By Ivonne Malaver
Miami, Aug 26 (efe-epa).- Erika Jones enthusiastically lets people in a low-income district of Miami know that beans, rice and other nutritious items are available free of charge at her “community refrigerator,” which is kept fully stocked thanks to food and cash donations.
The African-American woman told Efe that the project is the brainchild of her niece, Sherina Jones, an aesthetician who came up with the idea while tossing and turning in bed one night.
Sherina used her own money to buy a used refrigerator and had it installed outside a second-hand clothing store in Liberty City, a primarily black neighborhood north of downtown.
“Those people that need food, that can’t afford it, they can come go into the refrigerator. There’s beans, there’s rice, there’s snacks – each and every thing they need to get through the day,” Erika said while filling the appliance with sandwiches.
She added that her entire family has pitched in to help make her niece’s vision a reality.
That single-fridge project preceded another initiative known as Miami Community Fridge and undertaken by Buddy System Miami, a volunteer-run non-profit. Last Thursday, that organization installed the first of a score of community refrigerators it plans to set up in low-income neighborhoods in that South Florida city.
Kelly Mayorga, manager of Miami Community Fridge, which aims to combat food insecurity with a model of “neighbors helping neighbors,” told Efe that the idea is for the refrigerators to never run out of food.
Buddy System was founded in March to deliver food and medicine free of charge to at least a thousand needy people during the coronavirus-triggered lockdowns, the social worker said, adding that it has grown and now has 700 volunteers.
Mayorga said she teamed up in June with founders Jessica Gutierrez and Kristin Guerin in response to people’s needs following the end of the mandatory stay-at-home orders.
The three women had moved to New York and New Jersey for work reasons, but they are continuing to assist the South Florida community with the help of volunteers.
“It’s our home,” said Mayorga, a 28-year-old Miami native whose parents are both Colombian.
Gutierrez got the idea for the refrigerators when she saw one set up a store in the New York City borough of the Bronx and began contacting businesses in Miami and talking to supermarkets and restaurants to obtain food that was past its due date but still perfectly safe to eat.
Mayorga said the program is just starting (the first fridge was installed in the downtown Miami neighborhood of Overtown) but that other ideas are springing up, including supporting local talent by inviting artists to volunteer their time and paint the refrigerators.
In addition to providing free fruit, vegetables, cereal, eggs and other foods – some purchased with cash donations – the organization also plans to offer users of the fridges advice on requesting government aid or finding a job.
In a brief released in May and titled “The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity,” the organization Feeding America projected a food insecurity rate in Florida of between 18 percent and 19 percent of households.
The Brookings Institution says food insecurity has soared to record levels during the coronavirus crisis in the United States, where more than 178,300 deaths are blamed on Covid-19.
That Washington-based public policy think tank said in July that “13.9 million children lived in a household characterized by child food insecurity in the third week in June, 5.6 times as many as in all of 2018 (2.5 million) and 2.7 times as many than did at the peak of the Great Recession in 2008 (5.1 million).”
Mayorga said she does not want to make food insecurity a political issue but expressed frustration at the absence of government aid and the lack of change, adding that she will never grow accustomed to seeing so many people on the street suffering from hunger.
The issue is especially acute in minority neighborhoods.