Free Food Fridge Albany aims to feed the Capital Region’s underserved one refrigerator at a time

Leah Egnaczyk, a farmer at Fehr Avenue Farm, and Jammella Anderson, the founder of Free Food Fridge Albany, stand next to a freshly stocked refrigerator at the Fehr Avenue Farm in Schenectady. The fridge, installed earlier this month, is available 24/7 and anyone is free to take the food they need.

Leah Egnaczyk, a farmer at Fehr Avenue Farm, and Jammella Anderson, the founder of Free Food Fridge Albany, stand next to a freshly stocked refrigerator at the Fehr Avenue Farm in Schenectady. The fridge, installed earlier this month, is available 24/7 and anyone is free to take the food they need.

By Kristina Handy

For The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY Jammella Anderson and Leah Egnaczyk were crouched down, stuffing the refrigerator outside of the Fehr Avenue Farm with various foodstuffs — strawberries, kale, water, loaves of bread, collard greens, pasta, chicken with rice. And more. When they finished, the white refrigerator, which stood in a wooden enclosure for shade, was stocked from top to bottom.

A car slowed and stopped on the side of the road in front of the fridge. A man stepped out and asked, “Is this free? You gotta be homeless?”

“Nope, you can just take whatever you need,” Anderson said.

The man took a water out of the fridge and left. 

This is the spirit of Free Food Fridge Albany, a food justice program that aims to bring “an anonymous and direct food access point to food insecure neighborhoods, systemically oppressed and marginalized neighborhoods, as well as, and communities that hold the global majority,” according to the organization’s website.” Take what you need, no questions asked. 

“No hoops — you just walk up, you take it, and you leave,” said Anderson, the founder of Free Food Fridge Albany, who added that those who take from the fridge also have no obligation to give back to the cause. “There’s no push or pressure on the people who need the food to put food back into it, because that’s often what we are taught: it’s that in order to get something you must give something.

“And in this case, so much has been taken, so many people have been so underserved that you just deserve to take without question.”

These fridges, which are open 24/7, are scattered across the Capital Region — five in Albany, one in Troy and two in Schenectady. Each of the refrigerators is regularly filled with fresh foods and easy meals, like produce, milk and yogurts, and ready-to-eat meals donated from local restaurants and catering services.

“Definitely a huge part of this is not only providing food that is fresh but also food that can just be eaten — even if it’s cold, it’s already cooked, which is super important,” said Anderson. “It’s important that we’re providing a well-balanced amount of food.”

The initiative also tries to cater to a variety of dietary needs by including vegan, vegetarian, and halal options.

Community fridges like this are not new to the world, nor are free food services, but Anderson saw the initiative as another way to not only feed underserved communities but also to connect them. 

“We all speak the language of food — food is how we build community so to be able to build our community here and then build with the community as a whole is really important,” Anderson said. “This is the way that we see that we can do something direct and immediate.”

The necessity of these fridges becomes clear with every restock. Anderson says that, at some fridge locations, a fridge will be emptied out minutes after it has been restocked.

“To see people just using it and knowing that it’s theirs, it’s just a really beautiful thing to watch,” Anderson said. “But it’s also saddening at times, just because of how much of a need there is.”

The latest fridge installation came earlier this month on the grounds of the Schenectady Urban Farms’s Fehr Ave Farm near Central Park. The installation was the result of a partnership between Free Food Fridge Albany, The Schenectady Foundation, and Schenectady Community Ministries which is affiliated with Schenectady Urban Farms.

Talk of the Fehr Ave Farm fridge began about two years ago, when Leah Egnaczyk, who is one of the primary farmers at the farm, first heard about Free Food Fridge Albany.

“In 2020, when [Jammella] started putting out fridges, I said ‘oh, we could do that — we’re right on a bus line, have excess produce,’ and so I really took my inspiration from Jammella and what they were doing in Albany,” said Egnaczyk. 

Egnaczyk also felt that the initiative would be critical for Schenectady, which, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, has several neighborhoods that classify as food deserts, meaning residents have limited access to nutritious and affordable food.

“We only have one grocery store that is accessible by bus line,” said Egnaczyk. “The majority of the population in Schenectady doesn’t have transportation and to take a bus with all of your groceries is very difficult so we want more grocery stores in neighborhoods and free stores, really, because food is expensive.”

The fridge is powered by solar panels, which were funded by a $9,700 grant given to SiCM by The Schenectady Foundation.

Those interested in helping have numerous options to do so, including donating money to Free Food Fridge Albany, helping to stock the fridge, and donating fresh foods. 

“Even if it’s $10 or $20 onto their weekly bill, just add that in and that could buy 10 loaves of bread, that could buy a few gallons of milk, that could buy eggs and you could just put them right in the fridge and people will eat it,” said Anderson. 

Restaurants, catering services, and even grocery stores are also welcome to donate food. Takk House in Troy regularly donates the extra meals they make when catering for events. 

“It’s not so much that it’s the leftovers or anything, it’s food that’s not even touched so it’s essentially like they’re making it for us,” said Anderson. 

In the future, Free Food Fridge Albany hopes to put more fridges in Schenectady, particularly in the downtown area where there aren’t any placed yet.

But, according to Anderson, these fridges are not and cannot be a permanent solution, since combating food insecurity requires more than a refrigerator that sits on a city block — it requires structural and systemic change.

“This is a bandaid for now, this is helping fill a gap in a much larger issue,” said Anderson. “We would like to see this grow into more farms, more opportunities for free stores and taking the middleman out of things and not making people jump through hoops [for food].”

But until this change comes, Free Food Fridge Albany’s main goal continues to be feeding the community, one fridge at a time.

“Food is a human right — that is a belief down to our core,” Egnaczyk said.

For those interested in helping out or donating food, contact Free Food Fridge Albany by email at [email protected], or through Instagram at @freefoodfridgealbany.

Categories: -News-, Local Flavor 2023, Schenectady

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