The East Village Neighbors Facebook group and Sarita’s Mac and Cheese restaurant have united to create a community fridge where anyone can help themselves to free food and drink.
A notice attached to the side of the fridge reads: “This fridge belongs to you and so does the food inside.”
The general consensus of the outreach project located on East 12th Street and First Avenue is responsibility and trust. Responsibility to aid a Lower East Side ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and trust in residents to help keep the pantry restocked for those in need.
Food insecurity has become a massive issue for countless New York neighborhoods over the past several months, as lines for free food distributions extend block after block and wait times last several hours.
In an effort to alleviate the hardship individuals are facing — especially during the winter months — both a community fridge and a storage cabinet have been erected directly outside Sarita’s Mac and Cheese restaurant.
Here, people can both take what they need and leave what they don’t. But the burden of filling the fridge does not fall on residents alone – Sarita’s Mac and Cheese, SNAP, and volunteers from East Village Neighbors also regularly restock the shelves and drawers.
“We put in eight plates of mac and cheese everyday in the morning and evening. A lot people come here and give us donations, too… that’s’ awesome. Everybody is helping each other. A lot of people come and buy something and then put it there,” Andy Perelta, a cashier for Sarita’s Mac and Cheese told amNewYork Metro.
In addition to resupplying, members of East Village Neighbors have scheduled shifts through which they clean and disinfect the area, helping to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
On Giving Tuesday, Dec. 1, it was Dana Seag’s turn to both sanitize and replenish the bare fridge with sealed meals and fruit and vegetables, including apples, oranges, and even red peppers, during which time a local athlete also arrived to drop off some donations.
“I am a runner, and they give out free Gatorade at the races, so I had this stockpile of Gatorade and I saw this was here. I thought why not donate, it is nice to see the community come together,” said Angela Daniele.
No good deed goes by without some controversy, however.
Some locals have expressed concerns through the East Village Neighbors Facebook page that homeless individuals have been stocking up on bags of food only for them to then head to a local weekend flea market on East 14th street along First Avenue, where they attempt to sell the goods.
This is distressing for residents since the market outside Immaculate Conception Church has been reported as a hotbed of crime and drug use where sellers peddle junk in order to feed their addiction.
Diane Hatz, the founder of the East Village Neighbors group and the community refrigerator, responded to these claims by stating in a Facebook post, “Even if it is happening, I don’t see that there’s anything we can do – except wish the person well and hope they find the peace and security they’re looking for.”
“I believe it is an amazing community effort, and it’s success or failure will depend on each and every one of us having compassion, patience, and the understanding that we are all in this together – whether we are giving to the fridge or taking what we need from it,” Hatz also added.