The Super Bowl parties making a difference
Meir Kay created Super Soul Party to give people experiencing homelessness a place to relax, come together and watch the game
Shot by: @eric_rohr_studios
A few weeks before the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Meir Kalmanson, better known as Meir Kay, was walking through New York City when he noticed a man on the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign. “I don’t want food, I don’t want a drink, I just want to be seen,” it said, so Kay invited the man for a meal and the two got to know each other.
With the experience top of mind and nearing game day, Kay began to think of all the people without friends or family during what has become an unofficial American holiday. When Super Bowl Sunday arrived, Kay showed up to his friend’s rooftop house party alongside half a dozen homeless individuals he had invited from around the neighborhood.
“It was amazing,” he recalled to eJewishPhilanthropy. “It wasn’t about watching the game or even having a hot meal, which is important, of course, to have that, but it was the interaction, the connection, the eye contact…how these guys [walked] in and how they left, as a whole, was a massive obvious shift.”
“They were just there, interacting, you couldn’t really tell who was unhoused and who was housed. It was just people together enjoying life,” Kay added.
He posted a video of the party on YouTube; it quickly went viral. A professional filmmaker at heart, Kay started his channel, which has amassed 324,000 followers since its creation in 2008, to spread joy and kindness. The following year, Kay began fielding calls from people wanting to get involved with his next event.
“They wanted to bring it to their own town, and honestly, I can’t say it was my intention. I was like, ‘OK cool, I did this thing, it was nice and amazing, but…’ But I realized there was this demand, people wanted to help and there was a need for this,” Kay said.
By 2019, he had filed to become an official nonprofit, and Super Soul Party was born.
Over the next six years, Super Soul Party would expand, with events in 36 cities by 2022. The parties included much-needed resources for people experiencing homelessness, such as mental health counseling, hot food and clothing drives. They also switched from street outreach to working directly with homeless shelters, so that more guests could go to and from the events.
Kay, who grew up in a family affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement — and even got his rabbinical degree while studying in Singapore — sees Super Soul Party as an extension of his faith.
“The golden rule in Judaism is to love thy neighbor as yourself,” Kay said. “I don’t necessarily push any type of rhetoric on anybody, that’s not the goal, I think it’s about simplifying the idea that we’re all brothers and sisters, children of God, and showing up with a smile and connecting on that human soul level. I think that’s godly and I think that’s what Jews are about, you know, tikkun olam and loving one another. It doesn’t get more Jewish than that.”
This year, in addition to the organization’s typical fundraising, Super Soul Party formed partnerships with four outside organizations — Hanes For Good, the clothing company’s philanthropic branch; Elitra Health, In Search of More and 7th Heaven Chocolate. Kay chose to cap festivities at eight cities in order to restructure the nonprofit toward sustainability and allow room for more events throughout the year.
“We’re restructuring it in a way that we’re fundraising, we’re getting those resources, so I could hire a backend of people so we could grow the nonprofit a little bit more slowly and we can also have more impact, not just once a year, but throughout the year too,” Kay said.
Despite the smaller scale, the party was not diminished. On Sunday evening in New York City, about 200 people, around 100 of whom were experiencing homelessness, showed up at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue — a fortuitous name for such an event — to watch the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Walking through the door, there were tables set up along the right side of the room filled with clothing and “dignity bags” containing personal essentials including toothbrushes, tampons and deodorant. In the corner by the entrance, a barber station gave haircuts to anyone who wanted. A buffet of mini hot dogs, chicken and chinese food — all kosher — sat at the front with volunteers in Super Soul Party t-shirts helping throughout the various stations. People chatted and ate at a handful of round tables or else sat in one of the many rows of folding chairs arranged before a large projected screen across the back wall.
Volunteers and guests mingled, and many seemed to recognize each other from years past as they greeted each other with a handshake or a hug.
“To me, it’s all in our name. We’re all super souls, and we’re just here to party. I think you take away the religion, the race, the ethnicity of a person, at the end of the day, you connect on so many levels beyond just finances and how you live.” Ben Kreisberg, a Super Soul volunteer who’s been with the organization since its second year, told eJP. “[This event] makes you feel humanized. Sometimes as people living in a big city like New York, it’s very easy to get caught up in our lives and forget [the needs of others], so this is a chance to come back and say, ‘Look, we’re here, we’re one people.’”
When the players were on the field, a chorus of good-natured cheering and booing surrounded the room; during commercial breaks, conversations started anew. Kay recalled that last year, a dance party erupted during the halftime show.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be part of and witness, the laughter and conversations and connections. It’s really what life’s really about,” Kay said.
The Chiefs won in the end, but the game’s outcome wasn’t what mattered. Super Soul Party is about humanity, friendship, connection, not just one day, but all year round.
“I hope that we continue to have a greater impact; that we’re able to make a dent in this really big problem with homelessness and do our part to help break down stigmas, shine a light on this population that feels invisible, and to help those who feel invisible, to help those who are facing homelessness, to allow them to see themselves as worthy enough and dignified human beings so that they can feel empowered to go ahead and build the life that they want,” Kay said.
If you want to get involved with Super Soul Party, more information can be found at supersoulparty.org.