Businesses opening community refrigerators

Community fridges will help people with food insecurity in Hudson, organizers say. Aliya Schneider/Columbia-Greene Media

HUDSON — Two community refrigerators will open in Hudson, where people can take or leave food, free of charge, all supplied by two city businesses.

The refrigerator at Kitty’s Market, 60 South Front St., is at the corner of Cross Street and South Front Street and is up and running.

Lil Deb’s Oasis, 747 Columbia St., is opening its Oasis refrigerator in about two weeks, chef and co-owner Carla Perez-Gallardo said.

“The food is partly donated and it’s also an invitation to the larger community to just drop stuff off,” Perez-Gallardo said.

Anyone can donate to the fridge and anyone can take from the fridge, she added.

The refrigerators will be available for drop-off or pick-up 24-7 and are open to everybody.

“It’s just a really simple idea of just putting a free library or anything like that and it’s rooted in the belief that all people should have access to food or to books,” Kitty’s co-owner and chef Lauren Schaefer said.

Produce, eggs, dairy, meat, dry and packed goods or anything else that isn’t home-cooked is allowed in the refrigerators, according to a statement about the project.

Staffs at Lil Deb’s Oasis and Kitty’s Market independently thought of community fridge initiatives and joined forces, Perez-Gallardo said.

”We’re very close to the owners of Kitty’s,” she said.

Kitty’s staff reached out to Lil Deb’s Oasis about the idea, she added.

The food access project will be co-managed by a group of local activists volunteering their time to clean and restock the fridge, Perez-Gallardo said.

If the fridge doesn’t get stocked independently by donors, Lil Deb’s Oasis is committed to donating products, she said.

“I feel it’s especially important right now, when so much is up in the air and so many people have lost their jobs, to keep food accessible especially because restaurants aren’t always accessible for many people,” Perez-Gallardo said. The fridges are intended to be self-sustaining, she said.

“Community fridges are a really beautiful and simple way to address food access in communities that don’t have direct access to fresh produce all the time,” Perez-Gallardo said. “Hudson is an interesting example because it’s a very cute cosmopolitan city that’s getting a lot of attention in the media and when you walk up our main street it can read as very white, very affluent, and I think people coming especially from New York City assume everyone here is white and rich but the fact is Hudson is a very diverse community with a huge wealth disparity. There are plenty of wealthy people and plenty of people who live below or on the poverty line.”

The wealth disparity has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.

While the Rolling Grocer 19 at 6 South Second St. is a great option in Hudson, there is not a big grocery store within walking distance of the city, she said.

“There is (a large grocery store) a few miles away but you definitely need a car to get there so I think community fridges are a wonderful attempt at solving some of those food-access issues and it’s a way to get your neighbors involved, too,” Perez-Gallardo said.

Refrigerator organizers are hoping to receive donations from individuals such as visitors with leftover groceries, locals with food to share and businesses such as restaurants, bars and caterers that have excess food at the end of the day, Kitty’s employee Amiel Stanek said.

“People are naturally engaging with it,” he said of the fridge. “So far, so good.”

While Kitty’s and Lil Deb’s Oasis are helping get the project started and will serve as backstops when the fridges need maintaining, they aren’t meant to be in charge of the fridges, he said.

“This is really because this is a project that is co-founded in the concept of mutual aid,” Stanek said. “Nobody is in charge of the fridges in a centralized way. We as Kitty’s and the folks at Lil Deb’s are helping to get the project off the ground and kind of galvanize the community around it.”

Schaefer and Kitty’s co-owner Anna Morris bought Kitty’s refrigerator and provide electricity for it, but it belongs to the community, Schaefer said.

“The community owns it and if the community wants it, then everyone will take care of it,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer moved to Hudson about two years ago and officially opened Kitty’s on Sept. 12.

“This is something Lauren started dreaming up this summer even before Kitty’s actually formally opened their doors,” said Stanek, who is Schaefer’s husband. Schaefer worked on cookbooks the past few years and worked in the restaurant industry for many years before that, she said.

Other restaurants and coffee shops she used to frequent in Brooklyn hosted community fridges and she thought it was a great idea.

“There’s no reason for anybody to go hungry,” she said.

People coming together across the country for social actions inspired Lil Deb’s Oasis staff, Perez-Gallardo said.

Schaefer and Perez-Gallardo were also inspired by Playground Coffee Shop, 1114 Bedford Ave., in Brooklyn, which has a community fridge and library among other community programming.

Social media brought people together to make a more conscious effort to address social-justice issues while people were in quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perez-Gallardo added.

Lil Deb’s Oasis, which has shifted from outdoor to indoor seating, donates weekly to racial-justice or mutual-aid organizations, Perez-Gallardo said. They add 69 cents to each menu item, which accumulate the weekly donations.

“We added 69 cents to each menu item in order to incentivize our guests’ participation in the redistribution or reallocation of funds throughout society by eating at our restaurant,” she said.

They raised $600 to $700 weekly over the summer, she said.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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