Jammella Anderson stands outside the Free School on Elm St in Albany in the chill of the misting rain and opens the door of a brightly decorated refrigerator.
She peers inside, revealing bunches of root vegetables like beets and packs of cook-and-serve meals, but in contrast to the outside of the fridge, most of the inside is white–indicating that it has been pretty well emptied out. “Looks like we could use a restock,” she says.
Since August Anderson has set up three of these outdoor refrigerators and partnered with restaurants, farms and grocery stores to keep them stocked to help those who might need to bolster their pantries during the pandemic. In the coming weeks she plans to install two more–one at the RISSE center in Albany and one outside of Collar City Works in Troy.
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“We’ve been going for about four months now and the need is wild. People in the neighborhood use them, but people come in from other neighborhoods to come get food,” says Anderson.
Free Food Fridge Albany from YouthFX on Vimeo.
The good news is that people are using the Free Food Fridges and businesses and individuals are more than willing to help keep them stocked. The bad news is that need appears to be increasing as the pandemic crawls on, and a long, hard winter is coming.
The fridges are meant to make access to food easier and less stigmatizing than applying for benefits or going to a food kitchen, and also to supplement the resources of those who are living check to check.
“The need will never not be high,” says Anderson. “Especially with the gaps between work right now and unemployment, it’s putting us in a really bad position. So it’s not just one type of person coming in and taking the food. People need to know the people who use this: it’s everybody, it’s our friends, it’s our family.”
Anderson says that many of the low-income neighborhoods in the Capital Region are far away from grocery stores, a situation she describes as another facet of redlining.
Deidre Kelly, director of the Albany Free School, says she wasn’t sure how the fridge would work when the idea was first proposed, but that didn’t stop her from agreeing to host it. “I like to start at yes and figure it out from there.”
She’s seen steady usage and has even turned to the fridge for her students on occasion. “We had a couple kids who forgot to bring lunch and it’s great to have that safety net. We’ve been able to go to the fridge and get restaurant lunch for the kids. So it really serves everybody.”
Kelly says she knows that everyone “has a few days in a week when they need a half gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, or maybe some veggies.”
Anderson is considering how she’ll convert the refrigerators to continue to provide food throughout the winter. The abundance from local farms will dry up and the cold may necessitate a focus on canned goods, but it’s still up in the air at this point. She says she plans to add lights to each location as the sun sets earlier.
“I think Jammella should ask for the support of carpenters and contractors who can winterize the fridges for four seasons,” says Kelly. “With the winter looming and the rise in the pandemic there really should be a call to action.”
It would be appropriate for the next step of the project to be a collaboration, as Anderson has called on her wide array of friends from her work in activism to make the project a reality. This spring and summer she sold a variety of Black Lives Matter t-shirts, raising over $100,000 that she’s used to give aid to those in need and to various organizations.
Anderson envisions the fridges helping to foster even more community in the neighborhoods where they’ve been installed. “We want people to know they can rely on the fridge, that it’s here when they need to eat or they can send their children here safely. These are all in safe locations, out in the open, and there’s a wonderful community around every single fridge.”