The newly renovated Friendly Fridge ready to be stocked with fresh produce and
warm meals. ZOE DEFAZIO/ THE QUADRANGLE
By Zoe DeFazio, Web Editor
On Jan. 7, the Friendly Fridge located on Broadway, just down the street from Manhattan College, was found vandalized, according to volunteers. The unnamed perpetrator placed a can of toxic oil-based black paint upside down inside the refrigerator, leaving the paint to cause irreversible damage to the motor and flooding.
One day after the discovery of the vandalization the two organizers of the Bronx Friendly Fridge, Sara Allen and Selma Raven, created a GoFundMe with an asking price of $3,000. That amount would cover the cost of a new refrigerator, the safe and proper disposal of the vandalized one and funds to help create a door to lock the refrigerator to prevent another incident, the pair said.
“I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t know what to expect. Hundreds of people started reaching out asking how we can get you a new one. I mean, literal people from Seattle, Los Angeles, all over the place,” Allen said.
The Friendly Fridge ultimately raised just over $12,000, more than several thousand dollars over the original goal. Now, a new fridge with increased safety precautions proudly stands in the space of the old one.
Allen and Raven are the activist organizers of the Bronx Friendly Fridge. Allen and Raven have been working together since 2020 to raise awareness for equitable access to healthy food.
Their passion for helping stems from Raven’s son, who was an activist for food and nutrition-based systemic problems. Raven’s son passed away in 2013, but his legacy carries on through his mother. On the seventh anniversary of his passing, Allen and Raven created the Bronx Friendly Fridge.
“The Fridge began as a memory of my son, but it’s powered by the community,” Raven said.
Allen continued by sharing how the idea was created, “We saw on Instagram that a friend of mine has started a community refrigerator in Harlem. And that was the fourth community refrigerator that was situated in New York. And we looked at each other, and we said, we’re gonna do that. So that night, we bought a refrigerator on craigslist.”
At the start, Raven and Allen were both accepting financial donations to help fund the fridge and buy produce. As time went on and the pandemic continued, the two knew they needed more help.
“When we first started in the pandemic, it was really people donating money so that we could buy food at cost and put it in the fridge for people who needed it,” Allen said. “But the model has changed since the pandemic has, I’m not gonna say that the pandemic has ended because while the virus may be under control, a lot of people have really fallen behind financially and are clamoring to get caught up.”
According to Raven, The Friendly Fridge moves up to 9,000 pounds of food a week with over 250 people visiting every day in search of food and materials.
“We also work with a whole bunch of churches, synagogues and charter schools like Atmosphere Academy and they give us their extra food,” Raven said.
The two of them hope to expand on the Friendly Fridge and create a quick-stop shelter for individuals in need. As of now the refrigerator and the pantry located directly next to the refrigerator are the only setups Allen and Raven have. The two don’t even have storage for the tables for distribution, but luckily for them, local shops have helped them along the way.
“We have no storage and we didn’t for a while. But now we store our tables at the liquor store, [Shamrock Wines & Liquors]” Raven said.
Raven continued by explaining the process of how the refrigerator was first turned on. An unnamed employee at The Last Stop, a bar also located on Broadway approached Allen and Raven and offered to plug the refrigerator in at The Last Stop. Raven continued by discussing the implications of food waste and how Manhattan College and Aramark should work with the Friendly Fridge.
“He allowed us to plug it in, that’s how we actually began,” Raven said. “So, you really are humbled by how this has grown. And we still need a lot more, a lot more support. Manhattan College though, thank God for the students. The students raise money, they do [food] drives. But the organization as a whole as a Catholic institution should be really working better with us.”
Richard Berroa, owner of Claudy’s Kitchen, a quick-style takeout restaurant also located on the strip by the fridge, aids the Friendly Fridge by also providing meals from his restaurant.
“We saw that people were coming hungry and looking for food.” Berroa said. “So, whatever food extras that we had we put out there instead of wasting it, throwing it away or donating it and that’s how the relationship started with Sara [Allen] and Selma [Raven], who are the biggest providers of the Friendly Fridge and are the founders. So from there, it just evolved, that people started seeing us putting stuff in the fridge and people were asking if they could donate for us to put in the fridge. So, we started doing that. We started offering donations on the website, and people could buy meals however many they wanted, and we put it in.”
The Bronx Friendly Fridge consists of many volunteers from various backgrounds who come intermittently. However, there are some volunteers who come frequently and share their passion for helping alongside Allen and Raven.
Volunteers such as Debbie Pellish, Barbara Pehlivanian, Amaury Perez, Margarita Martinez, Clement King and Mayra Seldano come to Bronx Friendly Fridge and are the most frequent volunteers. The six of them work regularly supplying food, distributing food, setting up tables and helping anyone in need as much as they can.
The Friendly Fridge’s mission is to provide the Bronx community with supplies for everyone who may need them.
On Friday, Jan. 20, the Friendly Fridge provided tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, eggplants, carrots, various beans and legumes, popcorn, chips, clothing, aloe vera plants and vitamins.
Allen encourages MC students to come down to Broadway and see what the Friendly Fridge is all about.
“Encourage people to show up in the way that works best for them,” She said. “I think some people feel like in order to donate, you have to bring 20 sandwiches or a whole carload of groceries. It can be as simple as just a banana or an apple or a sandwich or even extra salad dressing. Just show up in the way that works for you.”