The power of purpose should never be discounted. When I think of the potential that each one of us possesses, I think of Jessie Reardon, the person that founded Buffalo Community Fridge. While this concept of ‘public refrigerators to feed the hungry’ is not exactly new, it is new to Buffalo.
Reardon says that she was inspired to start the project in Buffalo upon first hearing about the effort in NYC (In Our Hearts). “It’s been happening around the world for quite some time,” explains Reardon, who is a registered nurse, working the night shifts. “I knew that I wanted to do it, but people were doubting it because of COVID. I was up and down… should I do it, not do it? But I knew that it was needed, so I just went and did it. I felt that with the virus, it was more important than ever to provide those less fortunate with healthy food, which would help people with stronger immunity to fight the virus. The idea came to life, and it’s been crazy ever since.”
Reardon tells me that upon embarking upon the project, she needed to clear some hurdles. Finding a fridge was easy, but what about a location, and electricity… and food? “The community stepped up,” she says. “A friend of mine told me that he knew a guy with buildings. One of those buildings was the old Gigi’s at 257 East Ferry Street. The owner provided me a space to put the fridge, and electricity. He even built shelves on the outside of the building for dry goods. I needed a high profile spot to feed the most people, and this place was perfect. Buffalo United Front even dropped off a garbage can.”
Reardon also credits the Freedge network for helping her to problem-solve. If she had a question, there was someone in the network that was willing to help.
As for the food, Reardon says that it’s “for the community by the community.” Similar to how the Little Free Library concept works, it’s up to the community to make sure that there’s always food in the fridge. “Most of it comes from neighbors,” explains Reardon. “There is one woman who goes to a farm and drops off food on a weekly basis. People feel good about helping others in need. It’s one of the reasons that I became a nurse.”
Reardon says that she hopes to inspire other people to step up and create their own Community Fridges. “These fridges should be all over the city. I am working on another one for the West Side. I’ve never done anything like this before – it’s my first project that I’ve done myself. It’s great having a huge fridge network in other cities. I encourage anyone to get involved, whether it’s dropping off food, or starting a Community Fridge. We’re also looking for guidance from people who can help us to build shelters for the fridges, or advice on how to deal with winter weather.”
These fridges are not only there to provide food, they are also there to act as community anchors. The fridge on East Ferry has become a rallying spot for coat drives (and other necessities), and other community events. “We’re having a turkey drive closer to Thanksgiving,” says Reardon. “The fridge is open to everyone – even if you just want to stop by and say hi, it’s all about fostering a caring community.”