The coronavirus pandemic may be over for many people, but the Long Beach Soup Kitchen — a battle station during the long health crises — is busier than ever.
The soup kitchen, across from the Recreation Center, at 140 W. Pine St., has a different normal than most other places. When Covid-19 was at its peak, and virtually everything else was closed, kitchen President Robert Blau and volunteers were working and the facility remained open. Meals were in high demand, and the occupants of vehicles that pulled up often asked for not just one, but sometimes five or six meals, for an entire family.
Before March 2020, meals could only be given out and eaten inside the kitchen, at its tables. Once the coronavirus began to spread, that wasn’t possible anymore, but more people than ever needed meals. So an adjustment was made that is still in operation today: meals-to-go.
“Once Covid hit, we couldn’t serve inside anymore,” said Betsy Glazer, who leads fundraising and is the kitchen’s head cook on Mondays. “There was a core group of us that came every day and would hand out the lunches. We’ve continued to hand out the lunches at the door, rather than have people come in and sit down.”
Blau said that the soup kitchen is now giving out 60 to 70 percent more meals than it did before the pandemic. “Our numbers have dramatically increased since Covid-19,” he said. “And that’s due to the fact that we’re serving various populations. Our goal is to serve and help as many people as possible, and by serving meals-to-go, we do that.”
The soup kitchen is open every day. Its pantry, which allows people to come to a window and shop for groceries, is available Mondays and Thursdays. Some people begin lining up before 8 a.m., even though it doesn’t open until 11:15.
In pre-pandemic times, Blau recalled, “We only had a small pantry when we were serving indoors, and the guests would walk in and they would … pick out a couple things. During Covid, we did a pantry every single day, where people could look through the Plexiglas, pick stuff out and take it home. Now we’re doing it Monday through Thursday, and traditionally, Mondays and Thursdays are our biggest days.”
Most of the kitchen’s food supply is donated by Trader Joe’s, which delivers soup, vegetables, fruits, meats, bread and canned goods each week. The soup kitchen also gets donations from neighbors and local groups. In addition to Trader Joe’s, Blau said, the generosity of the community and additional contributions from Island Harvest and Long Island Cares can always be relied on.
“We’re helping people not only with ready meals but helping supplement their financial situation, too,” Blau said. “The pantry is a tremendous part of that.”
He said he sees the value of the help it offers on the faces of those who line up each day. He and roughly 45 volunteers have no plans to slow down anytime soon. The hard times at the heart of the pandemic and the changes it necessitated seem to have brought the volunteers and those they help even closer together.
“I guess what has changed the most though, with what we saw during Covid, is that people weren’t necessarily coming just for lunches anymore,” Glazer said. “They really wanted to shop. We have the pantry, and they come to get food for their families.”