Photo; Giselle Medina. A resident at the Mott Haven community fridge.

Residents celebrate success of free community fridge with sidewalk brunch

About a year after two Bronx teachers debuted the first free community fridge in Mott Haven, local residents came together over the weekend to celebrate its success with a colorful sidewalk brunch.

“Brunch on a Bronx Sidewalk,” hosted by the Mott Haven Fridge Network, opened to much fanfare on Sunday, with four tables filled with pastas, pizzas and pastries stretching down E. 141st St. between Willis and St. Ann’s Aves. Música urbana blared from the speakers as women danced in the street.

In the middle of it all, Daniel Zauderer, one of the teachers who co-founded the fridge network, welcomed everyone to the one-year celebration.

“It’s just really the beginning of a revolution in the food assistance, food access space,” Zauderer, 33, said. “It’s the opportunity to celebrate this idea that all community members should be a part of their own empowerment and they should be able to access food with dignity.”

Zauderer and Charlotte Alvarez, both sixth-grade teachers at the American Dream Charter School in Mott Haven, teamed up in August 2020 to find a solution after hearing their students talk about their food struggles during the coronavirus pandemic. Zauderer had heard about community fridges and thought it would be a great option for his students.

The first Mott Haven Community Fridge on E. 141st St. was born. Zauderer and Alvarez now operate two fridges in the neighborhood through the Mott Haven Fridge Network, and have plans to open three more in the Bronx in the coming months.

“As a teacher, it’s important, I think, to take care of the whole child and make sure their needs are met,” Zauderer said on Sunday. “[The fridge] provided community members in need with an anonymous, accessible option right in the community, especially in an area where pantries closed down during COVID.”

Mott Haven locals Maria and Neida Filpo are two of the many residents who have used the free fridge to give back to the neighborhood.

“This fridge has benefited many families in the community,” Neida Filpo said. “Since my kids don’t eat meat, I bring the frozen meat here so that another person can take it.”

Community fridges became quite popular at the height of the pandemic, and have continued to operate throughout the city. According to ​​the NYC Community Fridge Mapping Project, which tracks the location of community fridges, there are 145 fridges across the five boroughs, including the two in Mott Haven.

Zauderer said the Mott Haven Fridge Network plans to build a network of volunteer drivers “with big cars and big hearts” to pick up excess food and distribute it to people in need across the borough.

“It is truly neighbors helping neighbors,” Diego León, one of the sponsors of the brunch, said in an email. “I can’t wait to see this organization grow and help more people.”