Nonprofit uses Super Bowl nights to help homeless people

What started as a simple invitation to a few homeless people to watch the Super Bowl together in New York turned into one hell of a party.

And it’s only growing.

Super Soul Party, a nonprofit started by filmmaker and social media influencer Meir Kay, will host Super Bowl parties in 35 cities when the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams meet on Feb. 13. Parties will be held at venues from Washington to Los Angeles, Bozeman, Montana, to New Orleans.

All inspired by a conversation Kay had with a homeless man who just wanted someone to talk to him.

“It’s just kind of related like, ‘Oh my God, it’s like an unofficial holiday in the United States,'” Kay said of the Super Bowl. “People who don’t have family or friends can feel even more alone, so how can I help them?”

Kay threw her first party in 2017, inviting homeless people from the neighborhood. A year later, people asked Kay how they could help, so parties were held in New York and Los Angeles. Interest grew so quickly that Kay founded the nonprofit to better organize itself to meet demand and seek sponsors.

“I never thought of myself as the founder of a nonprofit organization,” Kay said. “I just thought, ‘I’m a guy who likes to do good through video, a filmmaker. “But it was really thanks to people saying, ‘Hey, how are we going to get involved?’ I just kind of stepped up.

Super Soul Party has five sponsors helping cover the costs of this year’s parties that are more than just food and football. Customers can have their hair cut by barbers, clothing and dignity bags containing personal hygiene items. Mental health counselors and people who can help with housing and employment have also been added.

Kay said food and watching the game were important.

“Then we are able to tackle a deeper essence of the person, to rebuild it,” Kay said. “And so the big picture from day one was to really re-establish a connection with people who haven’t so they can move on and rebuild their own lives.”

Super Soul Party works with existing nonprofit organizations. Expansion beyond New York has been accomplished through volunteer coordinators who connect with homeless shelters and other groups in their own cities.

Erika Harsanyi in Orlando saw one of Kay’s videos from one of the first parties and wanted to host one in her city. She too often felt helpless as a nurse at the Level One Trauma Center in Orlando, seeing homeless people needing more help than an emergency room could provide.

Now Orlando is set to hold its first party with an estimated 500 people expected at Exploria Stadium, a space large enough to feel safe in these COVID-affected times. Harsanyi said the Super Bowl provides homeless people with an experience that most people take for granted.

“We don’t think how lucky we are when it’s something they may never have been able to experience,” Harsanyi said. “And being able to provide that with resources is a great opportunity. I hope we can agree to make this a regular annual activity.

Carlton Bussey, 57, attended several of the parties in New York. A case manager for people with mental disabilities, Bussey now works at a men’s shelter after dealing with his own addiction issues which left him homeless for a time. He says parties provide a sense of normalcy.

“You feel like you belong in something good,” Bussey said. “People don’t pay much attention to homeless people, you know?”

Kay has big dreams to continue to grow the nonprofit’s reach with more events held throughout the year. But he also plans to link them to major sporting events such as the upcoming FIFA World Cup.

“I find people are hungry to connect even more through the pandemic, and people want to give what they can,” Kay said.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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More AP Super Bowl coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/super-bowl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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