Troy Lockwood, a native of Ilion and of no relation to the owner of this publication, has followed in the footsteps of his friend Hana Selimovic who started something called a Community Fridge in Utica. Yesterday, he and his friends opened their own Community Fridge in Herkimer. As was the case with the Utica Fridge, this effort is done in the spirit of something called Mutual Aid. According to Wikipedia,
Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions.
Basically, they set up a fridge in public, store it with food themselves, encourage those in need to simply walk up to the fridge and take what they need, and then the fridge is replenished by donors. The project finds its strength in its own simplicity. No agency or department. No forms to fill out. Just a simple means of getting food directly to those who need it.
Troy was kind enough to elaborate on these concepts and also the process for setting up such a project.
1st question) Why Herkimer?
Well first of all, because I live in Herkimer and I wanted to do more organizing in my own community rather than organizing only in Utica. Secondly, there isn’t anything like this going on in Herkimer even though there’s such a need for it. There is a huge problem with drug addiction in downtown, and the Main Street area, as well as the south side, is super underserved. I think the fridge will be a great start to a movement much bigger — a movement based in proletarian solidarity and mutual aid.
2nd question) What goes into getting a Community fridge up and running?
Well it was great timing, actually. Hana Selimovic, a key organizer of the Utica community fridge, knew of somebody who had a fridge ready to donate to the Utica team, so she let me take that one. So far, Herkimer has some hurdles (nothing I wasn’t expecting). For starters, I had a very difficult time finding a business that was receptive to ideas and willing to help the cause. One day, I decided to give Utica Hemp’s Herkimer location a try. The managers were immediately super willing to help. Now, here we are about three weeks later, getting ready to launch a fridge. Aside from that, the town officials got word of the fridge pretty quickly and I got contacted by the codes department. I have had to buy a building permit (fairly inexpensive). Lastly, I have had to form a team of volunteers, mostly close friends who want to be involved, others are people who reached out to me after seeing my posts on Facebook about needing volunteers.
Basically in short, you need someone (preferably a business or a place of worship) to provide electricity, a fridge (preferably donated), and a team of volunteers who want to make the vision a reality, and of course, donors. Remember, the idea is to reduce food waste as much as possible too.
Final question) have you faced any criticisms?
Criticisms? Not necessarily. I’ve had people who aren’t okay with it being separate from police and politicians, but that wouldn’t make me change my stance on that. Those people don’t need to be involved and that’s a-ok with me.
I’ve also had people tell me that I’m asking for it to be robbed or stolen and my answer to that is usually along the lines of… you can’t rob something that is free to begin with. And to stigmatize people who are in need is disgusting and I don’t want any part in that.
Herkimer is something of a surprising location for a Community Fridge as it doesn’t summon the intense images of urban decay and neglect that Utica does. But that of course isn’t actually the case. As Troy Lockwood said, Herkimer has a massive problem with food insecurities as do many towns and cities in NYS these days, yet these issues go largely unnoticed. Perhaps with the expansion of this Community Fridge trend, people will start realizing just how many Americans are truly in-need. So, it would seem that the Fridge serves two purposes as it’s a source of food and also, through its presence, a reminder of its host city’s problems.