How a couple who started a food bank spend their Sundays


When the pandemic caused food banks to close in March 2020, two soup kitchen volunteers, Mammad Mahmoodi and Sasha Allenby, borrowed the kitchen of a baker friend to prepare hot meals for those in need.

This evolved into EV Loves NYC, a nonprofit that cooks 2,000 meals every Sunday from its headquarters at Sixth Street Community Center in Manhattan’s East Village.

The food is not typical soup kitchen. Every weekend, volunteers prepare dishes that reflect the cultural heritage of the chef in charge.

The meals are then packed into cars, vans, bike carts and backpacks for delivery to New Yorkers in the five boroughs. Some 30 organisations, including aid groups, churches and mosques, are helping with the distribution.

Mr Mahmoodi, 35, and Ms Allenby, 49, who have both kept their full-time jobs despite putting in 40 hours a week at EV Loves NYC, are also in a relationship. In March, they moved from the East Village to Bushwick, Brooklyn.

FIRST PART Mammad Mahmoodi: I wake up at 7am and start checking my messages, making sure everything is in place, like the huge amount of rice we’re using. I have to leave at 7:30 p.m. so I can get to the community center before 8 p.m., when the volunteers start arriving. I never have lunch. One of the volunteers usually comes with a bag of bagels or something from a local cafe. Sasha Allenby: I make a chocolate smoothie at home before entering the fray. I arrive around 9am.

DISTRIBUTION OF DUTIES MM: On Sundays we have three shifts. The first shift consists of preparing, chopping and cooking. It’s 10 people. The second shift is actually preparing the food. It’s 15 people. The third shift is cleaning. It’s only five people. Before the kitchen people arrive around 8:30 am, I walk around to help with the installation. HER: When I get there, I talk mostly with volunteers, making sure everyone is fine on a personal level. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve had 1,400 volunteers come through our door. Among them, 30 to 40 come back and are deeply in love with the project. They are our core.

RISE IN COSTS MM: Over the past six months, inflation has really impacted us. We buy everything in bulk, but it affects us drastically. HER : Due to Mammad’s economic prowess, we were doing gourmet meals for 80 cents apiece. That same meal now costs $2.20.

ALMOST SEAMLESS MM: Our first and most important rule is that we prepare gourmet meals that people are passionate about. We are food snobs. HER : It should be like a meal from Seamless. The same impact.

INTENTION MM: At 11:30 am, when the first team finishes and the second team starts, we do the stand-up. This is where everyone gathers to say, “Hey, what’s the meaning of this food?” What do we do?”

PREPARE FOR THE RHYTHM HER : Two to three times a month we have a volunteer DJ come in on the second shift. DJ Tommy is our most frequent. When he walks in, the vibe in the kitchen is super high. It really makes a difference. MM: It’s funny: when you have a DJ, efficiency and productivity skyrocket. HER : It makes people more connected.

THE REGULARS HER : In the afternoon, people from the neighborhood come to get food. I spend time with them one-on-one, making sure I’m building a connection. A lady is a larger than life character. She’s a poet. Sometimes she writes poetry for us or dances for us. It’s the kind of place. People feel welcome to come in and get some love and some connection. The poet usually takes five or six meals. She receives no other hot meals during the week.

HOT TRICKS MM: The food we have prepared is for many different organizations. But I would say that 400 to 500 of the 2,000 meals that we prepare each week go to homeless populations. Around 5 a.m., volunteers from two or three self-help groups go to places where the homeless population is known to go, such as Chinatown and Washington Square Park. The food is placed in heated bags, similar to the ones they wrap pizzas in, so it’s hot for them.

LATE QUARTER HER : I’m here for the cleaning. I’m not particularly a neat freak, but I’m very aware that the community center is not our space. We rent 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 shout, “Anyone here? It started as a joke, but now it’s a tradition, like the closing bell. It’s a big community center. We want to make sure no one has fallen asleep under the bench. HER : Prepared food packages are lined up in the aisle. Associations come forward to recover it.

SPENT MM: We are going home on the L train. Long live the L train. HER : With us, we are collapsing. The work and the number of people we communicated with and the amount of our heart we put into it makes us crumble. MM: After a shower, I passed out. It is the deepest sleep there is.

Sunday Routine readers can follow EV Loves NYC on Instagram and TikTok @evlovesnyc.



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