Credit: (Taylor Jung/NJ Spotlight News)
The Jersey City Heights Community Refrigerator provides fresh and shelf-stable products 24 hours a day.

While politicians give out free turkeys and nonprofits hold food drives every year around the holiday, community refrigerators strive to provide food and goods for free year-round.

According to Sarah Legler, an organizer, the community refrigerators offer convenient daily meals for those in need Jersey City Heights Community Fridge.

“There are a few regular food banks or soup kitchens around Jersey City where people can come once a week and pick up a bag of groceries or a meal,” Legler said. Community refrigerators “are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so people can stop by when they get off work, or on their way to work, or after they’ve dropped their kids off at school in the morning and see what’s there, that they can have access,” she said.

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Community refrigerators are just one way people are helping each other get food this Thanksgiving. Pandemic and inflation have food security has worsened, with some families not recovering from closed businesses or lack of job security. It’s the reason Legler opened her refrigerator two years ago just before Thanksgiving, and she said the food prepared by volunteers “will go as fast as it comes in.”

During the pandemic, several community refrigerators opened in Jersey City. It is a form of mutual aid that has emerged in recent years, although the idea of ​​mutual aid in America existed since colonial times. Mutual aid differs from philanthropy in that the work is done by the community, for the community, to empower the community – with no paperwork, bureaucracy or hoops to jump through. Or like The New Yorker Jia Tolentino said thismutual aid “targets root causes—the structures that created inequality in the first place.”

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“And ideas like these are ideas that resonate deeply with me. Seeing how vulnerable people were during the pandemic and seeing how much food, a huge amount of food – 40% of our food supply – just goes almost straight into the trash,” said Legler. “And mutual aid is the only way to work outside of this systems to slow down waste and redirect these resources to the people who need them in our communities.”

Legler and the volunteers are working with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, which Legler said has ties to a major food distributor in the state. Legler said the prosecutor’s office provides shelf-stable foods and other items for the pantry that “people are always happy to get,” such as apples, oranges, potatoes or onions.

Credit: (Taylor Jung/NJ Spotlight News)
People are always happy to get staples like onions.

The Jersey City Community Fridge also partners with the SALT Foundation, which distributes unsold products from Wegmans and Trader Joe’s. Another partner, a bakery called Choc O Pain, also supplies croissants and fresh bread for the refrigerator — something Legler said costs more money and is usually “out of reach” for some people.

A team of volunteers from Jersey City help pick up groceries, clean out the fridge and more. While the fridge doesn’t have any special plans for Thanksgiving, it’s focused on doing what it always does: providing fresh food for the people of Jersey City every day.

Legler said the refrigerator is made possible by “dedicated” volunteers, especially now that she’s back in the office full-time. And this is another example of how community fridges bring people together to help each other.

“I would have stopped a long time ago if it wasn’t for them,” Legler said.

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