By: Josh Spitz and Jacob Alvear
In a small room inside a storefront church, PJ Balzer is preaching. Wearing a gray, pinstripe long sleeve shirt and a black baseball cap, he shares a message he gets from the Bible. Children and families, who are half an hour away from eating their dinner, listen to his words intently.
Balzer is a Christian, but it wasn’t always that way. After losing his brother to a heroin overdose nine years ago, he was headed down a bad path. That’s when he walked into a church in New York City and decided to turn his life around, opening up a soup kitchen, called Kings Kitchen, in Mastic Beach.
“We use the food to get the people in, but we don’t want to just feed people,” Balzer said. “We want to restore people’s lives, and we serve in word and in deed. You can not just have your belly full, but your heart full. I have a message of hope and I want to share that message.”
Approximately 283,700 Long Islanders receive emergency food each year, according to Long Island Cares Inc. Of those, 70 percent are minorities. Long Island Cares supports 600 food pantries, soup kitchen and shelters across the island.
While Balzer knows there is a need to feed them, he also sees an opportunity to “share the message of Jesus Christ.”
People in the community are seeing what is going on, he says. Local politicians have taken notice, and he hopes that their help improves the Mastic Beach community.
The message that Balzer shares is simple. He wants people to know that with belief in the Bible and Jesus Christ, they can be saved. And the attendees have bought into that message.
“Even in five minutes you can be saved,” Matthew Paixao, a frequent at the soup kitchen who has been attending for two years, said. “If you can come here and surrender to God, you’re saved.”
Paixao also believes that sometimes, people go to the soup kitchen for a hot meal and pay no attention to Balzer’s services.
“It’s not right, but they’re getting a hot meal at the end,” he said. “But even if they gave ten minutes of the word, then that’s ten minutes of them learning about God.”
As the word spreads about the soup kitchen, more people attend and are impacted by it.
“He tries to touch your spirit in a way, he tries to grab it, and just make you feel the Lord,” Devin Campbell, who attends as much as he can, said. “He tries to make you see there are so many different things you can do in life, and nothing is impossible. It’s amazing.”
The area where the soup kitchen is held is in need of help, Balzer said. He mentioned that a lot of people are addicted to drugs and are in situations where they need hope.
“A lot of people from the community come in here,” Edward Mungin, who attends each Monday night, said. “It keeps the kids off the street, keeps the kids out of trouble. It’s a good thing.”
The doors of the storefront church are always open, and new guests are there each week.
“The kids are learning about God, they’re getting a hot meal, what more can you ask for?” Paxaio said.
PJ Balzer, Matthew Paixao, Devin Campbell and Edward Mungin.