of October. But all those holidays can put extra stress on those who are self-employed – observant Jews are not allowed to work during this time, and schools close for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“If you’re a car service driver, a graphic designer, a plumber, an electrician, you get paid for the work,” said Alexander Rapaport, executive director of Masbia. “If you have that many days off for four consecutive weeks, you’re going to miss a lot of work.”
Laura Allen, who coordinates Masbia’s volunteers, agreed that demand for help from the organization has always been high during the Peak Holiday Season. Allen attributed the increased need to the large family sizes in the neighborhood and the closures of religious schools – parents who depend on schools to provide daily meals for their children are suddenly having to scramble to make up the difference.
Thomas Adebiyi, who has coordinated Goke Food Pantry since it opened in 2013, said while demand for food aid is high year-round, Thanksgiving presents a particularly costly challenge: turkey.
Each year, Goke Food Pantry provides 1,000 turkeys to those in need. While he would like to give visitors more for the food-centric holiday, Adebiyi is focused on investing the funds where they will do the most good.
“Turkey is always the most expensive thing on the Thanksgiving table,” he said.
This year, Adebiyi says, the price of a thousand turkeys has risen from $12,000 to $22,000, nearly doubling what it will take to fund the giveaway.
Masbia and Goke Food Pantry were created in response to community hunger, and Covid and inflation have increased food insecurity. Food prices rose more than 10% in New York and New Jersey in August from a year ago, the US Bureau of Labor Statistical reports.
In Community District 12, which includes Hasidic Borough Park, Kensington and Ocean Parkway, hunger and economic hardship are rampant. Almost one in four people live below the poverty line, according to the 2020 census, well above the city average of 14%. A one-third of the region’s inhabitants are under 18and many of those who are hungry are children.
rapport co-founded Masbia in 2005 and credits his family with the desire to share with those in need, a central tenet of Judaism. This desire to help those in need trumps all other concerns – even how the organization will manage to make month-to-month rent.
“My team hates me for this,” Rapaport said. “It’s tough because we constantly have to do payroll, but it’s also exciting. We’re putting money into action. Every dollar donated to Masbia is in someone’s stomach within two weeks.”
Simi Ganzfried, Masbia’s office manager for 16 years, echoed this unwavering commitment to feeding those in need by any means necessary.
“We will serve people no matter what. I won’t get paid, but we will buy food to feed people,” she said. “We make sure people are always fed, even if the bank account sucks.”
Ganzfried credits DoorDash with providing the delivery logistics infrastructure, allowing Masbia to meet increased demand – in the six months Masbia offered delivery, 1,700 people signed up in Borough Park alone.
Goke Food Pantry started small, says Adebiyi, but has also grown rapidly in response to the need for food in their community – the pantry now serves 12,000 to 15,000 people each month. Although Adebiyi admits that providing for so many needs is overwhelming, he ultimately finds being able to help very rewarding.
“People will tell you they haven’t eaten or eaten anything all day. But when they come here they have enough to eat and they feel full.”