A lime-green refrigerator sits just outside the fence of The Lot Radio on Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint.
“Free Food” is painted in bubble letters—large enough for passerby to notice—along the front of the fridge. “This is community love, this is mutual aid,” the writing continues, with art by Vandal NYC and Janina Butz.
The Greenpoint Fridge, an initiative of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, is more than just a singular fridge. It's a plan to help solve food waste and food insecurity one day at a time. An estimated 1.4 million people rely on emergency assistance like food pantries and soup kitchens in New York.
The fridge concept, first started in Bed-Stuy by Thadeaus Umpster—a member of the organization A New World in Our Hearts, is a new kind of grassroots activism, rallying around the disparities of eating. As of today, there are “community fridges” established across the city, from Harlem to Elmhurst, Astoria to Bed-Stuy.
The fridges represent mutual aid and are based off the idea that solidarity is what communities need to rebuild and become stronger, and their individuals more empowered with easy access to nourishment.
Goods are placed in the Greenpoint Fridge daily by fellow neighbors in the community, and items are up for grabs for anyone—there are no barrier to entry or qualifications.
On the fridge’s side, words read: “Take what you need, give what you can” translated in Spanish and Polish, as Greenpoint has the second largest population of Polish-Americans in the country. It's kept clean by over 30 volunteers, and checked on twice a day, to ensure the shelves are stocked.
“We don’t have things set, like this person needs to bring food at this time—we simply trust that the community is going to step up to take care of their neighbors and it has,” says Kevin LaCherra, a coordinator for North Brooklyn Mutual Aid and fourth generation Greenpoint resident.
As for the fridge’s location, The Lot Radio, it was an easy fit. The makeshift internet radio station, bar and coffee shop, is a place where Greenpoint neighbors already congregate over good music and cheap beer. Now, the Lot contributes to keep the fridge alive by paying its electric bill, and leaving leftover pastries at the end of the day.
The Lot Radio Founder Francois Vaxelaire tells us, “Initiatives like this we all need to support as we can in this difficult time. Offering a place for the fridge and the electricity was the least we could do.”
“I feel that the fact that we turned a vacant land full of trash into a vibrant little green spot where people can hang out freely is respected by people of the neighborhood,” says Vaxelaire. “Since Day One, we’ve been trying to create something different and affordable in a rapidly changing neighborhood. It felt totally natural and in the same continuity to connect with the incredible people behind the community fridge.”
The North Brooklyn Mutual Aid wants to push beyond providing raw food for the Greenpoint Fridge, and is planning to consistently place prepared-meals in the fridge, too, via partnerships with local restaurants in the neighborhood.
Eating out often isn’t a luxury for all, explains Manny, another coordinator for the Greenpoint Fridge. Because many also struggle to cook for themselves, or end their days exhausted after a long shift, having access to free food from beloved eateries in the area could be something everyone could benefit from, and it could create more unity among neighbors, they added. “While we all can’t sit around a table and share a meal right now, the goal here is to ease people’s burdens with support in the form of affordable food.”
Looking ahead, coordinators from the initiative are aiming to get more fridges up and running in other locations around the neighborhood, as well as in Williamsburg.
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