Brooklyn, New York
By Olivia Groell
November 27, 2020
Community fridges. You may have heard of these new innovations that emerged during the pandemic across the U.S. and are especially prevalent in New York City. But what are they?
Kiki McComb, Co-Lead of the Fundraising Team at The Farmlink Project, learned about the community fridge development while attending a Thanksgiving delivery of 42,000 pounds of purple potatoes in Bushwick, Brooklyn this past Saturday. LaJoie Growers, a farm located in Van Buren, Maine, that The Farmlink Project has partnered with since May, provided the potatoes. The Farmlink Project also worked alongside OurFoodNYC for this delivery. Paperboy Prince (pronouns: they/them), operates this group, whom Kiki described as a “musical artist and community activist” in NYC. The delivery took place in front of the PaperboyPrince.com Love Gallery located at 1254 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. Earlier this fall, Owen Dubeck, head filmmaker for The Farmlink Project, helped coordinate the delivery and donation of a community fridge to Paperboy Prince. According to Owen, the fridge will be situated outside the Love Gallery to provide food to a neighborhood that has experienced extremely high rates of food insecurity. Kiki spoke to several volunteers at the delivery this past Saturday to learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on New Yorkers’ access to fresh food.
Talia, a young volunteer at the delivery, told Kiki what inspired her to come out and volunteer that day: “I think now more than ever is a huge time of need for our community…There’s definitely always need, the lines are always super long, so anything we can do to help feels important.” With forty percent unemployment and four-hour food pantry lines, according to another volunteer, Deserae Joy Frias, the community struggles to meet the growing need. Even with these community fridges, another young volunteer, Sarah, explained the magnitude of need and the effect that it has on those who rely on the fridges: “Anytime fridges are filled up, for example, food goes in a day or overnight so it seems like this is necessary right now.”
You may be wondering how these community fridges work. A public fridge that anyone can take from may seem unrealistic, but these communities have embraced this fridge project, continuously contributing to the fridges and supporting their neighbors in need.
Talia described how these fridges are operating throughout NYC: “People leave things, take things, and are looking out for one another, which I think is really important, especially in such a big city. On an individual level, people are looking out for their neighbors.” Deserae expanded on the importance of these fridges:
“I think that these 24-hour fridges that are outside, can be accessed anytime, anyone can fill them, anyone can take, empowers the people who are picking up food a little bit more….I want these fridges on every single block. Businesses have reported that they have more business when the fridge is out front. It makes the community better...I just want to see communities be more connected to the resources they need to thrive.”
The number of community fridges across the city and the reach of their impact are only growing with time. As Briana, another enthusiastic volunteer at the delivery, told Kiki, “We are supporters of a big fridge network that crosses all the way from the Bronx to the Far Rockaways here in New York with over 65 fridges and more coming soon.” This community fridge movement goes beyond just feeding those in need. As Sarah described it, “It’s just about making the connections between the resources and the people and that’s what we’re trying to do everyday with organizing and getting more and more people involved.” Who is “we?”
“We” is OurFoodNYC. But what else is this organization doing currently to help New Yorkers in need? Briana gave a detailed explanation:
“We distribute food directly on the sidewalks: a popup pantry. We also have drivers who are on call, ready to go. We are going to stock our volunteer drivers full of potatoes and take them out to a bunch of community fridges….We will be stocking and also saving potatoes for the upcoming holiday season. We have chefs who will be making mashed potatoes and some other dishes with potatoes specifically for our Thanksgiving distributions next week. We try to have our food distributions be fun and welcoming, always being mindful of the pandemic and being safe, of course, but this is the moment where we need to come together and food is just our common ground, like we all can agree that we need to eat, that food is necessary for survival, everyone has to share food and relates so this is like a really easy way for me to connect with people and meet a bunch of new people in the area that are like minded and see the need right now….Offering an abundance of food to people is an important part of what we’re doing and so we’re really excited to keep moving forward.”
This group is doing admirable, powerful work. OurFoodNYC, like The Farmlink Project, has many young volunteers working hard to alleviate as much of the vast food insecurity problem that America faces right now as we can. They are assisting their community members using these community fridges, alongside other modes of food distribution, in a collaborative manner. Sarah described the community fridges as, “creative, community building space[s] and something that adds on to the food system, doesn’t really take away from any other efforts that anyone else is trying to do.” The Farmlink Project is eager to continue to learn how individual communities are fighting food insecurity and work to support their efforts. We are grateful to LaJoie Growers, Paperboy Prince, and all of the OurFoodNYC volunteers for their incredible actions to support the New York City community during the pandemic.