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“Friendly fridges” full of free food are on the rise in NYC [Updated]

Illustration for article titled “Friendly fridges” full of free food are on the rise in NYC [Updated]
Photo: Sydnee Novak

Update, July 9, 2020: A good idea is a good idea. After we first shared the story of Thadeaus Umpster, an activist who oversees a fridge in Bedford-Stuyvesant full of free food for anyone who might need it, it seems that so-called friendly fridges are a rising trend across New York City. The New York Times reported on the phenomenon of community refrigerators this week, highlighting the work of In Our Hearts, an activist group in New York (of which Umpster is a part) that currently oversees 14 fridges located outside bodegas, restaurants, and residences. Local restaurants and shops are asked to donate unsold items to the fridges rather than throwing them away, which means the program can tackle food insecurity and food waste at the same time. The Times also notes that similar initiatives are popping up around the world, with organizations looking to NYC as an example of how to effectively maintain community refrigerators.

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Original post, April 14, 2020: Living in New York has always provided daily opportunities for surprise and consternation, but sensationalized news broadcasts across the country make the city seem as if the COVID-19 pandemic has made the city devolve into full-on Escape From New York, The Warriors-style chaos. While things definitely don’t feel even close to normal here, some of the most pernicious problems are unemployment, a lack of medical equipment, and food insecurity.

Thankfully, New Yorkers are stepping up to help each other out. According to local news site NY1, a neighborhood coalition of nonprofits, restaurants, grocery stores, and individuals have teamed up to stock and operate an outdoor fridge in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The fridge, which offers free food to anyone who needs it, is located outside 133 Van Buren Street and is being watched over by Thadeaus Umpster, a self-described “anarchist & professional up-cycler.”

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While people are free to both take food and leave donations at any time of day or night, Umpster’s Instagram account specifically credits organizations such as vegetarian nonprofit Community Solidarity, NYC-based anarchist network A New World In Our Hearts, and Universe City NYC, an aquaponics farm based in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York and Brownsville. And, thankfully, there are many other organizations helping to provide assistance to people. The NYC Department of Education is providing three meals a day to anyone who wants them, while business-focused initiatives like Welcome to Chinatown and the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation provide support to workers and help promote businesses impacted by the pandemic.

If you know about any other people or organizations that are doing great work, let us know in the comments.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

murrychang
Murry Chang

Wait doesn’t that mean that a bunch of people will be touching it?  I love the idea but I hope they have someone out there cleaning it.