03 January 2010

Yankees’ Postgame Wrap-Up in the Name of Charity

For people who are struggling, getting something to eat [and not wasting that food] is important - hopefully some of the better quality food that must go to waste from New York's functions and restaurants could also be captured!

Reposted in full from the
New York Times, 15 August 2009

'The Blue Jays-Yankees game Wednesday was in the sixth inning when the hot dogs, hamburgers and sushi started arriving in Yankee Stadium’s underground food warehouse.

Into the 11th inning and after the game, the food came off freight elevators from luxury boxes, clubs and concession stands, in metal trays, on rolling racks and in boxes.

Carl Thomas, a warehouse worker recovering from his own hard times, packs the prepared, unserved food that is delivered after each game to hungry people.

“I just feel good doing this, you know?” Thomas said in a quiet, gravelly voice. “They call it a natural high.”

The food was headed to a local church, not to a distant landfill, because of Rock and Wrap It Up, an antipoverty think tank that arranges for churches, shelters and agencies to pick up postgame and postconcert leftovers for their pantries, food banks and soup kitchens.

“I envision ending poverty, and I know how to do it,” said Syd Mandelbaum, a self-described old hippie who started the organization in 1990 by persuading rock bands to send their prepared, but unserved, backstage and concessions food to local charities.

After Blink-182’s concert last Sunday at Jones Beach, for example, 250 pounds of food went to the Rosa Parks INN, a family shelter in Roosevelt, N.Y.

Charities that receive food — and have refrigerators — can stretch their strained budgets.

Over the years, Mandelbaum has arranged the recovery of food after the performances of 160 bands. (A tattoo on his left arm memorializes the Grateful Dead song “The Wheel.”) Since 2002, his group has added 31 sports teams — including the Yankees, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Nets, the Knicks, the Rangers, and the Devils — and their concessionaires.

“The food from Yankee Stadium should have been going to the people in this area for 85 years,” said Mandelbaum, whose network includes school districts and a small group of hotels. In all, he said, the organization has helped rescue 150 million pounds of food.

The system requires stadium workers like Thomas, who understands hunger. He was once homeless and once hooked on crack. He has embraced the task of packing the food that will go to one of several charities.

“When I do this, it keeps rewarding me,” he said. “It comes back to me at different times, tenfold.” He is 54 and lives a two-hour commute away in Jamaica. “People ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’ and I say, ‘I was homeless, I feel like it’s me I’m helping feed.’ ”

He added, “God’s given me something good in life.”

So Thomas methodically arranged knishes in boxes and transferred hot dogs, just off the grill, into plastic bags. He made sure the paper wrappings stayed on the Carl’s cheese steaks. He filled boxes with packaged slices of Famiglia pizza, and plastic containers with sushi rolls and fresh-cut mangoes and pineapple.

Boxes of oranges and apples on the shelves of a six-foot rack did not need Thomas’s attention. But he packed dozens of sealed bags of lettuce, tomatoes and onions; and plastic containers of mustard and barbecue sauce. “Fruit is especially expensive for agencies,” said Diane Mandelbaum, Syd’s wife and Rock and Wrap It Up’s vice president for operations.

“And the condiments,” she added, “are a specialty they just wouldn’t buy.”

When Thomas’s packing was done, there were 40 boxes of food and three enormous bags of bread. He and several other warehouse workers loaded two freight elevators with the rolling bounty and took it to three vans waiting in the Stadium’s loading dock.

The convoy needed a few minutes to reach the Woodycrest United Methodist Church, only a few blocks away, in a poor area where people are not likely to eat in a luxury box.

Outside the tiny white church on West 166th Street, across from a playground, about a dozen people were lined up for the Yankee food.

They had been alerted by fliers and the soup kitchen at the church earlier in the day.

A sign calling the church “The Breadbasket” hung to the left of its front door.

Volunteers quickly unfolded several long tables and sorted the contents of the boxes into a makeshift pantry. Anyone could take one of everything, if they wanted.

“When we get it, we give it away,” said the Rev. Denise Pickett, the church’s pastor, who has also picked up food at Citi Field.

“We have a lot of people on social services, on Medicaid, a lot of immigrants, families with three, four five kids,” she said. “We have seniors in wheelchairs who don’t do a lot of cooking. They’re ready for this.”

The recession has doubled the size of the church’s Wednesday soup kitchen.

Mandelbaum linked hands with his wife; Abby Kaish, the retired electrician who coordinates the sports food pickups; and the church’s volunteers.

He urged the people in line, carrying yellow shopping bags, to pray with them.

He thanked God, Pickett, the volunteers and the Yankees.

“Let us have a better day today,” he said.

Sylvia Danastorg loaded her small blue rollaway bag with as much as it could hold: a slice of pizza, a cheese steak, some fruit. “We need this in this hard time,” said Danastorg, 76, who lives with her husband on Social Security. “Look at all the kids around us. You can offer the kids a snack, something to eat. Thank God someone thought to do this.”

Thomas has not heard the gratitude of people his work has helped.

He’s never met them.'

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