by Caroline McCarthy & Anna Woods, Staff Writer & Asst. News Editor
Through participation with a nationwide mutual aid project, a community fridge has been established by two women from the Bronx community to help battle food insecurity. This fridge —with brightly colored promises of “Free Food” or “Comida Gratis” painted on its side— is located outside of The Last Stop at 242nd Street and Broadway.
The fridge is one of many “Friendly Fridges” across the country, and was organized by Selma Raven, a Manhattan College alumna, and Sara Allen. The two women saw the need for a mutual aid project that would bring a community closer together, as opposed to traditional charity. Mutual aid refers to the exchange of goods for a mutual benefit, which is what the fridge’s organizers hope to achieve through a “take what you need, leave what you can” initiative.
“There is a misconception that this is the rich helping the poor,” Raven said. “It really isn’t. It’s everyone helping one another.”
Last Stop employees have noticed that all walks of life benefit from the fridge—anyone from senior citizens to young, underemployed men and women. Those who visit the fridge sometimes give and sometimes take.
Raven and Allen were inspired to take on the project in memory of the former’s son, Michael, an advocate for food security who passed away at the age of 21.
“[He] was really passionate about food insecurity,” Raven said. “Especially here, and he was just committed to finding food for people.”
The two first developed the idea for the community fridge on May 18, 2020, the seven year anniversary of Michael’s passing. This nationwide mutual aid project originated in Harlem with the original Friendly Fridge, established under the advisory of Allen’s old acquaintance.
“We started talking about it,” Allen said. “[Selma] said, you know, Michael would have really loved that. So it was auspicious timing.”
The fridge was purchased on a whim—only two hours after seeing the original post on Instagram—without concerns for how or even where it would operate. Raven and Allen went door to door on Broadway asking shop owners to use their storefront as a home for their fridge.
“The first place we went to said ‘absolutely not. We don’t want that kind of people around,’” Allen said.
The two faced three more rejections but eventually found a location for their project, ironically at their “Last Stop.” Owner PD Singh welcomed the Friendly Fridge as a way to give back to the community after seeing first hand the effect COVID-19 had on its residents.
In an interview with Bloomberg QuickTake posted on The Last Stop’s instagram page, Singh said, “We were closed due to COVID for two months. And then coming back, we knew we wanted to do something for the community but we didn’t know how to go about it.”
After being approached by Raven and Allen, Singh provided the space and the electricity for the fridge, and currently contributes leftover food from the restaurant each night.
“Every night when I leave, the fridge is full,” said Singh, “And every morning when I come back, it’s empty. It keeps itself running.”
The food inside the fridge comes from local residents, businesses, and whoever else has food to spare. This cause helps eliminate some of the food America wastes every year.
“We’re looking to rescue food that is not going to be used,” Raven said. “Perfectly good food is redirected to the fridge. We’ve seen in the four months there is a huge need.”
This fridge, now complete with organized shifts and over 300 volunteers, started with nothing. And nowadays, community involvement prompts fundraisers to donate to the upkeep and maintenance required to keep it running smoothly.
The fridge’s true cost is the labor that goes into stocking and sanitizing the fridge. On average, the fridge is emptied two the three times per day, while sanitized twice every 24 hours. However, the owners are seeking additional help to keep the fridge going.
“We are hoping Manhattan College will come and collaborate with us in terms of helping us come up with ideas to expand this or just maintain it,” said Raven.
Raven and Allen are also urging Manhattan College dining services to donate their leftover food despite rumors of liability.
“There is a popular myth that they can be held liable for food poisoning,” said Allen. “If you’re not selling food, you’re not held liable.”
Raven and Allen believe donating leftover Locke’s Loft food would be as simple as placing it in an unmarked container, writing that day’s date on it, and delivering it to the fridge. This would eliminate the food wasted by the college and feed struggling members of the Riverdale community.
Manhattan College students interested in working with The Last Stop on this project may inquire about it at the restaurant or reach out to contact Sara Allen to be added to a WhatsApp group. Contact information can be found on the side of the refrigerator.
“I think we need help cleaning and compositing if that’s possible,” Allen said. “Our biggest goal, outside of feeding people, is to make sure that anything that’s going to be wasted is put in the fridge.”
Food waste and insecurity affects a staggering amount of college students each year. By aiding in the Friendly Fridge’s process, you are potentially feeding a classmate, peer or even friend. According to Allen, 45 percent of college students experience a degree of food insecurity at some point in their education.
There is no way of knowing when someone who gives may someday need to take. This is what separates the Friendly Fridge from charity and instead makes it a mutual aid. Anyone struggling with food insecurity, regardless of their status, is welcome to find a meal at this fridge.
“I don’t want people being ashamed because if you need it, this is for you,” Singh said. “This is for everybody. We’re a part of something super amazing right now.”
Follow @TheFriendlyFridgeBx on instagram for more updates on the fridge and to donate to their GoFundMe.