With the holiday season in full swing, and the spirit of giving in the air, we wanted to highlight a new organization started by a friend of ours who’s found a unique, direct way of providing healthy food to those in need: One Love Community Fridge, founded by Asmeret Berhe-Lumax.

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 01

One Love Community Fridge

With the holiday season in full swing, and the spirit of giving in the air, we wanted to highlight a new organization started by a friend of ours who’s found a unique, direct way of providing healthy food to those in need: One Love Community Fridge, founded by Asmeret Berhe-Lumax.

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 02

Asmeret started OLCF in June of 2020 to help bring easy access to free, fresh, wholesome food–no questions asked–to neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan via a network of community refrigerators. The first fridge was installed in her own neighborhood of Clinton Hill, at 432 Myrtle Avenue, in June 2020. In addition, they consistently offer support to 20 other fridges hosted by separate community groups.

Her effort was inspired by the long lines at food banks in the early days of COVID’s arrival in New York. Asmeret watched as people of all ages waited for hours in order to be able to feed their families, and knew something needed to be done.

In the two years since the pandemic began, New York has seen its highest rates of food insecurity. The struggle is not only to make food accessible, but also healthy. Often, the limited types of food many families have access to is part of the problem, and this can be a major contributor to negative health effects in their communities. Not only does OLCF minimize food waste by saving good food that might otherwise be thrown out; they’ve also created an opportunity to instill healthy eating habits simply by making fresh, healthy foods easier to get.

Seeing their work come full-circle is what fuels the enthusiasm of OLCF’s growing network of volunteers. Stanley Lumax, who’s been involved since day one, told us about a community member asking him why OLCF does what it does with tears in their eyes. “When you think about it,” he continued, “the fact that people depend on One Love to feed their family heightens the importance of the work of all the volunteers.”

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 03 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 04

One Love is sincerely committed to keeping the fridges stocked 24-7, 365 days a year. Emon Maasho told us, “Many do not know that Asmeret continues to fill up the refrigerators regardless of a snow or rainstorm. As we know, the weather in NY can change quite quickly, and she is more or less always out there filling fridges up when many others are staying inside. It indeed shows that Asmeret and OLCF are here for the long run and truly live as they learn to make a real contribution to the way we see the right for healthy food.”

He went on to say: “What also makes me joyful is to hear all the stories of how the refrigerators have helped many to eat healthier, but, above all, made members of the community understand the benefits of ‘real’ food.” It’s this crucial shift in how a community views what they eat that OLCF hopes to eventually instill in the people they help.

We joined Asmeret one afternoon in Brooklyn as she filled up her local One Love fridge, and showed us a few others nearby. During our walk, she told us about the progress of OLCF’s been able to make since it started, and discussed the human-rights issue of food insecurity more broadly.

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 05 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 06

Since the start of OLCF, have you seen noticeable changes in the neighborhood?

Absolutely. I have so many stories of our community members telling us how using the fridge and having access to fresh foods on a daily basis has had a positive impact on their lives. Food is the foundation of our health, and ties into every facet of who we are. It’s also at the intersection of so many broader issues–the social, economic, and racial inequalities that exist in our society.

How big is the impact?

Our impact is immense and direct. We believe that many small steps lead to big changes. We currently do food deliveries to fridges 7 days a week, and reach thousands of families.

How much time in a week does OLCF take?

It's a full-time commitment for me, and the beauty of that is that I get to work with all the family, friends, and neighbors who are a part of the organization. Our volunteers decide what works best for them, but even 30 minutes each week is super-helpful. People join us anywhere from once a month to several times a week.

How big is your team of volunteers?

We’re relatively small. We currently have a core group of 40, but we’re growing.

How do you sustain the organization?

Our work has grown organically–we’ve been very intentional in creating a grassroots foundation that has direct impact. It’s not charity, it’s inclusive. It disrupts the us-versus-them aspect of traditional charities because it invites community members on all sides to participate. This promotes sustainability by empowering everyone to be part of the solution, and its impact extends beyond food into areas like safety, health, empowerment, and education. It’s a type of community-building insofar as it activates, engages, and connects people in the neighborhoods where they live.

I’m certain I speak for everyone in our group that this is not about charity, or “giving back” in a generic sense. It's about making a personal investment in our communities, and creating a circle in which everyone who participates receives as much as they give. That said, we do still need financial support, and more volunteers.

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 07

What help do you need day-to-day? What long term help do you need?

Since we’re fully volunteer-operated, our main day-to-day need is more volunteers. We’re growing quickly, and need more people to get involved on every level.

Longer-term, we need financial support to be able to increase our food pickups and deliveries, and to continue building educational and food-industry partnerships. We’re also looking to partner directly with local and urban farmers to tie them into the community fridge system.

Who makes use of the community fridges?

Over the past 18 months, what I’ve learned is that there’s not one face that represents who uses our fridges. It’s everyone from students to senior citizens to single parents to the unemployed, as well as freelancers, teenagers, and families with two working parents struggling to make ends meet.

As human beings, we’re all the same, and the main thing that separates us is often the opportunities afforded to us early in life. The beauty of One Love Community is that it helps create a connection to where you live. Whether you’re unhoused, or in a position to write a $50K donation, there’s space for you to participate.

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 08 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 09 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 10 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 11 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 12 NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 13

Could you speak to the current situation of food insecurity in the United States, and in NYC specifically?

During 2020, thanks to the effects of COVID-19, food insecurity numbers in the US skyrocketed. Today, more than 42 million Americans are food-insecure, and 13 million of them are children.

1.5 Million of those 42 million are New Yorkers, which is 36% higher than-pre pandemic numbers. 1 out of every 5, or 19% of New York City children rely on soup kitchens and food pantries. Brooklyn is the borough with the highest rate of food insecurity in NYC, at 20%.

The lack of nutritious, healthy food is closely linked to physical and mental health problems, oral health problems, and poor educational outcomes.

What do you see as the solution?

Alongside food-insecurity statistics are the numbers that tell us about food waste. A full 40% of all food produced in the US is destroyed! The solution is right in front of us. We need to connect families with food. We need to support businesses that are working towards a sustainable future.

NOAH - FW21 - One Love Community Fridge - 14

What steps would you suggest people interested in making food accessible for all take in their own communities?

One of the easiest things is to buy extra items when you’re at the store, and place them in a community fridge if you live near one. Or you can cook an extra portion while making dinner to pack up and take to the fridge. If you’re in a position to donate money, support the organizations that do the work, and encourage friends to do the same.

We’re working to not not just make food, but specifically healthy food, accessible to all. The mindset we’re trying to instill is for everyone to please extend the same respect and care, food-wise, as you would to your own family to others. No step is too small.

However, there are many other ways of helping, and we encourage anyone to reach out to us for ideas on how to activate your family, friends, class, colleagues, or work team.

How can someone join the OLCF team?

Email us at hello@onelovecommunityfridge.org

Join our newsletter at www.onelovecommunityfridge.org

Follow us on IG @onelovecommunityfridge