A community refrigerator created for needy families was discovered vandalized and left in disrepair outside the district office of Queens state Senator Jessica Ramos on New Year’s Day, coming at a moment when the pandemic has left more residents food insecure.
"It really hurts that someone would do this," a teary-eyed Ramos told Gothamist/WNYC.
After Ramos posted photos of the fridge's remains to Twitter on Saturday—its fresh food and freezer doors ripped open—an outpouring of support immediately came her way, with $6,000 in donations already generated towards the cost of replacing the fridge.
Since July, the General Electric fridge—its surface repainted by local artist named Khan—was set up outside Ramos’s district office on Junction Boulevard in East Elmhurst, and made available to thousands of residents looking for free eggs, fruits and vegetables, and baby formula to feed their families.
To maintain the well-stocked fridge, Ramos depended on donations to keep it full, often emptying out in a matter of hours. Ramos's office borders the community of Corona, home to undocumented immigrants left out of any aid by the federal government.
"They don't qualify for unemployment insurance, they didn't get a stimulus check, they're not going to get a new stimulus check. And so for many families, this is literally all they have," Ramos said. "This is how they pinch pennies in order to save up for rent every month."
Community fridges have become common across the city as the pandemic led to massive layoffs, increasing food insecurity citywide. Currently, roughly 1.5 million New Yorkers cannot afford to buy food. A recent report by the Robin Hood Foundation found 32% of adults surveyed in September and October 2020 reported to have used a food pantry in the past year, an increase of more than 250% when compared to January and February of 2020.
And yet, despite these fridges serving as a lifeline, they have been targets of vandalism in the past. In Far Rockaway, a community fridge created by Rockaway Mutual Aid and stationed at Beach 91st Street, was found vandalized over the summer.
It's still unclear who had vandalized the fridge outside Ramos's office. Ramos is asking police to pull footage from surveillance cameras to help identify any culprit responsible for the vandalism.
"Whoever did this, I would imagine will have some bad karma," Ramos said.
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