Lifestyle

18 Community Fridges Across NYC and How To Support Them

Donate, become a volunteer driver, or even help paint them—contributing comes in many forms.

Overthrow Community Fridge
Overthrow Community Fridge | Photo courtesy of Gary Dean Clarke
Overthrow Community Fridge | Photo courtesy of Gary Dean Clarke

Even weeks after NYC officially went into lockdown last March, the challenges faced by the city’s 1.2 million residents already living with food insecurity had become compounded by the pandemic. With unemployment rising and schools closed, some of our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors flocked to food pantries and soup kitchens for assistance. According to a report from the Food Bank for New York City, in April of 2020, there was a 75% increase in need from just a few months earlier, with the rate of first-time visitors increasing to 91%—and more than half of the city’s food pantries and soup kitchens reported running out of food at some point during the month, forcing 48% of those seeking assistance to be turned away and leave empty handed.

In response to this ongoing crisis, community fridges began to pop up all over the city, and according to NYC Community Fridges or this regularly updated Google Map, there are currently 100+ community fridges now located across all five boroughs.

Started by New Yorkers of all kinds—from everyday people to small businesses or mutual aid networks—these community fridges were set up as a place where people could grab what they need with no questions asked. And for many—whether not qualifying for government aid, having an undocumented status, not having access to information on resources, or just experiencing general food insecurity—the fridges have become an essential resource in fighting off hunger on a daily basis.

“The food will be cleared out of the fridge within minutes. Sometimes it’s down to seconds,” says Bri Calderón Navarro, one of the co-founders of OurFood.NYC, a central Brooklyn-based food organization that supports a network of local community fridges, in addition to painting them and building structures to shelter them from inclement weather.

For many community fridges, making donations is as simple as opening the door and placing food items inside. But for others, an outpouring of donations from the federal government, food pantries, and various other sources has created a strong need for logistical support. 

“If you want to make the biggest impact, volunteer to become a driver for our network,” says Dan Zauderer, one of the founders of The Mott Haven Community Fridge. For Zauderer, a 6th grade teacher, what started as a single fridge to help service his students and their families facing hunger in the pandemic led to a second fridge opening a block away. Currently, Zauderer and his team’s operations have expanded to also servicing 14 community fridges in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx through weekly Saturday distributions doling out more than 14,000 pounds of food. And to accomplish this, volunteer drivers play an integral role.

Other community fridge operators also agree that logistics and operations are pivotal to keeping the fridges running. “We know administrative work and logistical coordination aren't very glamorous or exciting,” says the West End Fridge, “but they're crucial to things running smoothly. It's a great and important way to get involved if you want to support your local community fridge!”

Like everything in NYC, community fridges come in all shapes and sizes. For those looking to support one, keep an eye out for posted signage with guidelines on how to help or contact the operators directly for more info. In addition to perpetual needs such as monetary donations, food donations, becoming a volunteer driver, or cleaning the fridges, further ways to contribute include clearly labeling homemade food donations or even helping to paint fridge doors, which according to Navarro, “is a huge success with the kids.”

Here are just 18 of the many community fridges across NYC in need of our support.

How to donate: All food donations and volunteer efforts are appreciated, those who can’t contribute with donations are welcome to clean (bring your own supplies) and organize any time they are available. Food must include potential allergies, date made (if applicable), and ingredients. Excess donations, should you arrive and the fridge is full, are welcome at The Bowery Mission during open hours, or at The LES Community Fridge. Monetary donations via Venmo or email at artofsamcdade@gmail.com.
What’s inside: Fruit, veggies, cooking ingredients, dry goods, frozen food, ready meals, snacks like fruit cups or cheese, drinks like individual servings of milk or water. One of the few fridges that allows raw meat (as long as it’s kept in the freezer section). In addition, sometimes items such as books, masks, PPE, and even winter accessories.
A note from its operators: “We aim to be very diverse with our options because the contents are for not just the homeless, but also low income residents who live indoors with the inability to cook, and any situation in between. This is a neighborhood run effort through a large collective throughout NYC, and if you think your neighborhood could use a fridge, let us know and we’ll walk you through how to get that started!”

How to donate: All food donations welcomed. Monetary donations via Go Fund Me.
What’s inside: Fruits, vegetables, dry goods, and prepared meals in thanks to the support of the large network of volunteers through A New World In Our Hearts.
A note from its operators: “Our fridge was typically open during business hours but unfortunately, our organization recently suffered from a fire and we are having our fridge professionally cleaned before opening it back up to the community. We are currently organizing with the Van Dyke Community Center in Brownsville to be the new location for our new free fridge (that will be double the size) in partnership with DiNi Communications. The Brownsville Free Fridge acts of resistance to the food apartheid that leave many BIPOC neighborhoods without access to fresh and healthy food. We believe that our free fridge has been a great tool to support community solidarity.”

