It’s easy to walk right by Masbia without taking notice. The all-window storefront in Forest Hills is blacked out except for the doorway, and the awning conceals the giant sign above.
But inside this soup kitchen and pantry, volunteers are working to feed a community – free of charge.
A friendly young woman with a British accent greets seniors pushing utility carts and hands out what they call “packages,” or weekly allowances of groceries for those in need.
Wednesday’s selections featured fruit juice, ketchup, canned kidney beans, yellow onions, dry yellow lentils and white beans, fresh okra (refused by many seniors), plums and russet potatoes.
On the door outside, a sign written in English and Russian explains that hot meals and grocery packages are available Sunday through Thursday.
“We try to provide a protein, a starch, vegetables and fruit every week,” said Ruben Diaz, site coordinator for the Forest Hills site. Masbia has two more locations, the original in Boro Park and another in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Started by Alexander Rapaport in 2005, the organization currently distributes more than 2 million meals per year from its three locations, according to its website.
At the Forest Hills branch, located at 105-47 64th Rd., volunteers serve up to 150 hot meals per day, and hand out about 600 packages per week, Diaz said.
Just beyond the entryway is a cozy 40-seat dining room, with an island at the center filled with slow-cookers and disposable dinnerware.
Mostly seniors fill the room, alone or in pairs, huddled over hot meals that include bread, salad, soup and chicken. Volunteers deliver the meals to diners at the tables, just like in a restaurant.
All that food has to come from somewhere, though. The modest dining room belies a cavernous storage space in the basement, heaped high with pallets of vegetables and crates of canned and dry goods.
The pantry moves 50,000 pounds of food each week, according to Masbia’s website. Volunteers have to bring all that food down to the basement for storage, and then back up to the entryway for package distribution.
Right now, it has to be moved by hand. Diaz is looking forward to the day when enough money is raised to buy a custom conveyor belt to move the food.
“Do you know how much a specialty conveyor belt costs?” asked Diaz. “About $10,000.”