food insecurity in nyc

These Community Fridges in NYC Are Providing Access to Free Plant-Based Foods

A plant-based fridge outside of Overthrow Boxing Club

What to Know

  • While community fridges have been serving those who are food insecure in New York City for years now, plant-based fridges aim to make sure that those who have a particular dietary need or follow a specific dietary lifestyle, like vegetarians and vegans, have access to free food as well
  • Located outside of Overthrow Boxing Club on Bleecker Street in NoHo, the Overthrow community fridge is providing healthy and completely plant-based alternatives to hungry New Yorkers. A second plant-based community fridge debuted outside of Essex Market in the Lower East Side this past Saturday
  • The fridges were created by activists looking to fill the gap between food insecurity and plant-based foods

While community fridges have been serving those who are food insecure in New York City for years now, plant-based fridges aim to make sure that those who have a particular dietary need or follow a specific dietary lifestyle, like vegetarians and vegans, have access to free food as well.

Located outside of Overthrow Boxing Club on Bleecker Street in NoHo, the Overthrow community fridge is providing healthy and completely plant-based alternatives to hungry New Yorkers. From fully cooked meals to pantry essentials, those who may not know where their next meal is coming from can come to Bleecker Street and get what they need.

The fridge was created by a group of activists looking to fill the gap between food insecurity and plant-based foods. Eloisa Trinidad, the Executive Director of Chilis on Wheels, an organization that aims to make vegan food accessible to all people, and one of the original founders of the community fridge, said that opening a plant-based fridge was something her organization had wanted to do for some time now. Although Trinidad no longer runs the fridge, and Artists, Athletes and Activists now manages it, she says her organization helps stock the fridge -- and others throughout New York City -- through donations.

“I think there is always this fear of ok if we really do it vegan or plant-based, are people going to actually donate and understand what that means? Are we going to be excluding other folks? How is this going to be looked at?” Trinidad said, recalling that fellow co-founder and community organizer Power Malu initially felt some fear as well. Chilis on Wheels, however, had a seven-year head start with serving vegan food to the community and so Trinidad knew it was going to work.

“I think if you are intentional about the message and explain it and take the time and make sure that it is visible in the fridge then people tend to understand it and that is what the disconnect was before with the fridges.”

In the area where the fridge is located, there are several homeless shelters, schools and the NYU campus is not too far either. Trinidad says the fridge hoped to address some of the common misconceptions of what food insecurity looks like for New Yorkers.

“There is a misconception that food insecurity or hunger looks a certain way, and that tends to look like somebody who is unhoused or who may look unkempt. People who have come to the fridges or even our meal shares tend to look like your neighbor, sometimes they are teenagers, sometimes they are students,” Trinidad said.

There is a misconception that food insecurity or hunger looks a certain way...People who have come to the fridges or even our meal shares tend to look like your neighbor, sometimes they are teenagers, sometimes they are students

Eloisa Trinidad, activist and community organizer

“There is also a lot of shame, those who are food insecure but not housing insecure may feel uncomfortable taking that first step to ask for food. There are parents…that are afraid to speak up and so there is that ongoing shame,” Trinidad said.

On June 15, the West End Community Fridge located in the Upper West Side was forced to shut down after just nine months. The organizers behind the fridge said in an Instagram post that after complaints from neighbors, West End Church, where the fridge was located, was “forced to make this difficult decision” due to “the increasingly hostile nature of the complaints being made.”

The West Side Rag reported that neighbors were generally unhappy with the loitering and excessive noise caused by the fridge being on their block, one woman even saying that it led to public defecation and urinating.

However, demand has brought about the opening of a second plant-based fridge just outside of Essex Market in the Lower East Side. Malu spear-headed the borough's second such fridge, which is run by volunteers from Artists, Athletes, and Activists, as is the fridge on Bleeker Street.

NBC 4 New York reached out to Artists, Athletes, and Activists.

Artists, Athletes and Activists is an organization that aims to take action and bring awareness to issues that deal with health, fitness, wellness and social justice in marginalized and underserved communities.

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