A 46-year-old father of five, Syd Mandelbaum attends some 80 rock concerts a year. But he doesn’t go to sing along with the band. Armed with plastic wrap and a cooler, he stations himself backstage, where he collects food for the hungry.
Rock bands typically order up huge quantities of edibles to be consumed during and after concerts. In the past, much of the food would go to waste. Six years ago, Mandelbaum founded Rock and Wrap It Up!, now an international network of volunteers who collect the leftovers, then distribute them to nearby shelters and soup kitchens.
Most of the volunteers are in their 20s, and for Mandelbaum, getting young people involved is an added reward of his campaign: “It’s a joy for me to show them the power they have to change things for the better.”
In the beginning, Rock and Wrap It Up! was just Mandelbaum, his wife Diane, and their three daughters, Bari, Jill and Emily. The family would cart away surplus food from concerts headlined by the Rolling Stones, Michael Bolton, Bruce Hornsby, and others at the Jones Beach Ampitheater in Long Island, NY. (the family lives in nearby Cedarhurst.) Currently, there are 1,000 volunteers, working every night of the year. To date, nearly two million people have been fed through the group’s efforts.
The artists themselves have nothing but praise for Mandelbaum’s nourishing program. Says singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Syd’s that rare person who has the ambition to make a difference, and the ability to merge it with the right idea.”
The rescued eats range from staples like salads and sandwiches to delicacies such as shrimp cocktail and Cajun jambalaya. Mandelbaum recalls one “wrap” that yielded 200 pounds of alligator sausage — which none of the soup-kitchen regular’s had ever tried before. “But they ate it — and we didn’t hear any complaints!” he says.
Mandelbaum’s antihunger crusade was inspired by his parents, who were imprisoned in World War II concentration camps told told him stories of the starvation they endured. Although he works full time as a blood analyst for an AIDS research company, Mandelbaum is a tireless do-gooder who also helps run a soup kitchen in Queens, NY, and delivers fresh bagels each day to two retirement centers near his home.
The enthusiasm surrounding Rock and Wrap it Upi has allowed Mandelbaum to develop several offshoots, including the movie-industry equivalent, Project It’s a Wrap! The first film to participate was The Devil’s Own, which opens this month and stars Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. Everyone Wins on Election Night collected 10,000 pounds of food last November from voting vigils across the country, and Project We Share! gathers leftovers from corporate conventions.
Mandelbaum’s kids remain actively involved in his mission. Son Ryan, 4, still talks excitedly about his first Rock and Wrap It Upi experience last year — at a Bon Jovi concert at Jones Beach. And Emily, a him school junior, says the wraps are “a lot of fun because you’re at it concert.” But, she adds, “when you go to the soup kitchens to drop off the food, what you’re doing comes back into focus. I’m really proud that my dad does this.”
Leave a Reply