The Fridge Girls Are Working Toward a Future Where #EverybodyEats

How four women from New York City came together to fight for food sovereignty in the communities that were responsible for raising them, transforming a small, charitable endeavor into a community-led and focused movement.

food sovereignty | giving back | mutual aid

The Fridge Girls’ message is loud and clear: “Access to food should not be a privilege.” What initially began as individual efforts of activism and protest (in the face of adversity, inequality and uncertainty in 2020), eventually led four first and second-generation Latinx women to join forces and begin a mutual aid food project that provides available access to good-quality, healthy food to some of New York City’s urban neighborhoods.

For the community, by the community

Ali, Didi, Sarah and Taz are the faces (and hands) behind The Fridge Girls (TFG), first starting out with small, local deliveries—and only four fridges to load and stock food into—around areas surrounding The Bronx and Upper / Central Manhattan. 

The reason for choosing these neighborhoods in particular was due to each of their own individual connection to the communities that raised them, ones in which they had lived in and experienced even during difficult circumstances growing up. “It’s no coincidence that the communities where I now spend my time giving back are the ones that offered my mother [who took refuge from the Dominican Republic], and of people like her, a space that felt familiar to get on their feet,” says Didi. 

food sovereignty | giving back | mutual aid
Photo courtesy of @thefridgegirls

Since the girls began operating over the summer, the number of fridges, along with the number of support organizations and volunteers aiding them, has expanded. “[Our goal was to] find a sustainable way for us to give back and organize in our communities and make an impact at a time where many of us were unemployed and felt a little helpless. We realized we had more of a reach and could do more together than we could individually and began working in teams to deliver fresh produce to community fridges,” says Taz, a born and bred Bronxite. 

Sarah, also raised in the Bronx, says her experience to get involved with food sovereignty was crucial considering her career as a teacher at a school located in an industrial section of the borough where there was hardly any access to fresh food – sources of sustenance coming from bodegas (small owner-operated convenience stores) or fast food restaurants, leaving any option for healthier choices “at least a mile out.” 

“For years my students and I talked about this [lack of access] and the more we talked, the more of an injustice they realized this was,” says Sarah. “Growing up in the Bronx, hunger was a constant and to me it felt like an insurmountable problem. While I tried to support however I could, it felt like a drop in the bucket on my own. My kids really fueled my involvement in this project; they and their families deserved more than what was available,” she continues. 

More than just food politics 

In today’s world, where everything is political, food is not far off the list. Food choices and the availability in which individuals of different social strata are able to access them (and the ways in which such food is consumed) is inherently a political act, of which The Fridge Girls know cannot be done by a singular group; instead composed of many different and strong networks of people passionate about working toward combating food injustice.

It is in this way that TFG are able to “accomplish more with less and fight while being there for one another,” as stated on their website. 

food sovereignty | giving back | mutual aid
Photo courtesy of @thefridgegirls

With the growing visibility between political angst and food insecurity, widely apparent in the areas they cover and by the number of people waiting on pantry lines or at soup kitchens, many organizers, activists, social workers and volunteers have decided to put up and stock more community fridges throughout the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. 

“There is no shortage of food waste, so there is always work to be done. From farmers markets and supermarkets, to pantries, restaurants and cafés, food waste is all around us,” Taz says. “Volunteers that do the work to find new sources of surplus or donations, and then actively put the work in to make it a shared resource for everyone, are doing the good work.” 

No “one fridge fits all” approach 

So, where do the fridges come from? There have been a few different channels, some being stored in warehouses, other people buying or donating them directly to the cause.

Taz reminds though, that getting the fridges isn’t the difficult part,  but their maintenance and making sure there are enough volunteers to help keep them running. “Some people think you can just put up a community fridge and it’ll do its job of filling itself up by everyone around it […], but it takes time.” 

While TFG do not have a community fridge of their own, they have, however, now seen their work, and the fridges in general, in a different light and hope their reason for this work is still collectively shared among their partners and collaborators. “We have seen people be carried away with self-indulgence in filling their own fridge, hoarding potential shared rescues, and doing whatever they can to make sure their fridge is secure. We want to make sure people remember that when it comes to the Bronx and Uptown, if you’re from here, you know that we are all connected, tethered by our communal struggles to maintain the sanctity of our communities, to take care of each other, to fight against gentrification changing what our neighborhoods look like,” continues Taz. 

The Girls have also seen that, despite food and fridge hosting being a relatively new concept, there has been a great deal of outreach, canvassing and communication that has been occurred that allows the people in their local neighborhoods to know how the concept works and what it means for them. “It’s a fridge for everyone. No red tape, no questions, just a motto of ‘taking what you need, and leaving what you can,’ allowing the interaction between the fridge network and the communities being served to continue on.

food sovereignty | giving back | mutual aid
Photo courtesy of Manuel Molina Martagon

It is in that growing, connective network that drives fridge hosts to work in cahoots with social organizations, nonprofits and other groups to take on more than what their work as a singular group – with multiple fridges – entails. 

A beacon of hope 

From the feedback they have received, The Fridge Girls say that the community fridge movement has provided a tinge of hope for these communities in such a difficult year. “To be able to tangibly see this symbol of community members supporting each other, providing for each other really makes an impact. Love and community clearly does not start here, but I think it’s almost impossible to ignore a literal fridge of food on the street,” they say.

The fridges have also connected them personally to many networks, offering a greater sense of what it means to be a community-led, community-focused, family-style initiative. Now as the holidays approach, The Girls find themselves trying to work bigger and better while remaining mindful of how and why this project began.

food sovereignty | giving back | mutual aid
Photo courtesy of Manuel Molina Martagon

Having just completed their “Fridgegiving” fundraiser, of which helped 600+ families with turkey, rice, canned goods and other staples to alleviate the financial burden of the holidays, The Fridge Girls hope to see a future where the band-aid solution to food insecurity is ripped and replaced with economic and political resolutions. “We spend our days dreaming with other organizers about community gardens, green roofs, and reliable sources of food [where] ALL people have access to,” says Taz.

“Because it doesn’t make sense that in a country of so much abundance, the disparity is this large. Rest assured that until [appropriate legislation] and policies are invoked, we will be out doing the work and following those [communities] who came before us.”

The Fridge Girls hope to engage young people, and People of Color, and remind them that there is room for them in every space. Too often, young, PoC are categorized as being “given” their voices by white saviors stating that they are voicing the voiceless. They hope to be able to provide resources for those who want to organize, to those who have been silenced, and to those who may grow up thinking that there is no place where their voices can be heard, so that they are able to uplift one another in their communities. For more information, visit here or follow them here.

  • Mutual aid is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. Mutual aid projects are a form of political activism in which people take responsibility for caring for one another, changing political conditions and reforming laws and legislation about these services.
  • Food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable means, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.