BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK | Just a few blocks apart, East Village’s two refrigerators recently received a makeover.
The brightly painted animal graphics on the East Village Neighbors’ Refrigerator and Pantry at 197 First Ave. on the corner of 12th Street are the work of local artist Ethan Minsker. One of the founders of the refrigerator, Edie Meyer, a sales and marketing consultant for tech, met Minsker at an art fair and asked if he would be interested.
“Before I know it, he did it, in September,” Meyer said. “He also designed t-shirts for us as a fundraiser. “
The Loisaida Community Refrigerator and Pantry, at the corner of Ninth Street and B Avenue, sports an all-new pea-green outer shell, installed in November, that houses its new refrigerator. The cabinet was designed, built and donated by 11th Street Workshop, a leading design and production company.
“It was custom designed to fit the original refrigerator. When the new refrigerator was installed, they came back to make changes to the cabinet to accommodate the new dimensions, ”said Reverend Will Kroeze, pastor of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish at 602 East Ninth St., who sponsors the refrigerator.
The need for a community refrigerator has never been more critical than last year during the pandemic, when food insecurity was at its height. Diane Hatz, who lives in the neighborhood, launched East Village Neighbors in the spring of 2020 to help residents who needed help with grocery shopping, picking up medication, and more.
“We ran this until summer 2020 and then Diane came up with the idea to start a community refrigerator, which she and her husband Cesar were happy to host,” Meyer said. (Hatz’s nonprofit Change Food, which is shutting down, has created a guide to help people start community refrigerators.)
The couple bought the refrigerator and installed it on First Avenue in October 2020, and it was immediately vandalized on the first night. So they got a new one.
“It’s been vandalized a few times, but we’re in luck,” Meyers said.
During the same pandemic period, real estate broker Frank Gonzalez, who runs Lower East Side CommUnity Concerns, a grassroots nonprofit, worked with Vision Urbana, distributing food in local New York City Housing buildings. Authority. He saw the demand and the scarcity of food in the area.
Gonzalez transformed his office, Loisaida Realty, at 428 E. 10th St., into a temporary pantry and PPE center.
“I knew now was the right time to take action,” he said, referring to the creation of a refrigerator and pantry. He called on local state assembly member Harvey Epstein and a few other community leaders to “turn on the refrigerator.”
“Harvey contacted Trinity Church as one of the potential locations,” Gonzalez said. “Pastor Will and Alex Lawrence, Executive Director of SAFH [Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless], at the beginning helped us to solve the problems. They not only provide electricity and surveillance, but we also use their 501 (3) c [nonprofit] authorize donations.
Trinity’s Kroeze said, “Making sure people have access to fresh, healthy food is in Trinity’s DNA. So when we were approached by the office of Harvey Epstein and other community members about hosting a new community refrigerator, it was obvious to us. It is a natural extension of the work we have done. And we couldn’t be happier that we could improve the lives of an even larger circle of neighbors with the Community Fridge, which is open 24/7, way beyond what we can do. in our soup kitchen and our food. pantry alone.
“We know that this refrigerator alone will do little to address the systemic issues that have led to such injustice around access to food,” he added. “But we also know that for so many of our neighbors, especially our homeless neighbors in and around Tompkins Square Park, this refrigerator is an absolute lifeline.”
Trinity regularly fills the fridge with food, especially fresh produce, from her pantry. The church stores cleaning and maintenance supplies that volunteers use to clean the pantry and refrigerator on a daily basis when the shrine is open. Most importantly, the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC), housed across the street at the historic Christodora House at 143 Avenue B, is the refrigerator’s packing and cleaning station.
The angel of electricity at 12th Street Refrigerator is Sarita Ekya, owner and chef of S’MAC (short for Sarita’s Macaroni & Cheese). Ekya also prepares additional food for the refrigerator and provides space inside the restaurant for supplies to wrap and wrap the items before they are placed in the refrigerator. (They are asking that food donations be packaged in small portions, especially bread, for health reasons.) For a short video on Ekya, “The Mum Who Opened a Refrigerator in the East Village,” watch the video below:
They will soon be sponsored by the Sixth Street Community Center, at 683 Sixth St., between avenues B and C, a Loisaida organization serving the community since 1978.
“This is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, which covers the Law of the Good Samaritan, so if someone has food poisoning because of something someone brought up refrigerator, he can’t sue you because you’re doing him like a Good Samaritan, ”Meyer said.
Refrigerator pantries are used by a wide variety of people and for a variety of reasons without control or judgment.
“Families, cash strapped people [use the pantry]. Some people put in raw ingredients and take out cooked meals because they don’t have time to cook, ”said Meyer, who leads the group of volunteers. “Residents of the nearby Sirovich senior center use it frequently. “
Paul Gale is the tech genius who put together the systems that make refrigerators run efficiently. In the early days of COVID, Gale, who produces corporate and nonprofit live broadcasts and edits videos, worked with Laura Sewell, Executive Director of EVCC, to help create an online map of open essential businesses. in the East Village, such as pharmacies, laundromats, bodegas. As a result, he had a complete list of all the businesses, their hours of operation, phone numbers, and contact details.
Gale then partnered up with the East Village Neighbors refrigerator and developed a database for them of potential donors and food providers in their area. Using Airtable, he created a volunteer management system from the ground up, which would allow them to post food rescue opportunities for people to sign up online and provide volunteers with instructions to. pickup. (Alexis Lucero assists Gale in the administrative work on the side of the volunteers for the Loisaida refrigerator and also of the volunteers.)
Both fridges receive food donations from local restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, local schools, CSAs and other businesses, as well as neighborhood residents, some of whom either cook or buy food for the fridge.
“NYU students decided they didn’t like their food in the cafeteria, so it was thrown out every night,” Meyer said. “So they packed it up for the fridge.”
When the Loisaida refrigerator was about to be launched on June 15, 2021, Gale was called upon as part of the administrative team.
“I was living with my parents in New Jersey, like a real bad guy during the height of the pandemic,” he admitted. “I wanted to help the neighborhood from a distance, even though I couldn’t be here. I lived here for five or six years, and am now in Greenwich Village. But I do care about this neighborhood and feel a connection with it. My great-great-grandparents and grandparents came to the Lower East Side, and they struggled, and there are people struggling today. This is not the only way to do it, but for me it is a direct and beneficial mutual aid, to reduce food waste.
“It’s a place that cares about the neighborhood,” he said. “I used to spend my afternoons on my phone. Now I deliver hundreds of pounds of groceries to people in need. Seems to be a better use of my time.
Volunteers are the heart and soul of the effort’s food collection, rescue and delivery. To become a volunteer, visit the Facebook pages of The neighbors of East Village Where Lutheran Parish Trinity Lower East Side.
There are also two herbal refrigerators in the area. One is located near the Overthrow Boxing Hall on Bleecker Street between Bowery and Lafayette St., and the other is on Broome Street between Essex and Norfolk Streets.