With just a tricycle and a big heart, Rockaway residents, Robyn Hillman- Harrigan and Lillian Gerson started the Rockaway Rescue Alliance and the Shore Soup Project in the days following Sandy. After serving tens of thousands of meals to residents, Hillman- Harrigan is hoping to expand the effort and open a pay-as-you-can kitchen in the community. During the summer, Hillman-Harrigan and Gerson started a fruit-selling business called Shore Fruit. They would ride a customized tricycle cart around the boardwalk and sell fruit skewers. Following Sandy, the duo put their Shore Fruit business on the back burner. “After the storm it felt really important to help people. It wasn’t a time for business. It was about helping each other,” Hillman-Harrigan said. When Sandy hit, they put their pedaling skills to work along the Sandy-ravaged streets and began to seek out those who needed help. They started handing out things like coffee, tea, hot chocolate and food to whomever they greeted on the street. Upon seeing the number of people roaming around the neighborhood after the storm, Hillman-Harrigan and Gerson knew they had to expand their efforts.
They started operating a hot food and distribution center on Beach 59th Street and they eventually moved into a kitchen, where chefs and volunteers created healthy options like soup, slowcooked meals, salad and fresh fruit. They came up with a name, The Shore Soup Project, and they started to get attention from those who were looking for ways to help.
“It was very much a group effort,” Hillman-Harrigan said. “A lot of people pitched in.” Volunteers from across the region started bringing ingredients and food items and donated their time towards the kitchen and doing door-todoor food deliveries.
Through The Shore Soup Project, they fed an average of 800 people a day.
Now Hillman-Harrigan is hoping to turn the volunteer effort into a nonprofit business for the peninsula with the first pay-as-you-can kitchen in the area. With this model, customers can pay a suggested donation or they can pay less or more, depending on what they can afford. Those who choose to give more can cover the costs of those who aren’t able to pay as much. Customers can also choose to volunteer time in exchange for a meal.
Hillman-Harrigan believes this system will work due to the mixed income of the residents throughout the peninsula.
“Rockaway is the perfect place for this due to mixed income,” she said. “That really makes pay as you can work.”
Hillman-Harrigan got the idea for a pay-as-you-can restaurant from studying abroad in Australia, where they had restaurants of this type which grew to be very successful. She also noted the success of Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen pay-as-you-can restaurant in New Jer- sey. The pay-as-you-can restaurant would provide some jobs to residents, it would allow different members of the community to join together while enjoying a healthy meal and Hillman-Harrigan hopes it will bring more attention to Rockaway.
“I’m hoping that it will not only provide access to healthy food, and a great place for people to come to have a great meal, I hope it will inspire people from outside of the community to help Rockaway in more ways,” Hillman-Harrigan said about how the restaurant could be beneficial.
However, getting this project started won’t be easy. “We do need to be able to pay for a lot of things and it’s very expensive. As we move forward there are a lot of costs involved,” Hillman-Harrigan said.
Ideally, Hillman-Harrigan wants to open a brick and mortar pay-asyou can restaurant, but she’s willing to start off with a food truck. “It would work well to do it as a food truck first,” she said, noting that the food truck could move to different locations, letting residents around the peninsula know that they’re out there.
However, even starting a food truck can get pricey. Purchasing the truck itself can cost as much as $45,000 and getting it up to code can cost as much as $60,000.
Hillman-Harrigan is utilizing the fundraising site Kickstarter to raise the initial costs to get the payas you-can restaurant up and running. Setting out with a goal of $25,000, she was already able to raise more than $12,000 in a week through donations from 136 backers. Kickstarter requires projects to meet their goals otherwise no funding is released.
She has to reach the $25,000 figure by May 4th to receive the funding.
“It’s already really surpassed my expectations,” Hillman-Harrigan said. “The first week was really encouraging.” If Hillman-Harrigan is able to get the proper funding for the project, she hopes to have the pay-as-you-can kitchen up and running by the summer. “We think this is a real possibility,” she said. In addition to the potential funding from Kickstarter, Hillman-Harrigan has applied and received grants that would cover additional costs.
She hopes that this type of restaurant will get the community to think a bit differently about how a typical business works.
She hopes that people will be inspired by the idea of sharing and volunteering and that similar projects will open across the city. “It’s really inspiring and exciting and will encourage other people to do projects like this,” Hillman-Harrigan said.
If you would like to find out more about the project or if you would like to give a donation, search, “Shore Relief” on Kickstarter.com.
You can also check them out on Facebook by searching “Rockaway Rescue Alliance,” and they can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.