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Syd Mandelbaum Leads Rock And Wrap Its War On Poverty

Syd Mandelbaum and volunteer feed the poor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

63 year old Syd Mandelbaum looks more like a member of a  benevolent chapter of the Hell’s Angel than the founder of one of the most successful Anti-Poverty programs in the country. “Rock And Wrap It Up!” is behind the idea of having rock musicians add riders to their contracts that allows the unused portion of their meals at concerts to be distributed through anti-poverty agencies (such as Churches) to those in need.

But Syd is a large guy, with a bandanna, a goatee and tattoos all over him, and a cool rock and roller aura. His friend Larry Schneiderman, who got me the interview, nodded in agreement a couple of days after I spoke to Syd. “Yes, but did you notice the most important tattoo?” Larry inquired? “They are the same as Syd’s parents.”  According to the “United States Holocaust Memorial Museum”: “Incoming prisoners were assigned a camp serial number which was sewn to their prison uniforms. Only those prisoners selected for work were issued serial numbers; those prisoners sent directly to the gas chambers were not registered and received no tattoos.”

It is Saturday afternoon at Jones Beach and I am interviewing Syd before Bob Dylan’s concert. “We started in 1991, this is our 23rd year. I always wanted to be involved in helping America, I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I always thought I wanted to do something to thank America for taking my parents in when no one else would take them in, after World War II when they had most of their families murdered by the Nazis. So I was already volunteering at a soup kitchen in Queens, and then I had the opportunity of serving on the board of a food bank and through that contact I met Ron Delsener. Ron Delsener is a rock promoter and Delsener Slater Productions ran all the music here at Jone’s Beach Theater.

“Right here May 1991”

And so began “Rock And Wrap It Up” an idea so simple and compelling and decent you would hope there was a way to use the concept in every form of outreach. Sitting behind the counter of an information booth, Syd explained the concept in more detail: It is an anti-poverty think tank, we developed models that are then given at no charge to anti-poverty agencies throughout North America.

“One of our sectors is a music sector called rock and wrap it up. The name started when bands started putting us into their contract rider, something that we developed in 1993, where we taught them how to use the contract as a harvesting tool.

“The rock and wrap it up model is predicated on perishable food programs that are instituted by anti-poverty agencies themselves. So we get rid of the middle man and the models that we use throughout North America are based on the agency that we select because they fit our criteria, which means they know how to handle food safely, it means they have a health certificate, they have volunteers, they have storage and ongoing program communications transportation, so they can go to the arena and pick up the food.”

The program’s growth is detailed on their website:  “Rock and Wrap it Up! was launched nationally Labor Day 1994 by Kurt Loder, who did a news piece as head broadcaster on MTV News. The piece ran all week end and 100’s of people contacted Syd to volunteer across America. (Kurt was an old friend of Syd’s who covered Tolerance Conferences that Syd helped to run. They met backstage in 1988 at a Joan Jett concert, the few men at the show.) Rock and wrap it Up! was officially born. Currently, 150 bands you RWU services across the US and Canada. In 1994, Rock and Wrap It Up! through future Board Member Leslie Leventman, co-founder of MTV Networks, started Project We Share! This corporate response to hunger was practiced by MTV in all cities where they filmed by donating food prepared but not served to partnering hunger fighting agencies. The 1994 MTV Video Music awards in Bryant Part, NY donated over 4,000 pounds of food. Rock and Wrap It up! Volunteer Natalie Mayo, Nine Inch Nails organist James Wooley and Ralph Cerilla, Howard Stern Show star participated in this 3 am food recovery effort.”

On an afternoon that can’t decide whether to rain and ruin the proceedings or not to bother, Syd explains how the renovation of Jones Beach has lead to a unique problem: “There is no backstage anymore, they have buy outs so bands receive 30 different restaurant menus and they order. We are here though to recover all the food from the concessions. Aramark is a concessionaire here and every night whatever is prepared and not sold is donated to rock and wrap it. Tonight the food is going to a program in Roosevelt called the Rosa Park’s Inn which has a huge contingent of women and children in crises, so they will be receiving the food this evening.

“In other cities, a band sends us their itinerary and a contact person with the tour, and we have thousands of volunteers, most of them agencies that fit our criteria (If you don’t fit our criteria you aren’t going to work with us), that will go backstage about nine o’clock and collect the leftover food.”

This has been hugely successful and Rock And Wrap It Up have developed the concept: ““We started in sports in 2002, we started Hotels 2008, we started in film and TV production in 2009.”

This is an immensely successful idea that is now followed all over the world: ““We run a couple of fundraisers and people donate on our website rockandwrapitup.org but the budget is under $400,000 a year. We have a staff of seven. We have probably the leanest of staffs for what we do. And since 1991 we have fed over one billion people. ”

That is ONE BILLION PEOPLE.

Did I say Syd looks like a benevolent Hell’s Angel?  I meant a benevolent E Street Bander. I mean, how rock and roll can you get?

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