Young volunteers assist with food distribution outside of a Masbia location in Brooklyn. Courtesy of Masbia
While strolling down Coney Island Avenue, an elderly man stopped me to ask if I volunteer at Masbia soup kitchen in Brooklyn. When I told him that I did, he thanked me with a smile. I felt so great, as if I really made a difference. At that time, I had only volunteered at Masbia a couple of times. From that day forward, I decided to volunteer at the soup kitchen at least once a month.
Volunteering at Masbia is not a glamorous job. The organization offers daily meals, and it also gives out packages with all of the necessities for each of the Jewish holidays. Masbia is hosting a large-scale Passover food distribution, giving away matzah, grape juice and fresh produce to those in need.
Working at a soup kitchen may be hard, but the experience will change you. Every volunteer is required to wear a hairnet, gloves and an apron, which are definitely not comfortable nor fashionable. At Masbia volunteers are assigned to distribute meals or work in the kitchen. I remember being so nervous when I first helped to hand out food, but it really wasn’t as bad as I expected. Most of the people were very grateful which eased my discomfort. (Photo: Wearing plastic aprons does not make the volunteer job fashionable. Courtesy of Masbia)
There is often an influx of guests who arrive at the same time, so managing the tasks can be challenging. The kitchen is always damp, and the jobs range from cleaning grease off pans to cutting vegetables. Dicing is no piece of cake; I once cut 10 pounds of rock-hard butternut squash in two hours. My hands ached for days.
I find it heartbreaking to see so many people who need food, especially children. Working at a soup kitchen is a reality check. When you see that others lack necessities that you have always taken for granted, you step back and see how lucky you are. It puts your life and problems into perspective, and allows you to be grateful and understand everything you have, rather than what you’re missing.
Even though the patrons at Masbia may not always seem appreciative, they are aware of how imperative the organization is to their daily life. Some aren’t polite and don’t say please or thank you, and I once saw an old woman yelling at a volunteer because he gave her the full portion of food and she only wanted fruit. Before judging those who seem ungrateful and aloof, you must remember that you do not know the person’s situation or life story. Masbia does not question or challenge anyone who walks through the door.
The act of chesed, or kindness, to others is a noble and selfless act, but also makes you feel purposeful. Volunteering at a soup kitchen is particularly inspiring, because you are not just behind the scenes donating money or products to a blank face, having no contact with the receiver. Here you are able to physically help someone in need, and understand what you are really doing for someone. Anyone who wants to volunteer at Masbia is welcome.