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By Dean Moses

The first plant-based only community refrigerator is now up and running in the NoHo community.

A refrigerator is not only a cold cabinet in which food is stored, but also a symbol of assurance. If a person possesses a full fridge, they also possess food security. Unfortunately, many New Yorkers have lost that security throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Financially devastating citizens of all boroughs leading to breadlines becoming commonplace for the first time since the 1930s, some community leaders are taking it upon themselves to try and ease the burden by placing hubs from which those in need can retrieve food free of charge and without social stigma.

Vegan Activist Alliance, Chilis on Wheels New York, Artists Athletes Activists and Overthrow Boxing Club have teamed up to create Manhattan’s newest community refrigerator on 9 Bleeker Street, and this one is vegan friendly. Since its installation on Sunday, Feb. 7, the neighborhood has welcomed this food sharing initiative with open arms. Joe Wolfson, a local resident and professor at NYU, not only contributes food to the fridge himself but also likewise encourages his students to do the same.

“I walk past here every day. It’s excellent, it’s providing community support for one another,” Wolfson said.

To some, these fridges are merely experimenting in altruism, for others it is the foundation from which a newer, kinder society is built.  Co-founder of Vegan Activist Alliance Eloisa Trinidad—a vegan and animal rights activist—goes one step further still. She believes that a person’s level of income should not dictate their access to healthy food items since many people require a plant-based diet to deal with underlying health issues.

“There is this preconceived notion that somebody who is in need doesn’t care what they are eating because they are trying to make sure they are not hungry. We really need to get away from that perspective. We have come across people who have all types of illnesses that need to eat healthy. We had someone come all the way from New Jersey because he is plant-based and can’t afford food,” Trinidad told amNewYork Metro. 

For Trinidad, simply having access to food is not sufficient. She believes that the ability to consume healthy, plant-based food is a human right. Overthrow Boxing Club—a once-popular meet-up point for activists—agrees with this sentiment, which is why they decided to host the fridge. Although the boxing club has suffered like many businesses during the onslaught of the novel coronavirus, they are using their cost to power the icebox and also help restock it.  

“Anyone can come in and it is totally free—totally vegan. A lot of people in the neighborhood lost their jobs or are between jobs and just don’t have quite enough money to make through some weeks, so it is good for the community,” Co-founder and art director of Overthrow Boxing Club John Gagliano said.

Gagliano also stated the idea of a plant-based fridge is to promote healthy living, especially during the age of COVID-19 when every person’s wellbeing is called into question on a day-by-day basis. He also says he has been overwhelmed by the feedback and proud of how the area has handled the pantry project thus far.

“So far it has been amazing. You know we weren’t sure what was going to happen, we weren’t sure how long it would last but we have had great feedback. A lot of people come, and people are being thoughtful as far as not taking too much. We also get donations,” Gagliano said.

As the world grows harsher some people within it are also growing kinder. Community fridges have been popping up all over the city, and with the latest NoHo cooler’s dedication solely to plant-based food in order to promote health, locals are embracing its values and encouraging others to do the same.

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