Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Manna From Music Feeds The Needy

When Stars Sing

By Duncan MoonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 4, 1998


A calm has begun to settle over the Jones Beach Theater. The James Taylor concert is winding down and strains of "Carolina in My Mind" resonate softly around the hall.

Skip to next paragraph

Backstage, a small group of people emerges from a tunnel door. Their identical black T-shirts look like uniforms, but they're not security, nor are they roadies getting ready to strike the set. They head straight for the kitchen, to gather food left from a pre-concert dinner.

They are volunteers for Rock and Wrap It Up - a group that turns untouched food destined for the garbage into meals for the hungry and homeless. It's a scene being played out each night at concert venues in more than 300 cities in the US.

Founded by Syd Mandelbaum five years ago, Rock and Wrap It Up has fed more than 4 million people - more than 2 million in the last year alone. It has been so successful that the program is now expanding to include food from business lunches and school cafeterias.

At first, Mr. Mandelbaum and his family gathered the food themselves, covering one concert a night, and he got eight bands to participate. But soon he set to work to duplicate his efforts with volunteers. Since then, the

growth has been explosive - there are now more than 110 bands involved, including The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, No Doubt, and The Three Tenors.

Part of Rock and Wrap It Up's success is that it has a unique draw for volunteers. Not only do they help feed the hungry, but they get to "hang backstage" at performances of some of the most popular bands in the world.

Food best money can buy

"Going backstage is a real perk," says Mandelbaum. "If you've ever tried to get backstage passes, you know it's impossible unless you know someone in the band. It's taboo, something they couldn't get otherwise, and it costs nothing but a little of their time."

Mark Snyder, who runs the catering operation at the Jones Beach Theater and is a member of Rock and Wrap It Up's board of directors, says the food is the best that money can buy, and many of those who receive the leftovers have never eaten anything like it.

"They're eating everything from seafood to mousse cakes," he says.

"They're used to having rice and beans, and you come walking into the shelter with London broil, scallops, or fresh shrimp, and they're like, 'Shrimp, what's a shrimp?' "

Mr. Snyder and other concert caterers always prepare more food than is needed, since there's no way of knowing how many people have been invited. So Mandelbaum never has to worry that there won't be any food left at any of the venues.

And since the concerts are scheduled months, sometimes years, in advance, Mandelbaum knows exactly where the food is going to be and can schedule his food-rescue efforts with a great deal of certainty.

"This takes the whole food-rescue process into the 21st century," he says.

"They've [food-rescue groups] always been called ... when someone has leftover food, usually at the last minute," he adds. "We, on the other hand, can tell them in advance where there's a 90 percent chance of food being available on a given night.

Tonight at Jones Beach, it's James Taylor's turn. Over the music backstage, Ted Kamin, his tour manager, says that although there has always been leftover food at Taylor's concerts, it was logistically impossible for the band to do anything about it.

"I mean we come into a city, we're not familiar with the city, we don't know where the food kitchens are," he says.

"They could be across town and we don't have the transportation and the wherewithal to get across town; and after the concert, we're usually pressed to pack up and push on to the next city anyway."

Mandelbaum runs the entire operation for less than $60,000 out of a 5-by-6-foot office off the kitchen of his home in Cedarhurst, N.Y.

All the information he needs to run the organization is in a battle-tested computer on the desk - and in his head.