On Saturday, November 14, 2020, Mott Haven Community Refrigerator — introduced in late September by two school teachers, Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo, and the Bronx Community Foundation — received a message from Chicky’s Mini-Market requesting that the 24/7 free food fridge be removed immediately from the bodega’s premises. Organizers responded with a change.org petition and Instagram post and continue to seek swift resolution.
Shortly after a celebratory event Saturday featuring non-profit Yuca arts students painting the newly arrived community fridge shelter and pantry, Mott Haven Refrigerator co-creator Daniel Zauerer received an unexpected WhatsApp message. In the message, Zauderer learned that the landlord and new bodega ownership wanted the Mott Haven Community Refrigerator, shelter, and pantry to be removed immediately from the current location.
Unable to reach the new bodega owners for comment, Zauderer and fellow organizers quickly wrote a Change.org petition urging the bodega to agree to a meeting to discuss possible solutions other than eviction. The petition, posted on Instagram late Saturday night and widely shared by community fridge organizers, businesses, non-profits, and community advocates, had already received 233 signatures by 02:15 a.m. Sunday morning.
Called “SAVE MOTT HAVEN COMMUNITY REFRIGERATOR FROM EVICTION,” the petition stresses that the fridge’s location — near churches, schools, public transportation, and large housing projects — was strategically chosen to meet the greatest number of hungry families. “Our ability to reach families in need is incredible. On Friday, over SIX HUNDRED POUNDS of food were distributed into the hands of hungry families. On average, our fully-stocked fridge is emptied in 45 minutes,” the petition states.
The petition also notes that the problem of fridge eviction is not unique to the Mott Haven Refrigerator, with reasons for eviction ranging from problems with landlords to NIMBY neighbors. In the movement’s short ten month existence, five fridges in the New York City network have already been evicted and forced to either find a new host or shut down.
Some signatories wrote comments about the possible eviction. “The community has expressed gratitude. People have come together to keep it stocked. Please do not take away a much needed support in the Mott Haven community,” remarked signatory Jade Soto. “Food security is more important than a clear sidewalk,” wrote Michael Gusev.
While the organizers still hope to fight the eviction with a display of community support, friends of the community fridge have been generous enough to offer their support to temporarily house the fridge.
Non-profit partners East Side Settlement House and Rap4Bronx have offered to house the refrigerator in nearby warehouses until a permanent host can be found. A neighbor with a row house also offered to temporarily house the fridge, pantry, and shelter in the front yard.
The widely shared Instagram post announcing the petition ended on a strong but optimistic note. “Together, and with love, we can make sure that the fridge survives!” Mott Haven Refrigerator declared to its 1,564 followers.