How to donate: Learn more for donation/maintenance guidelines and volunteer form. Monetary donations via Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, or email at thechelseafridge@gmail.com.
A note from its operators: “Our fridge and cupboard are truly for everyone! Anyone is welcome to take items, regardless of status, and anyone is welcome to contribute in whatever way they feel comfortable doing so, whether it be through donating food, spreading the word, reaching out to businesses, or helping clean the fridge. We ask that visitors only donate food they would consider eating and leaving the fridge and cupboard in a state in which they would like to use it. We aim to treat every single person who visits with the utmost respect and dignity and urge everyone to help each other.”

How to donate: Drop off food anytime. Monetary donations via North Brooklyn Mutual Aid on Open Collective and Venmo. Fill out form to volunteer or DM via Instagram.
What’s inside: Variety of items including prepared meals from local restaurant partners, produce, and fresh bread. A pantry where folks can find shelf stable items like canned goods, snacks, and dry goods is also available.
A note from its operators: “We want people to know the fridge is there and that you can take as much as you need. If you're able to donate, every item counts. The fridge has very high turnover and items are usually gone in less than a day. If you're donating prepared food, made safely at home or in a restaurant, please label and date items. Finally, everyone deserves treats and pleasure. If you're bringing items to the fridge, think about including foods you would enjoy as well, like snacks. We are always looking for new volunteers and partners, so please reach out if you'd like to get involved. If you have a large amount of food and no car, we have a transport team that can organize a pick up. The fridge is a true team effort.”

How to donate: Food donations preferred. Learn more here and fill out volunteer form. Monetary donations via Venmo.
What’s inside: Ready-to-eat meals, snacks, fruits, and water.
A note from its operators: “Many neighbors who rely on the fridge for food are homeless and/or do not have regular access to a kitchen—therefore offering ready-to-eat foods is critical. Also, local Brooklyn businesses and organizations have shown tremendous solidarity with the community during these uncertain times by helping to sustain the fridge. Regular donors include Court Street Grocers, Concord Market, and Seeds in the Middle.”

How to donate: Learn more here and fill out volunteer form. Monetary donations via CashApp and Go Fund Me.
What’s inside: Fruits, vegetables, milk and pre-made meals. Pantry contains have canned vegetables, grains such as rice and pasta, and breakfast items and snacks
A note from its operators: “The Forest Avenue COMEunity fridge is more than just a way to provide our community with access to healthy food. It also serves as a way for us to build true restoration, empowerment, and unity in Staten Island amongst its residents and in the Mariners Harbor community. Our vision for the fridge is to bring visibility to Staten Island’s most marginalized communities and the issues our communities face. Many people have a whitewashed and divisive image of Staten Island; the Forest Avenue ComeUnity fridge serves as a way to dispel preexisting beliefs and reflect a more diverse, creative, and communal Staten Island.”

How to donate: Fresh produce, fruit, and pantry staples preferred. Clearly labeled homemade meals are much appreciated. Join local group Moms Feed the Bronx for an Evening Sandwich Signup. Monetary donations via Go Fund Me, or email at thefriendlyfridgebx@gmail.com.
What’s inside: Fresh produce, sandwiches, pantry items, prepared meals from various places like La Morada, Eleven Madison Park, local delis, and restaurants. Extra cartons of milk and lunch/snack packages from nearby schools are also available.
A note from its operators: “We’ve begun partnering with neighborhood restaurants who accept donations from patrons who wish to support us. Moss Cafe, Claudy's, and Taste & Sabor offer items on their menu specifically for the Fridge, which are then delivered on a regular basis. We would love for the concept of community fridges to become normalized. Not only do these fridges exist for folks who need a little extra help, but they work to reduce waste and build community. These community fridges are founded upon the principles of mutual aid—they are an opportunity for each of us to participate in taking care of each other in a very fundamental way. There is so much waste for the wrong reasons yet hunger remains prevalent.”

How to donate: No donation is too small. Extra items picked up while doing personal grocery shopping—be it a bag of potatoes, fruit, or a can of beans, etc.—are welcome. Find something to put in the fridge that you would like to find in your own home. Monetary donations via Venmo.
What’s inside: Fresh produce, vegetables, fruits, and non-perishables (raw meat and frozen foods are not accepted)
A note from its operators:The Harlem Community Fridge was the first fridge set up in Manhattan at the beginning of the Pandemic in 2020. We support, serve, and provide food for many families (hundreds daily) in our Harlem community. It’s operated by grassroots organizers who do this work from the goodness of our hearts, as the city and state have done absolutely nothing to support our underserved Harlem residents. Families and people are really having a hard time to get food on the table and demands for more support is dire.”

How to donate: Monetary donation via Venmo, DM via Instagram at The Living Pantry.
What’s inside: Perishable items with prepared dates and ingredients noted.
A note from its operators: “Please be respectful, and help keep the fridge fresh and clean.”

