(CNN) — The first Super Soul Party in 2017 was a largely impromptu affair, designed to make sure a few folks experiencing homelessness could watch the biggest game of the year in comfort.
Meir Kalmanson, dressed in Tom Brady’s New England Patriots jersey, invited men he met on New York sidewalks to a Super Bowl party he was throwing. Soon, the men who decided were ushered into cars and whisked off to Manhattan penthouse bar 230 Fifth, where they had their own private seating area with food, Patriots T-shirts and access to several large TVs.READ MORE: Susan Sarandon Facing Backlash Anti-Cop Twitter Post
The party host, known as Meir Kay to his 308,000 YouTube followers, shared clips from the first ever “Super Soul Party” on his channel. Now, that initial event has grown from a small gathering of men Kay met that night to a nationwide chain of celebrations in 35 cities for residents living in homeless shelters.
The parties are places to eat and get haircuts, enjoy the most significant football game of the year and form a community that hopefully, Kay said, lasts long after Super Bowl Sunday.
“We use the Super Bowl as a way to get people’s attention,” Kay told CNN. “But really what happens is the magic, when people are able to reconnect with themselves and with the community so that they’re able to rebuild their lives.”
How Super Soul parties started — and took off
Kay said that he noticed homeless outreach efforts tend to peak in New York during the winter holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but when it comes to what might be considered the US’ biggest unofficial holiday — Super Bowl Sunday — he didn’t know of any game day parties for those experiencing homelessness.
So he threw his own. Though that fateful first party only had a handful of attendees, all of whom Kay invited earlier in the evening, the idea “caught like wildfire,” he said, and soon, volunteers were bringing Super Soul parties to their own cities. In 2020, there were 20 parties across the US.
Covid-19 threw a wrench in Kay’s plans for expansion — there were no Super Soul Parties in 2021. The lull only inspired him to go bigger in 2022, he said.
The parties keep growing in size and scope
Kay said he works with homeless shelters to invite attendees to their city’s Super Soul Party. On game day, volunteers transport partygoers from shelters to a “safe space” where the festivities are held.READ MORE: Atlanta Journal-Constitution Demands Disclaimer For 'Richard Jewell' Movie
“It would be easier to do it in a homeless shelter, but the foundation of these events is really to take people out of those environments,” Kay said.
There’s more to enjoy at the parties than a buffet and good company, too. In recent years, Kay’s parties have added resources for guests to “rebuild themselves from the inside out,” with mental health counseling and financial services.
Partygoers also have access to free clothing, hygiene kits and other essentials they can take home. There are barbers to give them a trim while they watch the game, too.
This year, the biggest event is in Orlando, with 500 attendees in Exploria Stadium, CNN affiliate WFTV reported, where the Orlando City Soccer Club and Orlando Pride play. Most other parties will see between 50 to 100 people attend due to Covid-19 restrictions, Kay said.
The work continues after the Super Bowl ends
While organizing 35 parties across the US is an achievement, Kay said he wants to throw a Super Soul Party in every state in the US next. He’s started hosting Thanksgiving dinners for residents of homeless shelters, too. And while in-person events are “where [Super Soul] thrives,” he hopes partnerships with local businesses and other organizations can keep the work going in the off-season, too — Kay said he’s working with some finance companies to organize virtual “financial freedom” classes and share them with shelters.
For all its growth — Kay said he “grew up with the mentality of ‘just go big'” — the purpose of a Super Soul Party is to impact the lives of the people it serves. One of the Super Soul Party moments Kay holds dearest happened the day after the Super Bowl — a man who’d attended a 2020 party was featured in a local newscast, where he was spotted by his adult son with whom he’d lost contact years earlier. The two reconnected, and the man moved in with his son and became an active member of his family and loving grandfather, Kay said.
Though the pandemic stunted the growth of Kay’s efforts, and planning Super Soul Parties isn’t without its challenges, moments like that remind Kay why he threw that 2017 party in the first place, he said.
“When things get hard and difficult, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is why we do it,'” he said. “This is why we put the work in.”MORE NEWS: The Art of Watching TV
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