Daniel Zauderer.

Homegrown food justice organization expands beyond its Mott Haven roots

Daniel Zauderer’s clarion call is “bring produce to the people!”

It started as just one community fridge on a sidewalk in a South Bronx neighborhood.

Today, 10,000 pounds of fresh, unsold produce from Hunts Point is being salvaged to feed hundreds of people across the city. Every Saturday dozens of volunteers from Grassroots Grocery, previously known as Mott Haven Fridge Network, in the Hunts Point Market, will be loading their cars in the parking lot with fruits and vegetables that will fan out to 30 different neighborhoods across the city.

To reflect the organization’s growth beyond its humble beginnings in the South Bronx, Dan Zauderer decided to update their name to Grassroots Grocery. He said he feels the universal connotation better captures the work he and his volunteers are doing. His ultimate hope is that the rebrand will give a sense that they are part of a larger movement.

Zauderer said the rebrand effort is ongoing, with a new website and updated social media handles serving as visible signs of progress.

Grassroots Grocery also recently partnered with the Arc’teryx apparel store in Soho for a “soft launch” of their new name. At the event, Grassroots Grocery and Gotham Food Pantry christened a new community fridge that will be installed outside of the Frederick Douglass Houses in the coming weeks.

“I think the whole thing is about expanding what [Dan’s] been doing in the Bronx every Saturday and getting more scale so that ideally that same operation can…keep multiplying,” said Matt Sahn, a Grassroots Grocery volunteer. Sahn works in technology and partnered with Zauderer to help grow the group’s  digital footprint.

As the Grassroots Grocery apparatus continues to grow, volunteer support from people like Sahn is essential. People of all ages are welcome to join the volunteer base, which now has 2,000 people registered. “I wanted to create something that was really easy for families to do,” said Zauderer.

Another key to Grassroots Grocery’s success is an uptick in donations. To date, Zauderer has amassed $483,000 – 36% from grassroots crowdfunding; 33% from individual major gifts over $1,000; and 19% from corporate philanthropy from companies such as Blackrock, IBM, and L&M Development Partners.

Grassroots Grocery has even caught the attention of media personality Kelly Clarkson, who recently invited founder Dan Zauderer on her show.

The Grassroots Grocery inception began when Zauderer, who teaches at the American Dream School in Mott Haven, learned many of his students’ families were struggling with food insecurity.

“I decided that if my students and their families weren’t getting access to local produce then what could we do to get food closer to communities in need?” said Zauderer. His clarion call as the founder of Grassroots Grocery has become “bring produce to the people!”

This is against the backdrop of a city where the projected number of food insecure New Yorkers in 2021 was approximately 1.4 million, half the population of Nevada.

As Zauderer looks ahead, he hopes to partner with more local leaders to create “food justice committees” –  “self-governed community-based groups that do food-sourcing at the local level,” according to its website.

Grassroots Grocery is opening a new community fridge on 91st and 1st Ave in partnership with Central Synagogue and the John Haynes Holmes Towers.

For now, Zauderer is focusing his efforts on building more infrastructure to support a robust food delivery system. The nametag Grassroots Grocery may be new, but Zauderer’s ultimate vision is the same. “It’s all about people working together to get food to their neighbors,” he said.

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