"The Peoples Peoples Fridge" so it's called, sits boldly at the corner of 155 and St. Nicholas Place in New York City. It's an approachable fridge, pained with beautiful images of flowers and friendly faces by local New York-based artist, April Amparo. This commercial-grade refrigerator is huge, standing over 6 feet tall, its 8 shelves are stocked with fresh produce and meals. Local food donations intended to improve the lives of many Harlem residents.
This is a free food refrigerator. The fridge is accessible 24-7 and anyone can access the fridge, no questions asked. Refrigerators are placed strategically throughout the city giving residents access to fresh, healthy produce and meals which are completely free. "Everybody should eat," said Sade Akin Boyewa El, long-time Harlem resident, artist, activist, and community organizer, "food is not and should never be a privilege." Sade described growing up on a farm. She has a firsthand understanding of where food comes from and the path it travels from seed to harvest. Food plays a vital role in our health and nourishment. The free fridges make nutritious foods accessible for everyone bringing new energy to the community.
Everybody should eat. Food is not and should never be a privilege.
Food insecurity is a major issue in New York City, where an estimated 1.4 million people rely on emergency assistance programs such as food pantries and soup kitchens, and the COVID-19 pandemic only heightened the number of residents struggling. Many underserved communities are food deserts, areas where residents can’t get easy access to healthy ingredients. With that in mind, Thadeaus Umpster, an organizer of the network In Our Hearts, a non-profit dedicated to making the community a better place, began the Community Free Food Fridge Project to provide complimentary food to residents in need.
The Community Free Food Fridges also provide mutual aid to residents and local businesses alike. "We're in the business of rescuing food," said Sade, "rescuing food goes hand and hand with combatting the problem of food waste". According to the U.S. Food & Drug administration, food waste in the United States is estimated at between 30–40% of the food supply. To combat this problem, an estimated 250 volunteers help clean & re-stock the refrigerators daily. Local restaurants and stores donate surplus food items instead of throwing them away. The volunteers deliver it to 60-plus community fridges which are strategically housed throughout the city to help feed an estimated 200 families per fridge each day. Each refrigerator is re-stocked three times a day with supermarket-worthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, and rotisserie chicken.
AJ Madison sprang to action when Marla Harris, AJ Madison Marketing Operations Manager, found a post on social media searching for a fridge. "I found the project on Instagram during NYCs' brutal summer heatwave. Stooping NYC put out a call for anyone who was able to donate a refrigerator. Working for AJ Madison, I saw a chance to do my part for the community to see if I could find a fridge. True offering to partner with us at AJ Madison on this project was beyond anything I could have imagined".
As an appliance expert, Marla knew that she would want to source the best refrigerator possible. True Refrigerators are tough, weighing in at 535 pounds, this commercial-grade fridge is built to last a long time. Community fridges are outside all year round, so she knew she needed to find a reliable fridge that could withstand variable temperatures including cold winters and brutal heatwaves.
True Manufacturing Director of Sales and Marketing, Steve Proctor, was equally excited to get involved, “As an American-made, family-owned company, our mission has always been to support Americans in meaningful ways. When we learned through AJ Madison that The Harlem Community Fridge was in need of a refrigeration unit with enough space to store large amounts of food yet also function year-round both in indoor and outdoor settings, we leaped to action and donated one of our 54” Slide Door Refrigerators. During the course of the pandemic, our country’s problem with food waste and various communities' inaccessibility to basic everyday foodstuffs has not only worsened drastically but has become increasingly more apparent. With millions of unemployed Americans worrying about not having a sustainable food source and/or relying on food banks, we felt compelled to aid in any way possible. Helping everyday Americans have access to well-refrigerated foods is important to both True and AJ Madison and we will continue to expand our donation efforts to communities in need.”
Abe Kupferstein, AJ Madison Showroom Manager, in Brooklyn added “as New Yorkers and neighbors, our AJ Madison team strives to be an integral part of our local community. We love what the Harlem Fridge Project stands for and the many ways they are able to support the community at large. It’s more important than ever that we support and stand together to help those impacted by the pandemic.”