What started with a simple invitation to a few homeless people to watch the Super Bowl together in New York City has turned into quite a party.
And it just keeps growing.
Super Soul Party, a nonprofit started by filmmaker and social media influencer Meir Kay, will have Super Bowl parties in 35 cities when the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams meet Feb. 13. Parties will be held in sites from Washington to Los Angeles, Bozeman, Montana, to New Orleans.
All inspired by a conversation Kay had with a homeless man just wanting someone to talk to him.
“It just sort of connected like, 'Oh my God, this is like an unofficial holiday in the U.S.,” Kay said of the Super Bowl. "People who don’t have family or friends may feel even more lonely. So how can I help with that?”
Kay threw his first party in 2017, inviting homeless people in the neighborhood. A year later, people asked Kay how they could help, so parties were held in both New York and Los Angeles. Interest grew so quickly Kay founded the nonprofit to better organize to meet demand and seek corporate sponsors.
“I never thought myself as a founder of a nonprofit," Kay said. “I just thought, ‘I’m a guy who likes to do good through video, a filmmaker.’ But it was really through people saying, ‘Hey, how are we going to get involved?’ I just sort of stepped up.”
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Super Soul Party has five sponsors helping cover the costs for this year's parties that are much more than just food and football. Guests can get haircuts from barbers, clothing and dignity bags of personal hygiene items. Mental health counselors and people who can help with housing and jobs have been added as well.
Kay said the food and watching the game are important.
“Then we’re able to tackle on a deeper essence of the person, to build them back up,” Kay said. "And so the bigger picture from day one was to really bring back a connection to people who do not have it so they could go on and to rebuild their own lives.”
Super Soul Party works with existing nonprofits. Expanding beyond New York has been accomplished through volunteer coordinators connecting with homeless shelters and other groups in their own towns.
Erika Harsanyi in Orlando saw one of Kay's videos from an early party and wanted to host one in her city. She too often felt helpless as a nurse at Level One Trauma Center in Orlando seeing homeless people needing more help than what an emergency room could provide.
Now Orlando is about to host its first party with approximately 500 people expected at Exploria Stadium, a space big enough to feel safe in these COVID-impacted times. Harsanyi said the Super Bowl offers homeless people an experience most people take for granted.
“We don't think how lucky we are whereas that's something that ... maybe they may not have ever been able to experience,” Harsanyi said. “And to be able to provide that with resources, it's a really great opportunity. I'm hoping we can agree to make this a regular yearly thing.”
Carlton Bussey, 57, has attended several of the parties in New York. A case manager for people with mental disabilities, Bussey now works in a men's shelter after dealing with his own substance abuse issues that left him homeless for a time. He says the parties offer a sense of normalcy.
“You feel like you belong to something good," Bussey said. "People don't pay a lot of attention to people who are homeless, you know?”
Kay has big dreams to keep growing the nonprofit's reach with more events held throughout the year. But he also sees tying them in with big sporting events such as soccer's upcoming World Cup.
“I find people are thirsty to connect even more so through the pandemic, and people want to give what they can," Kay said.