The Jackson Heights Community Fridge: A Small Step Forward in the Fight Against Food Insecurity

The Jackson Heights Community Fridge is a community-led project that provides meals to those who cannot afford them. This project came to life in August 2020,  thanks to young volunteers who aim to alleviate people’s struggle for daily meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Located outside of The Queensboro restaurant on 80-02 Northern Blvd in Queens, the fridge is a resource available to all residents and has aided countless people.  

The Queensboro restaurant staff has been a huge supporter of the project as they value community service in their neighborhood.  

“Community service is an important part of our vision for what the business’s role in Jackson Heights is,” said Michael Fuquay, the manager of The Queensboro. “Supporting the fridge was a natural extension of the work we were already doing”.

The Community Fridge is not the first non-profit the restaurant supported throughout the years. Ever since the restaurant opened, the manager and the staff have been involved with numerous community service events as they strive to give back to their neighborhood.

“We actually became almost exclusively a nonprofit operation during the pandemic,” Fuquay said.  “We were making meals and delivering them to Elmhurst Hospital to feed the nurses and doctors during the worst part of COVID-19.  We delivered meals to the fire stations and produce to food shelters. We delivered meals to all sorts of programs named food insecurity. ”

Since the restaurant is community-based, giving back is simply second nature for them. The innovative method that customers can donate is fast and simple.

“If you dine here, you scan a little QR code to see the menu, and the first item that pops up on the menu says, ‘Donate a meal to the fridge’, and for $10 you can donate to the fridge,” Fuquay said. “We keep it accounted for and make meals, and at the end of the night, we put them in the fridge. Whoever walks by is free to take them.”

The trust that has built up within the neighborhood and restaurant is essential for the long-term survival of the community fridge project because it made people open up to the idea of helping out.

“A lot of people want to help but they just don’t know how,” Fuquay said. “Nobody really wants to give money to someone that’s laying on the sidewalk because you assume that it may not go where you want it to go. So people feel really good about the fact that they know us and trust us. If we say the $10 is going into making a meal, then they are sure that it will actually go towards that.”

Homelessness and poverty are severe issues in NYC. Therefore, good deeds, such as this fridge, make a positive impact on our city, despite looking small in hindsight. There are about 321,102 people living below the poverty level in Queens, compared to the 8,008,278 people reported citywide.

“Of course, a community fridge is not designed to solve world hunger,” Fuquay said. “It’s a micro-support system, and it’s there to do small things. I don’t know how much of a dent it really makes in the whole picture but you know on a given day, people are going to  get a nice meal that they would not have received otherwise.” 

Neighboring businesses are well aware of the fridge and also try to donate and help out.

“Personally, I feel like it’s great for the community,” said Jason, an employee at Viva Pharmacy & Wellness L.L., a business across the Jackson Heights Community Fridge. “It’s very heartwarming to see that. I think that it encourages other businesses to be more involved.”

Fifty eight percent  of Jackson Heights & North Corona PUMA, NY residents were born outside of the country (97.5k people).  Jackson Heights is known to be the most culturally diverse neighborhood in the United States.

“I love the people,” Jason added.  “It’s very home to me. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

The Jackson Heights Community Fridge has undoubtedly remained a nurturing tool for citizens of the amazing borough of Queens, New York.

“Sometimes in life what needs to be done is right before you, and it becomes very obvious; this is what has to be done,”  Fuquay said.