Charity brings donated food to LI's hungry
Almost every Sunday night, Darryll Smith drives 20 miles from his Hempstead home to Madison Square Garden, but he arrives too late to see a game or event. Nor does he intend to -- he's not there for entertainment, he's there to help the hungry.
Smith picks up boxes of unsold but fresh-wrapped hamburgers, hot dogs and salads left over and donated by food concessions, which he later delivers to homeless shelters in Hempstead. The trip there and back takes him three hours, and he's been repeating the routine -- which also has him dropping off food to other locations on Long Island -- for the past four years.
"I have a vision of helping men who are down on their luck, hungry and trying to get back on their feet," said Smith, 53, a technician in the Sleep Disorders Center in Great Neck, an affiliate of the North Shore Long Island Jewish health system.
Smith's routes are preplanned by Rock and Wrap It Up, a Cedarhurst-based anti-poverty think tank that fights hunger. The group has more than 400 volunteers on Long Island and more than 5,000 others in the United States and Canada who recover donated, leftover food and deliver it to the needy. One of its major local venues is the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, where the Islanders hockey team plays.
"The terrific partnership between the Islanders and Rock and Wrap It Up has resulted in tens of thousands of hungry New Yorkers being fed over the years," said Ann Rina, spokeswoman for the New York Islanders Hockey Club. "After every major event there was always excess food that was just discarded, and now, with Rock, we've put an end to that waste."
That's music to Syd Mandelbaum's ears. The Cedarhurst resident is the driving force behind Rock and Wrap It Up, which he founded in 1991.
"I chose the path of the volunteer in 1990 because I had a passion to change the world, to find ways to feed the hungry," said Mandelbaum, 63, who left a career in medical research to launch the nonprofit. "But the ultimate goal was, and still is, to root out poverty; and over the years [Rock and Wrap It Up] has made a tremendous impact by arranging for the recovery and redistributing to the poor of surplus, previously wasted food -- especially on Long Island -- but the whole of North America is our bailiwick."
Mandelbaum's global passion stems from a more personal source -- two of them to be precise.
"I had only to look at my parents and I saw my future pathway," he said, referring to Joseph and Lena Mandelbaum, who live in Princeton, N.J.
"My parents are Holocaust survivors who almost starved to death as teenagers in Nazi concentration camps. After the war ended and they were liberated by Russian troops, they married and then spent five more years in an American displaced person's camp in Germany. In 1950 they were accepted into the United States.
"I'm so grateful for the welcome they received here and the free and vital lives they live to this day that I wanted to give back something to this country by adding my voice to the war against hunger."
Mandelbaum helped set up a soup kitchen in Rockaway Beach in 1987 and, a year later, was appointed to the board of directors of Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a major regional food bank, where he served for nine years. Long Island Cares recently reported that a 2009 hunger study -- the last year for which statistics are available -- showed that 320,000 Long Islanders are "food insecure," which the study defines as having "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways."
Long Island Cares was founded in 1980 by the late singer, songwriter and social activist Harry Chapin. In 1990, Mandelbaum was introduced to Ron Delsener, a rock band impresario who had managed Chapin's career. Their conversation sparked the birth of Rock and Wrap It Up.
"It came to me when Ron told me about all the wasted food at rock concerts, good prepared but untouched leftover food that was simply thrown away after performances like the ones he organized at Jones Beach Theater," Mandelbaum recalled. "I was outraged."
And Mandelbaum did something about it.
"Ron and I arranged for the Rockaway Beach soup kitchen volunteers to pick up leftover food after concerts and events at Jones Beach Theater and distribute it directly to the needy in their area," he said.
Army of volunteers
It occurred to Mandelbaum that "if food was left over from one performance venue where rock bands play, it probably was potentially available at all of them," he said, noting that Rock and Wrap It Up has established a network of contacts throughout the United States and Canada that includes 160 bands and 36 film and television production companies.
Someone's got to pick up all that food. Here on Long Island, many of the group's volunteers are longtime helpers.
"I've been doing pickups for Rock and Wrap It Up at places like Shea Stadium and Nassau Coliseum for 10 years, loading up my Hyundai to the roof with boxes of good food," said Rhonda Pavels, 57, a bookkeeper who lives in Valley Stream. She then often makes deliveries to shelters and soup kitchens after a full day's work because "I believe in this cause and I'm proud to be able to help."
Retired electrician Abby Kaish, 60, of Long Beach, runs the organization's It's a Wrap program, arranging for recovery and redistribution from donors like NBC Universal and Warner Brothers.
"Volunteering is great for retirees like me," Kaish said. "It gives me something worthwhile to do, and I can't think of anything better than to help out when someone is hungry."
But the organization didn't stop by partnering with performance venues; it soon cast about for other public places where food is sold, Mandelbaum added.
"We've branched out to include 200 school SnackWrap programs, and 67 sports franchises in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS have participated in SportsWrap programs," he said. "In addition, the Marriott, Grand Hyatt and Langham hotel chains contribute unopened paper products, soaps and other items to HotelWrap. We partner all of these venues with soup kitchens and other agencies in their local areas to receive their donations and deliver them into the hands of the needy."
Rock and Wrap It Up has a nine-member board of directors, a group of like-minded individuals from around the country. Among them is Woodmere resident Saul Lerner, director of athletics in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
Lerner, 56, said organizing a food recovery program for the district's seniors was "a no-brainer. The kids volunteer to take leftover food from the cafeterias and bring it to local shelters. It builds community spirit for them and it gives a little boost for the [shelter] occupants."
Like the group's network of contacts, supporters of Rock and Wrap It Up's mission extend far and wide. TV personality Sharon Osbourne has been associated with the nonprofit for 18 years.
"It's an amazing organization," she said. "[Husband] Ozzy and I have immense satisfaction knowing that food left over at our events is feeding people who need it."
Sign me up
Founder Syd Mandelbaum said that Rock and Wrap It Up's 5,000 affiliates also vet the agencies with whom they partner, requiring an accounting by spreadsheets of the amount of food they recover. "And we require that agencies have public health and safe food handling certification issued by local municipalities, that agencies have refrigeration and freezers, that their volunteers have transportation and cellphones, among other criteria," he said.
Rock and Wrap It Up continues to expand, but the organization's financial resources are strained and donations are needed to help the group continue its mission. Contact officials at 516-295-0670 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations to help feed the hungry are accepted, and a form is available on the group's website, rockandwrapitup.org
Contact: Diane Mandelbaum,
vice president of operations,
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Long Island Cares/Harry Chapin Food Bank, Long Island's first food bank, is based in Hauppauge and is named for the late singer and social activist who founded Long Island Cares in 1980. Chapin -- whose greatest hit was "Cat's in the Cradle" -- believed in ending world hunger and worked tirelessly toward that goal.
Contact: 631-582-3663, licares.org
Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) was founded in 1983 in Hempstead, where it is based. It was a soup kitchen operated by a small group of volunteers. The group expanded after others in communities across Long Island sought an outlet to assist the hungry in their own communities.
Contact: 516-486-8506, the-inn.org
Island Harvest Food Bank, based in Mineola, is Long Island's largest hunger relief organization. The group's volunteers and staff collect surplus food from local restaurants, caterers, farms and other food-related businesses and distribute it to a network of more than 500 soup kitchens, food pantries and other places that serve the needy.
Contact: 516-294-8528, islandharvest.org islandharvest.volunteerh