One Woman’s Mission to Feed Harlem

I’m here Dough.

Somebody stop.

Thank you Dough.

Going to a hundred and eighth between first

and second avenue.

In less than two hours, I’ve already stopped up,

filled the fridge, went downtown, picked up more food,

back uptown with some food.

I get the shit done.

[bouncy music]

Free food.

Anything else you can be able to do with it.

[indistinct] down.

We made it.

[speaking in Spanish]

Hey Papi, you want some juice?


I said you’re the greatest.

You’re the greatest.

This is amazing.

What’s up, Nai?

How you been?

I currently have two community fridges

and I live in between both fridges.

Every community fridge operates differently.

Both of my community fridges,

they’re outside in the corner

accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And anyone is able to place food

or retrieve food at any time.

So there’s like a bunch of buns.

The reason why I started the fridge

it was kind of my way of seeing like,

Hey, if I address a certain need that my people have

is it gonna make a difference?

If I had more money, I’d be addressing housing.

But all I had was a little piece of a corner

and an electrical unit, and a fridge was born.

I had an artist named Sandy,

she painted this with her students.

We’ve had like different fridge art,

but you have to be from like the neighborhood

because that’s how it is.

[playful music]

East Harlem makes up everything that reminds me of home.

My first heartbreak is in East Harlem.

My first fight is in East Harlem.

My best friends are made in East Harlem.


Are you all right?

Yeah, I’m good, you?

Hello, Papi.


How you doing?

So like I have this tattoo,

it says El Barrio and that means Spanish Harlem.

And my mom works at a law firm,

so she was always against tattoos on the arm.

But I wanna tell everybody,

like I’m from Spanish Harlem, I’m from Spanish Harlem.

[questing music]

[indistinct chattering]

There’s also water, there’s fruits,

there’s a good of greens, cookies and stuff up there too,

if you wanna take to the baby.


Okay, Papi, you have to leave some stuff for everybody.

No, you know, that’s too much.


No, I know, but still everybody has a family too.

When I put the fridge there, my community doubted

that it would even last through the summer,

let alone a week.

People would tell me this is Spanish Harlem,

they’re gonna destroy it.

How do you put something so accessible and free

in a community riddled with drug addiction

and mental illness, where people don’t have a lot.

I kept having to remind people.

I promise you, we can do this.

But every day you have to show up.

[soft music]

I’ve always had a desire to help others.

When I was a kid, I watched black and brown women

in the community take leadership.

And I think that it really showed me what I wanted to do.

My junior high school was called

The Young Women’s Leadership School.

It was a public single sex school in East Harlem.

The school had opened because young women in the community

had been statistically found to not graduate from school

at as high rates as other communities.

So I’m about like 12 years old,

and I’m sitting in this auditorium

watching the first graduating class,

and Oprah was the guest speaker there.

There was like this ferocious leader in front of us

who told us that like, listen, the world is waiting

for you to change it.

The world is waiting for you to become pillars

in your community, society.

While you young women go to college,

make sure that you represent yourselves

to the highest capability because after you

come all these young ladies who are watching you graduate,

it was like we had no choice.

Like, it was like, it was almost like,

I felt like, I had a destiny.

So I guess like from that day on

I was hyper focused on like becoming successful

and making sure that I could be like a role model to others.

I did have coffee before I left.

I have no coffee.

I would like coffee,

nobody called and asked me if I wanted coffee.

Carter and I met when we were 13.

We’ve lived together in different stays.

I’ve been her maid of honor.

And now we co-founded the fridge together.

[Carter] So two slices of meat, one slice of cheese,

slather on the Mayo.

[Both] Don’t be stingy with the Mayo. [both chuckle]

[Carter] We have been friends for a while,

but we didn’t start off as friends.

We actually had a fist fight, got very physical.

[Seantell chuckles]

[laughs] We were like 14, 15.

So, you know, sometimes I still wanna fight her, but

Jeez, what’s up! [Carter laughs]

When we first put the fridge there

we tried to ask the supermarket, the local businesses like,

Hey, I can like, come pick it up.

It’d rather throw it out, you know?

Right, the majority of the restaurants and supermarkets

are aware of our fridges.

It’s like one of the biggest supermarkets that like

throw away food that might be going bad

within like another month.

Why aren’t you donating it?

Why aren’t you guys pitching in?

Like, it’s [sighs].

You got some money flies, some money to donate something?

I need some [indistinct] No, you just show up.


So, nothing, not a weed, not a bottle.

You’re always coming in empty handed, I don’t like it,

I don’t like it.

[soft music]

Oh my God.

When we first started the community fridge

we had like this utopia vision

that is of the people for the people.

And then at one point we realized,

hey, we actually need money to sustain this.

There’s always emergencies happening.

The fridge breaks, it needs to get cleaned,

volunteers, reimbursements.

Papi, you know, who put all that stuff in there like that?

[Papi] I’mma put it in there.

Are you gonna put that stuff in here?

I was gonna say there’s like a big box in there.

If you see the refrigerator can’t close

why would you put a box in there?

It’s crazy.

And these don’t go in the refrigerator.

They steal all the cold air.

It’s not like how you would use it in your home.

So sometimes people put things too heavy.

Sometimes people lean on it.

There are times when I need a lot of my time to myself

some days I’m just like, I get very overwhelmed.

It’s a whole training period of being a

Afro-Latina woman try to like

figure out what does leadership mean to me now?

You know, I’m still understanding on my own terms.

[soft music]

The Barrio Fridge is more than just free food.

It provides a reminder that there’s good people out there.

And that you don’t have to be rich, government funded,

in order to make change.

Over a year later I think what has changed

since the fridge has been there,

I’m not gonna sit here and lie and act like

there was like killings and violence

before my community fridge, and now there’s been no killings

and nobody’s gotten a robed, you know, that’s not realistic.

The most realistic thing I can say is that

there’s a level of pride and optimism.

[active music]

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