Exactly 5 months to the date that Hurricane Sandy ravaged Coney Island, Mermaid Avenue is bustling with people.
I’m here witnessing the grand re-launch of Coney Island Lighthouse Community Kitchen, a soup kitchen on Coney Island whose operations have been shut down for the past 5 months due to storm damage.
“Man, it’s good to see you,” says a man who has come to dine. “Look at you, you’re a sign of restoration yourself,” replies Rev. Vincent Fusco, who runs Coney Island Lighthouse Community Kitchen, as he offers a hug.
As I enter the facility, I see that tables have been set for the occasion. Yellow plastic cups rest cheerfully next to plastic forks on white paper napkins. A buffet table with trays of chicken, broccoli and rice tempts taste buds from its place in a corner of the room.
“We’re setting everything up the way we had it before,” says Fusco. But it’s not just for the sake of nostalgia. He needs everything to look the same as it did 5 months ago, so members of the Toyota Production System Support Center will be able to assess the current mode of operations, and share their knowledge with the Community Kitchen to maximize its efficiency, as part of Toyota’s Meals Per Hour initiative.
Lisa Richardson (Toyota) is here, conversing with Patrick Curtin, Amy Thompson, and David McCoy (Food Bank For New York City), and already they’re brainstorming ideas for improvement. “If we had tables that were longer by 18 inches, we could fit two more people per table,” says McCoy.
These are the types of concepts that Richardson, Curtain, Thompson, McCoy and Rev. Fusco will be discussing over the next few weeks. Tonight, their main objective is to observe.
From an outsider’s perspective, the meal service underway looks a lot like a holiday gathering: Calypso music from a CD player’s speakers sends feet a-tapping; laughter finds its way around the room, and smiles slide across even the weariest of visages. Diners offer several thank yous for the warm meal, which might be their only one this week; but something tells me they’re here for more than just the food.
According to Rev. Fusco, the Coney Island Lighthouse Community Kitchen is the largest emergency food provider in Coney Island, and the only one that serves its clients weekly. Fusco says he can’t wait to see what improvements the Toyota team will help him implement. “Whatever input they can give us, we’re happy to absorb it – after all, they know what they’re doing.”