Do-gooders install outdoor fridge with free food in Bed-Stuy

free fridge
A community organization opened a fridge full of free food in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Thadeaus Umpster

A local community group erected a fully-stocked outdoor refrigerator on Van Buren Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where hungry passersby can pick up food free of charge.

“It’s got a variety of fresh produce, things you’d find in a grocery store,” said John Stephanian, who volunteers with Community Solidarity, an organization that hosts free food markets. “Usually we stock it four or five times a day.”

The fridge, located at 133 Van Buren St. between Marcus Garvey and Throop avenues, was purchased by one of the organization’s volunteers who was searching for a place to store the organization’s food. 

“We were looking for a fridge to store donations during the week, and I found the fridge on Craigslist in the free section, and it didn’t fit in my house,” said Thadeaus Umpster, who’s tasked with maintaining the food stock.

Volunteers at Community Solidarity, which runs a free food market at Von King Park once a week, decided to install the free food storage in the front yard of a volunteer’s house in February. 

Since its installation, the fridge has been a hit among locals, particularly as the COVID-19 outbreak has increased food insecurity and has made some Brooklynites fearful of crowded grocery stores.

“We started just as [COVID-19] was ramping up and now it’s getting a lot more use,” Stephanian said, adding that the pandemic has caused crowds at the group’s weekly food giveaway. “The demand has about tripled of what we normally do. At our Bed-Stuy distribution, our line was a couple of blocks.”

As of April 13, the fridge was stocked with arugula, apples, oranges, baby food, ricotta cheese, half-and-half, and bread, Umpster said. The donations keep rolling in from charitable neighbors, other non-profits, and grocery stores and farms.

And when the weather is sunny, shoppers at the free fridge can also pick up a complimentary book. 

“I put out a free book table every day when the weather’s nice,” said Umpster, who ran the Brooklyn Free Store and the Really Really Free Market in Manhattan. Umpster also volunteers with a group called In Our Hearts, which runs many of Community Solidarity’s New York City-based events and hosts free dinners.

Passersby can also pick up free books, located in front of the free food fridge.Thadeaus Umpster

Correction: A previous version of this article mislabeled Van Buren Street as Van Brunt Street. Brooklyn Paper regrets the error.

Correction: A previous version of this article mislabeled the address as 166 Van Buren Street rather than 133 Van Buren Street. Brooklyn Paper regrets the error.