City

Allston community fridge looking for new home after power shut off

Community fridge at Oliveira's Deli Market
A woman selects from the community pantry outside of Oliveira’s Deli Market in Brighton. KAITO AU/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Volunteer organizers of the community fridge in Allston are looking for a new host for the fridge after the power was cut off at their original location, expelling them from the sport earlier this month. 

A community fridge is a resource used to fight food insecurity, where donated food is stored for area residents to take for free. 

The Allston fridge was previously hosted by vegan Chinese restaurant Grasshopper on N. Beacon Street. Local activists began the initiative at that location in October 2020. 

“It’s really, really grown from just a small group of local neighborhood activists early on to a real community project,” fridge volunteer and Allston-Brighton resident Megan Ramette said. “Tons of people in the community have reached out to help volunteer and do what they can.”

Volunteers noticed the temperature of the Allston fridge rising and food beginning to spoil over the course of around a day during the week of May 10, volunteer David Rose said.

The fridge was moved later that evening to a volunteer’s basement and is functional. However, Rose said volunteers were unable to save the “hundreds of dollars” of food in the fridge in time.

We just got sort of kicked literally to the curb,” he said. 

This wasn’t a planned move, according to an email statement written to the Daily Free Press by the Allston/Brighton Community Fridge Family. They wrote that the building had come under new ownership, and that the power was later cut to the fridge without warning, which led to “the spoilage of a large amount of food that could have fed our neighbors.”

Both Ramette and Rose said the landowner never reached out to fridge organizers or directly warned them the power would be cut, and said the information was primarily relayed through surrounding businesses after the fact.

The building manager could not be reached for comment. 

“We had no communication with them,” Ramette said. “We can’t even really begin to understand their motives for cutting the power of the fridge.”

The fridge’s placement was originally done via an informal agreement with Grasshopper and didn’t involve responsibility or maintenance on the landowner’s part, Rose said. 

They added the cost of electricity is covered by the Allston Fridge organizers, and that volunteers helped out in other ways such as shoveling the storefronts’ sidewalk in the winter.

Rose also said the decentralized and grassroots nature of the fridge makes it difficult to take any action against the landowner.

“The upside of that is that it is easy to get going, it’s very freeform and we can usually begin to accommodate specific needs whatever restaurants or store owner we’re working with,” he said. “The downside, I suppose, is if somebody higher up than that decides that they are not a fan, there isn’t much recourse.”

Grasshopper owner Hoai Nguyen’s son, Huy Nguyen, said Grasshopper hosted the fridge to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the fridge didn’t seem to affect business in any way.

We thought that the fridge was a good thing,” Nguyen said. “I just feel bad that people who have gotten used to the fridge no longer have access.”

After the organizers affiliated with the Allston fridge announced their eviction to the public, they were contacted immediately by restaurants and community groups looking to help find a host. 

State Representative Kevin Honan’s office also reached out personally to the group to offer their help with rehousing.

“It just feels like everybody in the Allston community is really supporting us in this pretty rough and unexpected time,” Ramette said. 

Volunteers received numerous messages of support and indignation at the situation via social media from local residents, businesses and nearby community fridges, Rose said. 

“We are pushing against the grain, but a lot of people are pushing behind us, so it’s very encouraging,” they said. 

Now focusing their resources on the relocation effort, Allston fridge volunteers must take access to public transportation and distance from other fridges into account when looking for a new home, Rose said.

Rose said the group is considering lower Allston as potential locations for the fridge, potentially looking as far inbound as Packards Corner. 

“We are feeling just as motivated and defiant as ever to get this back up and running,” he said. “That attitude has been both bolstered by and informing of the community response. There is a similar degree of motivation and defiance in the community.” 

Ramette pointed to how the fridge’s removal affects those Allston residents reliant on the fridge, who they said are often experiencing poverty, homelessness and food insecurity — problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I personally think that that is really terrible and really disheartening and does a huge disservice to all of our neighbors in need, who are the ones who are suffering because of this fridge eviction,” she said. 

While the group looks for a new host for the fridge, residents of the area can still access the Brighton fridge on Faneuil Street and Cambridge Community Fridge on Church Street. In the meantime, volunteers will still be accepting food donations at the Brighton fridge.

Rose said the community response makes the group optimistic about getting the Allston fridge back and relocated soon.

“It is the temporary closing and I think a lot of people rallied behind that right away,” they said. “It was never an obituary.”

Rose said the experience, although unfortunate, could be an aiding example in case of any future evictions.

“Maybe next time we can point back to this and say this isn’t just 15 or 20 or 30 activists trying to shove this big ugly machine on somebody’s property,” he said. “This is the whole community behind this and they care about it. They were sorrowful to see it go and they rallied behind bringing it back.”

 

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