The guts and soul of the Lengthy Seaside Soup Kitchen | Herald Neighborhood Newspapers
By Darwin Yanes
Robert Blau, president of Moncton Soup Kitchen – a nonprofit dedicated to feeding the hungry – was once sales director at Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of popular video game maker Rockstar Games. During his tenure, Blue helped launch popular games like Grand Theft Auto and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
After more than 20 years in the industry, a change in leadership at the company opened the door for his retirement over a decade ago, which he said was a blessing in disguise. Blue, the Herald’s Person of the Year 2019, has worked with the Pine Street Soup Kitchen for nearly a decade and has helped serve thousands of meals to those in need under his leadership.
When he retired from Take-Two Interactive at the age of 53, the lifelong Moncton resident began looking for something more meaningful.
“Shortly after they retired me, there was an earthquake in Haiti,” 65-year-old Blau, known as Rob, recently recalled in the soup kitchen, “and I decided I had to do something else, than just working for a company like I had done all my life. “
An estimated 300,000 people died and more than a million were displaced in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In March of this year, Blau joined the New Zealand-based Global Volunteer Network and traveled to Haiti for two weeks to help.
“I’ll go over there and come back and I’m a mess,” said Blau. “I came home and sat on my porch. I saw that I have two cars, four or five TVs. The people in Haiti that I met, most of them were the happiest people you could ever imagine with absolutely nothing. It changed life. “
When Blau returned home, he looked for opportunities to volunteer on site. At that time, his wife Joyce volunteered in the soup kitchen – formerly Moncton Food and Friendship INN, operated by the Interfaith Nutrition Network in Hempstead – and encouraged him to join the organization, which has been around since 1983. Coincidentally, Rob saw an ad in a local newspaper saying the kitchen was looking for a cook.
Blau – who said he was an avid chef at home – started preparing meals there in 2011. However, just a year later, Hurricane Sandy hit, leaving most of the city badly damaged, including the kitchen. His then president resigned after the storm, and Blue took his place.
With the help of the Moncton Lions Club, who donated enough money to rebuild the facility and provide it with new equipment, the kitchen was back in operation by March 2013.
“Without the financial support from the Lions,” said Blau, “there is a good chance that we will never again be able to restore and continue the great work we do to help those in need in our community and neighboring communities.”
The kitchen, which serves more than 6,500 meals a year, is open for lunch Monday through Saturday at 11:45 a.m. It offers homemade soups, salads, various starters as well as desserts and drinks. Guests are also offered take-away bags with sandwiches, fruit and desserts. Blau and his team of nearly 80 volunteers keep the facility busy every week.
Nicole Rieger, who has worked there for eight years, was appointed voluntary coordinator by Blau six years ago. He gave the kitchen the structure it needed to work most efficiently, she said. “He implemented good rules and expectations for all of us,” said Rieger. “We’re a well-oiled team and he’s really running a tight ship.”
Blue has worked hard promoting the kitchen, attending boardwalk fairs, making pledges, and running fundraisers. By 2017, it no longer needed the support of the INN and became an independent non-profit organization that could assert itself under the leadership of Blau. The city owns the building and pays the ancillary costs. Local supermarkets like Trader Joe’s donate food.
Blau’s efforts have caught the attention of many in the city, including state Senator Todd Kaminsky, who said the facility’s work was vital. “The soup kitchen has played an important role in the community and its reputation continues on its own,” said Kaminsky. “Rob is the backbone, heart and soul of one of the most important institutions in Moncton.”
James Hodge, chairman of the Martin Luther King Center, agreed. The center and kitchen often work together to organize food trips as well as a Thanksgiving dinner at the center.
“I’m grateful that we have a man like him and his team who help thousands of meals out,” Hodge said of blue. “Moncton is blessed to have him and the services he provides.”
Rob, who is in the kitchen almost every day, has made volunteering a family affair. His daughters Lara (33) and Kasey (29) volunteer a lot, especially during the holiday season. Her father said many of his guests have a sense of family over the holidays and his daughters help bring that into the kitchen.
He added that he never asked his guest about their circumstances. He’s just looking forward to helping them and putting a smile on their faces.
He suppressed tears as he recalled being honored several years ago by Moncton Reach Inc., a nonprofit that provides comprehensive social, psychological, educational, and legal support to individuals and families. A “meticulously dressed” man, about 6 feet 2, approached him at the buffet, he recalled. “He looked at me and said,” If it weren’t for you and your soup kitchen, I don’t know if I would be here today, “said Blau,” because you helped me get through difficult times. “”
The man was unemployed at the time but eventually went back to school and earned a college degree that led to a career. “It’s probably the only story I can tell you that someone physically came to me and said that – and it was worth it,” said Blau. “Whatever happens after that, it doesn’t matter. It is like you have changed someone’s life and hopefully you have changed more for the better. “