MH x HM fills community fridges

Cece Coughlin, Staff Writer

The Mott Haven x Horace Mann (MH x HM) club started a food drive to help the Mott Haven community with food access during the pandemic. Students can bring non-perishable food to Olshan Lobby.

Bronx neighborhood Mott Haven is in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, MH x HM President Karolina Fic (10) said. Yet, it is in the same borough as the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, which distributes food and produce to much of the country, she said. “If you have a huge produce market in the same borough that has one of the poorest districts in the US, there is clearly a paradox there.”

During the pandemic, few New Yorkers volunteered in person at food banks. When many food pantries closed, people turned to community refrigerators — fridges located in public to which people can bring or take food — to access food, Fic said. “Before the pandemic, people were more reliant on food drives in churches and community spaces,” she said.

The fridges are household refrigerators on the street inside sheds to keep them protected from the elements, founder of Mott Haven Fridge Dan Zauderer said. 

“They are painted by local artists or by school groups,” Zauderer said. “Both of the fridges in Mott Haven also have a corresponding pantry, which is much bigger than the fridge and it has lots of shelving units in it, which can take harder produce.”

The school drive started with Fic when she and her sister interned with Zauderer over the summer, Fic said. 

“Mott Haven Fridge has just a couple of fridges, but the idea of community refrigerators are all over the city,” Fic said. The fridges allow people to access food with dignity and with no questions asked, she said.

“We are a volunteer-powered organization, whose purpose is to get fresh fruits and vegetables directly into the communities that struggle with getting access to fresh and healthy foods to feed their families,” Zauderer said.

Volunteers can help by donating nonperishable food items to the school, making drop-offs of food items to fridges any day of the week, or signing up to drive produce to designated locations on any Saturday, Zauderer said. Every Saturday, volunteer drivers take food to grassroots community-run and community-supported distribution sites throughout the Bronx, he said.

“The other way is to do a cook off or bake off,” Zauderer said. “I would love for families to bake cookies or make lasagna that they could put into Tupperware containers labeled with the name of the item and the date that they were prepared.”

“If you have a parent or chaperone sign up, all they have to do is put in their phone number, their email, and then they get text messages,” Zauderer said. Volunteers can sign up for any time slot that they want between 10am and 2pm on Saturday, come for 15 minutes while their car is loaded with produce, and then they are given a site in the Bronx or up to drop off, he said.