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Jackson Heights Starts Community Fridge Where Neighbors Can Donate and Take Food as Needed

Jackson Heights Community Fridge with its organizers (left to right) Molly Roth, Tahia Islam, Anyela Coronado, Paula Camila Caceres, Karla Beatriz Garcia, Amy Sophia Pinilla (Photo: Monica Patten)

Aug. 12, 2020 By Allie Griffin

A number of Jackson Heights residents have created a community fridge where neighbors can share fresh food with one another as many struggle to afford daily meals amid the ongoing pandemic.

The community launched the shared fridge space last Saturday, Aug. 8. Residents can donate food items and take what they need from the refrigerator, located at the corner of 80th Street and Northern Boulevard.

The motto of the Jackson Heights Community Fridge is to “take what you need, leave what you can.”

The mutual aid effort was organized by a group of residents who came together over a shared desire to help the community, where food insecurity runs deep.

“We’re just a group of people from the neighborhood who want to help our community,” said one of the founders, Tahia Islam, 24. “We’re not a nonprofit, we’re not a charity — this is mutual aid.”

The Queensboro, a restaurant at the corner of 80th and Northern Boulevard, stepped up to host the fridge and supply its electricity. Area artist Khan painted a mural on the fridge.

Local nonprofits also joined the effort. The Migrant Kitchen is helping stock the fridge with meals each day, including halal meals. More than 40 volunteers clean and stock the fridge each day.

The fridge has already been stocked with a variety of fresh fruits and veggies, including plums from a Jackson Heights resident’s backyard, produce from a local farmers market, homemade helado from a street vendor and a variety of food staples central to the diverse cultures of Jackson Heights residents.

Neighbors can drop off fresh fruits and vegetables. The community fridge, however, doesn’t accept donations of raw meat or prepared meals.

The Jackson Heights Community Fridge also accepts cash donations via Venmo to supply its food items.

Multiple mutual aid and community fridge efforts have sprung up across the city as neighborhoods have come together to support one another during the coronavirus pandemic.

Islam said she and the other organizers were inspired by the other community fridges and wanted to do something similar in the hard-hit neighborhood where they were born and raised.

Jackson Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods became known as the epicenter of the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

The pandemic exasperated already existing issues in the community such as food insecurity, unemployment and challenges faced by undocumented immigrants.

“Government lines for food distribution during the pandemic, especially in Queens, go around the block down local streets,” Islam said.

The community fridge won’t solve food insecurity as a whole, Islam said, but it’s one place where neighborhoods can know they can always get fresh food or a meal.

“It’s a form of mutual aid where neighbors can drop off food for each other,” Islam said. “You take what you need today and the maybe tomorrow, you leave something else.”

Other community fridges in Queens include:

Astoria Fridge, at 8th Street and Astoria Boulevard

Astoria Mini Fridge, at Ditmars Boulevard and Crescent Street

Elmhurst Community Fridge, at 91-30 Corona Ave.

Ridgewood Fridge, at 18-82 Woodbine St.

Rockaway Fridge, at 69-62 Almeda Ave.

Another group of Queens residents is also organizing a community fridge in Jamaica and is looking for a business to host the fridge.

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