How to donate: Volunteer drivers for Saturday distribution are especially needed. Learn more here and fill out volunteer form. Monetary donations via Venmo, CashApp, Go Fund Me, or email at info@motthavenfridge.com.
What’s inside: Both fridges are located a block apart at 297 Brook Avenue and 141 Street and St. Ann Avenue. Fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, eggs, bread, and packaged meat, and non-perishables such as canned foods, pasta, and packaged snacks. Prepared food only accepted if individually packaged and labeled with ingredients and a date of preparation.
A note from its operators: “Our two Mott Haven Fridges were founded by two south Bronx sixth grade teachers as a way to help feed their students’ families. The effort has since expanded into a fleet of volunteer drivers and distribution projects servicing the entire network. Above all, we need: monetary donations, connections to food sources, and more volunteer drivers. We encourage folks to reach out through our volunteering form or email if they are interested in helping to sustain our humble movement of neighbors helping neighbors.”

Overthrow Community Fridge
Overthrow Community Fridge

How to donate: Drop off plant-based and vegan food in the fridge or pantry. Monetary donations via Venmo or email at plantbasedcommunityfridge@gmail.com.
What’s inside: Plant-based items free of animal ingredients including honey and whey, and donations from restaurants like ByChloe and VSpot.
A note from its operators: “Overthrow has been an activist hub since the 1960s. Overthrow provides subsidized boxing classes for individuals battling Parkinson’s disease, donation classes benefiting Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, as well as a weekly defense class for members of the trans community. We are proud of our ongoing work in support of women’s rights, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, and Black Lives Matter. This is why overthrow is the ideal place for the first plant-based community fridge.”

How to donate: Volunteer drivers for weekdays after business hours or local volunteers for fridge cleaning/monitoring are especially needed. Learn more here and fill out volunteer form. Monetary donations via Venmo at Donate-QVFC, or email qvcommunityfridge@gmail.com.
What’s inside: Fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, cheese, eggs, butter, yogurt, bread, and cooked meats on a good week, in addition to bagged dry goods like rice, nuts, beans, cereal, and pasta. Recently, prepared school breakfast and lunches from nearby schools have also been available.
A note from its operators: “Established on December, 20, 2020 and named Bertha, our fridge was painted by Black Village Arts, a local art organization merging community art for youth in Black neighborhoods. We are committed to reducing food waste with the goal of diverting any available healthy and edible food to our fridge. Our food goes out very fast, usually lasting a few hours right after stocking. Ideally, we would love to partner with local Southeast Queens grocers, delis, and supermarkets to bring their surplus food and stock to our fridge. We strive to keep our fridge and the surrounding area clean and free of litter. We want people that access the fridge to feel respected and safe.”

How to donate: Donate food directly to the fridges (DM pics on Instagram for a re-post). Monetary donations via Chuffed.
What’s inside: Two fridges at 69-62 Alameda Avenue and 166 Beach 92nd Street. Fresh produce from Edgemere Farm when they’re open, and proteins, veggies, and fruits.
A note from its operators: “Our fridges are fairly new and we’re excited as a community to be in solidarity with our neighbors and friends. We work closely with businesses, farms and neighbors to create a space where everyone in the community can thrive and basic needs are taken care of.”

The Uptown Fridge

Washington Heights

How to donate: In need of volunteers of all kinds, fill out form. Monetary donations via Venmo, CashApp, or email at theuptownfridge@gmail.com.
What’s inside: Produce in the fridge, premade meals in the freezer, and non perishables on crate shelf. Meals from La Morada on Wednesdays and Fridays, bread from Orwashers on Thursdays, and USDA boxes are distributed on Saturday.
A note from its operators: “Potential visitors should know they can go to the fridge any day or time to either drop off food donations, labeled homemade meals, non perishable items on the crate shelf, and even essential items such as masks, toiletries, etc. We are in need of volunteers therefore people who want to be involved should reach out. We appreciate every interaction with the fridge and will repost any photo or story that people share with us!”

How to donate: Volunteer drivers are especially needed. Learn more here and fill out volunteer form. Monetary donations via Venmo.
What’s inside: Everything from fresh produce and meat to home-baked treats. Thanks to a strong community of home chefs, delicious home-made meals are often available.
A note from its operators: “We have a smaller fridge on the sidewalk, which is open 24/7, and a larger fridge and pantry shelves that are located up the stairs, inside the gates (open weekdays 9 am-5 pm). We are about community—not who is taking, or who is giving. We encourage people to view the community fridge movement as a reimagining of how we can support our neighbors in need. It's about so much more than donating your food or time or money. We encourage people to learn more about mutual aid and engage with these efforts deeply.”

How to donate: All food donations welcomed. Volunteers to service, paint, clean, and assist with events are needed.
What’s inside: Standard grocery items and healthier items like vegetables, grains, milk, cheese, and non-perishables that can be cooked at home for the many families who visit the fridge daily. Properly label prepared foods and donated lunches from a nearby school for those without a stove or oven are also available.
A note from its operators: “Community members often go to the store across the street and buy items for the fridge when buying groceries for themselves. Also, there is a population of homeless people in our community who grocery items do not serve well. For them, having prepared food in the refrigerator ensures they get something to eat every day.”

Tae Yoon was born and raised in Queens and is the Editor of Thrillist New York.
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