PHOTOS: Maplewood Community Fridge Opens at 1926 Springfield Avenue

by Deborah Engel
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“Take what you need and leave some for your fellow neighbors in need,” says the yellow sign taped onto Maplewood’s new Community Fridge, which had its grand opening ribbon cutting at 1926 Springfield Avenue on Saturday, November 13, 2021.

At the opening, the fridge was stocked with fresh produce, including eggs, milk, butter, berries, apples, squash, carrots, clementines and greens, and the adjacent pantry was filled with grocery staples like rice, oatmeal, beans, tomato sauce and peanut butter thanks to community partners including Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity (MEND), Rent Party, Kiwanis and the Woman’s Club of Maplewood.

Maplewood Community Fridge ribbon cutting, 1926 Springfield Avenue (at Indiana), November 13, 2021. Photo courtesy of Dean Dafis.

The fridge — which is located in a new bright blue shed in the Indiana Street parking lot — is open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. For now, it is un-manned. Community members can come at will to take items or donate items. Township officials said they would monitor the success of the honors system and adjust if needed.

“We are really looking to fight food insecurity in our community, in the most dignified, equitable and accessible manner,” said Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis at the ribbon cutting. “This has been a community effort… but this really is an idea that came from our youth…who have real lived experience with food insecurity every single day. And we have a responsibility to them and to each other to ensure that they do not go hungry.” 

Similar to the concept of a Little Free Library, anyone can take an item and/or leave an item. According to Dafis, Maplewood’s health department will make sweeps to check for expiration dates and the Department of Public Works will assist with the upkeep, ensuring the fridge and pantry are kept safe and clean. 

If residents are looking for suggestions on what to purchase for the fridge, Robin Peacock, Executive Director of MEND, an interfaith network of 17 food pantries located throughout Essex County, New Jersey, noted that eggs are the most requested product. 

“It’s a great source of protein for people, easy to cook, and you have to have a fridge to keep them safe and fresh. So this is a nice opportunity,” said Peacock.

Peacock added that products made with whole grains and low sugar are also often requested. “The community we serve is interested in improving their health,” she noted. She stressed, however, that all donations are accepted and appreciated. “Whatever the community is moved to give.” 

Dafis explained that Maplewood wants to make the Community Fridge easy and accessible for our community members living with food insecurity. 

“We studied how community fridges work and what the best practice is to do it with dignity. We wanted it to be private, so someone can go and not have to interact with someone or make an appointment or go at a time that may not be convenient to them.”

Dafis continued, “We hope the next phase of it is to connect it with the school district for our students who need a meal at night.”

SOMa Shares, which helps provide school district students with books, school supplies, food and winter items, supported the ribbon cutting event with a table of children’s books, and Chef Jesse Jones was also on site preparing tasty bites highlighting the ingredients available in the pantry. 

To contribute to the pantry/fridge, contact the Maplewood Community Services Department at 973-762-8120 or email: (Melissa Mancuso).

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