The thought of untouched food being thrown out doesn’t come to mind once it’s in the trash. Leave it to Cedarhurst resident Syd Mandelbaum to think of where that food can go next other than a landfill.
The Cedarhurst-based Rock and Wrap It Up! is a nonprofit organization that Mandelbaum and wife Diane created in 1991, in an effort to eliminate hunger and poverty in America. The inspiration drew on a June 1981 trip when Mandelbaum accompanied his father Joseph to Israel at the first world gathering of Jewish Holocaust survivors. His parents were both survivors.
After the ceremony, Mandelbaum left touched. “I feel like I have to go back to the United States,” he said to his father. “To change the world.”
Mandelbaum then became active in several local organizations. With the Five Towns Kiwanis Club, he helped get food for their food pantry and in 1987, Sandy Chapin of Long Island Cares asked him to serve on the board. Before launching Rock and Wrap It Up!, Mandelbaum was a Nassau County Human Rights commissioner conducted cancer research for more than 15 years.
He began small by collecting leftovers at Jones Beach Theater and donating to the community. It would expand to meeting with bands who performed at the venue and speaking to them about adding a clause to their venue contracts that prevented them from throwing out any untouched food. One of the first bands was the Black Crowes.
Rock and Wrap It Up! gained national attention in 1994 when Kurt Loder of MTV aired a piece on the organization. This led the Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails, Dead Head and others to donate to them.
“Bands would tell me where they were going to be played,” Mandelbaum said. “Their backstage food cannot be thrown away but must be fed by the hungry.” Rock and Wrap It Up! comes from the popularity of rock and rap music.
Through relationships with local businesses and food donated by students at schools in the community, the Mandelbaums have been able to acquire donations for their local holiday events, including the annual Thanksgiving feast, which has been held at the Five Towns Community Center after hosting it in churches in Far Rockaway in past years.
Diane, said, “Once it became national, things started to expand exponentially.”
It received the attention of President Bill Clinton in 1999 as Mandelbaum was honored with the ”Point of Light Award,” which recognizes Americans who dedicate volunteer work to the community.
The Sports Wrap program enables them to work with professional sports teams in New York to donate from clubhouses and events to local pantries and shelters. Teams outside the state, such as the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros, joined. During the 2016 MLB All-Star Game, Rock and Wrap It Up! recovered 21,000 pounds.
On New Year’s Day, the Mandelbaum’s were honored by the National Football League’s Inspire Change initiative at halftime of the New York Giants game against the Indianapolis Colts. With the victory, the Giants earned a trip to the playoffs, which doesn’t guarantee them a trip to the Super Bowl. The Mandelbaums however, won tickets to the big game in Glendale, Arizona this year.
“The future is already germinated,” Mandelbaum said. “We’ve fed over a billion people since 1991. I’m now 72. I started this when I was 31, and I still have a lot more to do.”