Volunteers from the East Village Neighbors Facebook page spent Christmas day distributing free meals to Lower East Side’s hungry beside the symbol of their greatest achievement—the Lower East Side Community Fridge.
Community refrigerators offering free food to those in need are swiftly becoming lauded social, empathetic experiments, popping up throughout Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. From Chinatown to 77th street and deep into Elmhurst, Queens, these meal repositories are a gateway to greater neighborhood unity. According to those who have established these sites, by showing less fortunate residents compassion and providing them with essentials it is hoped that people of all walks of life can cooperate to create hubs with less crime and greater outreach programs. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and food insecurity at an all time high, keeping these locations stocked is a near impossible task.
It is often reported that these fridges and pantries are emptied within an hour after they are stocked, so in order to ensure every empty belly was fed this holiday season, about 14 individuals erected tables outside of Sarita’s Mac And Cheese on 12th Street and 1st Avenue, flaunting cooked meals, bottles of juice, cans of tuna, and snacks such as cookies and pretzels. A line quickly formed where brown bags plastered with candy canes were filled to the brim with chosen goodies from the array of delectable delights.
This Christmas food giveaway is the latest initiative by the East Village Neighbors to combat food insecurity in the Lower East Side. The growing Facebook group was first founded in March by Diane Hatz as a virtual haven for Manhattanites to organize aid for those homebound and suffering from hunger in the wake of what was then an unknown virus. Beginning with GoFundme pages to raise money for essential purchases, over the course of nine months since its inception, the fledgling group has grown exponentially to over 1,000 members that not only collaborate on relief efforts, but also small assistance acts like gifting neighbors used televisions or helping them carry grocery shopping to their apartment.
During this time, resources were also supplied to help create a pantry at the 6th street community center before ultimately leading to the creation of the organization’s pride and joy in October: the Lower East Side Community Fridge. Despite being praised by some locals for providing the less fortunate with free meals without the long, winding lines, things haven’t been smooth sailing for the altruistic venture. The first night the refrigerator was established it was pushed over, destroying it completely. Undeterred, a second icebox was bolted to a large wooden pallet. Since then, the news of the pantry, refrigerator has grown, prompting both local businesses and residents alike to chip in and keep the area stocked with food.
“It’s really cool how the whole community has come together. I think people just really want to help each other at this point in time. We are all going through a difficult time in one way or another and we all feel concerned about people who don’t have enough food to eat. Food has been so important during the pandemic,” Edie Meyer, a prominent member of the East Village Neighbors told amNewYork Metro.
“I was lucky to have had a nice Christmas with my family and I want to be able to give back,” Meyer added while helping set up the distribution.
Dozens of hungry New Yorkers arrived on the frigid day, some in pajamas, believing they would be merely grabbing a quick bite from the refrigerator only to discover the elaborate setup sent them on their way with a lavish Christmas meal. Many individuals were so emotional, they simply uttered “God bless you” over and over again as their bags were filled.