1. Who started @TheBarrioFridge/how did the fridge come about? 

The Barrio Fridge is a collaborative initiative started by myself and three other Black and Brown women named Jaz, Seantell and Darrielle (my name is Autumn, by the way!). Three of us were raised here and two of us still live in the neighborhood. It came about because we saw other community fridges popping up in New York City, in collaboration with IOHNY (A New World In Our Hearts Network). I saw a need in my hood, reached out to IOH and they told me that there were some folks working on getting a fridge in the neighborhood. I reached out and we’ve been rocking ever since!

  1. How long has the fridge been a part of the East Harlem community? 

The fridge has been a part of our community officially since June 24th, 2020. It’s still so fresh, but we’re grateful for partners, sponsors, and volunteers who help make this work possible. 

  1. What restaurants/donors contribute to the fridge? 

A number of local businesses including Dear Mama Coffee, Bangklyn, Ollin, Island Bites, La Fonda Boricua, and our local supermarket, Farm Country. We’ve also had some folks living in the neighborhood drop off some pretty large donations, which is always great.

  1. What are some challenges you’ve faced as an initiative? 

I think that one of our biggest challenges comes in the form of pushback that stems from a feeling of unworthiness. Coming from East Harlem, a low income neighborhood, I believe that there are many coded and not-so-coded messages about what we deserve. We’re made to feel like we don’t deserve help or that we should be ashamed for needing any sort of assistance. What immediately comes to mind are services like EBT, WIC, etc., those long wait times in those centers, and how demeaning the process can be as a whole. The idea of feeding people in a respectful, dignified way has been a lot for some people to wrap their minds around, but we’re getting there. 

We’ve also been experiencing pushback from the owner of the building that the fridge is located next to. He wants the fridge removed, but hasn’t given a clear reason as to why. It’s unfortunate how opposed to community some people are, even though they profit off of community members (some who frequent the fridge). It’s a lot to deal with. Hopefully he’ll warm up to it and stop giving us a hard time!

  1. What’s your long term vision?

I’d say that our long term vision is to keep the fridge going forever. Until our world gets the overhaul it needs, there are people who are and will be food insecure. Food is a basic human right, so we want to do what we can to keep people fed. We’d also love more food sponsors, being that 40% of food goes to waste. That doesn’t make sense when people are going to bed and waking up hungry.

  1. What’s the most exciting thing about your initiative? 

Keeping people fed! That’s literally what it’s all about. That, and building community. Building a network of folks willing to support one another is so crucial during this time. It excites me to know that there’s still work being done and small victories happening every day, even during a global pandemic. I’m excited about where this work and our collective imagination will take us on the road to ending food insecurity once and for all.

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