When the pandemic forced food banks to close in March 2020, two soup kitchen volunteers, Mammad Mahmoodi and Sasha Allenby, borrowed the kitchen of a bakery friend to prepare hot meals for those in need.
That evolved into EV Loves NYC, a nonprofit that produces 2,000 meals every Sunday from its headquarters in the Sixth Street Community Center in Manhattan’s East Village.
The food is not typical soup kitchen. Every weekend, volunteers prepare dishes that reflect the chef’s cultural heritage.
The meals are then packed into cars, vans, bike trailers and backpacks for delivery to New Yorkers in all five boroughs. About 30 organizations, including aid organizations, churches and mosques, are helping with the spread.
Mr. Mahmoodi, 35, and Mrs. Allenby, 49, who have both kept their full-time jobs despite spending 40 hours a week on EV Loves NYC, are also a couple. In March, they moved from the East Village to Bushwick, Brooklyn.
PRE SHOW Mama Mahmoodi: I wake up at 7am and start checking my messages, making sure everything is in place, like the huge amount of rice we use. I have to leave at 7:30 so I can be at the community center before 8:00 when the volunteers come in. I never have breakfast. One of the volunteers usually comes in with a bag of bagels or something from a local coffee shop. Sasha Allenby: I make a chocolate smoothie at home before going into battle. I’ll be there around 9 am.
FUNCTIONS DISTRIBUTION mm: On Sunday we have three teams. The first shift is prepping and chopping and cooking. That’s 10 people. The second shift is actually scooping up the food. That’s 15 people. The third shift is cleaning up. That’s only five people. Before the kitchen people arrive at around 8:30 am, I walk around to help with the set-up. SA: When I get there, I mostly speak with volunteers, to make sure everyone is okay personally. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve had 1,400 volunteers come through our door. Of those, 30 to 40 keep coming back and are very much in love with the project. They are our core.
RISING COSTS mm: Inflation has really hit us over the past six months. We buy everything wholesale, but it has radically affected us. SA: Thanks to Mammad’s economic prowess, we made gourmet meals for 80 cents each. That same meal now costs $2.20.
NEARLY SEAMLESS MM: Our first and foremost rule is that we create gourmet meals that people rave about. We are food snobs. SA: It should be like a meal coming out of Seamless. Same impact.
INTENTIONS MM: At 11.30 am, when the first shift ends and the second shift begins, we do the standup. That’s where everyone comes together to say, “Hey, what’s the meaning of this food? What are we doing?”
PREPARING FOR THE BEAT SA: Two to three times a month we have a volunteer DJ who comes during the second shift. DJ Tommy is our most frequent. When he enters, the atmosphere in the kitchen is super high. It really makes a difference. MM: It’s funny: when we have a DJ, efficiency and productivity skyrocket. SA: It makes people feel more connected.
THE REGULARITY SA: In the afternoon people from the neighborhood come in to pick up food. I spend time with them individually and make sure I bond. One lady is a larger than life character. She is a poet. Sometimes she writes poetry for us or dances for us. That’s the kind of place. People feel welcome to come in and get a little love and a little connection. The poet usually takes five or six meals. She does not get any other hot meals during the week.
GOOD STUFF MM: The food we have prepared goes to many different organizations. But I’d say 400 to 500 of the 2,000 meals we make each week go to out-of-home populations. At about 5:00 PM, volunteers of two or three community workers go to places where we know the unhoused population goes, such as Chinatown and Washington Square Park. The food is put in heat bags, similar to what they pack pizzas in, so it’s warm for them.
LATE SHIFT SA: I’m here to clean up. I’m not much of a neat freak, but I’m well aware that the community center is not our space. We are renting it so I want to be respectful and leave it better than I found it. MM: The last thing we do before we close is yell, “Is anyone here?” It started as a joke, but now it’s a tradition, like the closing bell. It is a large community center. We want to make sure no one falls asleep under the couch. SA: The prepared packages of food are lined up in the alley. Organizations come by to pick it up.
PAID MM: We go home by L train. Long live the L train. SA: We collapse at home. The labor and the number of people we have interacted with and the amount of heart we have put into it makes us collapse. MM: I pass out after a shower. It’s the deepest sleep ever.
Sunday Routine readers can follow EV Loves NYC on Instagram and TikTok @evlovesnyc.