Ridgewood residents and members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union gathered on Seneca Avenue for a Sunday afternoon celebration with upbeat music, homemade food and community connection.
In honor of the one-year anniversary of the Community Fridge Project, Ridgewood Tenants Union held a block party to unify those who support the project, and the union’s overall mission to grow the power of tenants.
The community fridge was started during the height of the pandemic, when many residents lost their jobs and struggled with access to food.
“We believe that food and immigration justice, health access and workers’ rights are all connected to housing and racial justice,” said Raquel Namuche, founder of Ridgewood Tenants Union. “We want to make the connection between lack of access to food, or increasing food costs, in a neighborhood that’s gentrifying,”
The refrigerator is located next to King’s Juice Bar, a local business that opened in 2016.
Owner Ryan King collaborates with Ridgewood Tenants Union in keeping the refrigerator powered and well-maintained.
“I’ve been in the neighborhood since 1983 and I see the changes,” he said. “I embrace the newcomers here and how they care about the neighborhood, so we started the partnership. The overall message is that sharing is caring.”
Other Ridgewood businesses showed their support by donating prizes to a raffle, including Porcelain, Super Pollo and Topos Bookstore.
Guests could enter the raffle by donating food to the community fridge or signing up for Ridgewood Tenants Union’s email list.
Representatives from Hunger Free NYC also had a table at the event, where residents could learn more about food assistance programs and COVID-19 information.
Namuche emphasized that the union is strictly volunteer-based and serves as a reciprocal community partnership.
“We have a running group of volunteers and leaders that help maintain the community fridge, so when people come, we engage with them,” said Namuche.
“Overall, we gain more power through increasing membership that understands that we really don’t have a voice as tenants,” she added. “But I think the fruits of our labor can be seen in how more members are coming to us to say they want to help out.”
Jamie Scotto said that she’s glad she got involved during the spring of 2020, and encourages others to do the same.
“It can be intimidating to get involved with organizations upfront because people might not know what they’re in for or if they can make any kind of difference, but everyone is really passionate about helping the community,” Scotto said. “It takes a lot of people to keep these things running.”
Another project of the Ridgewood Tenants Union is the Homeless Outreach Project, which focuses on tenants’ housing rights, justice for the homeless and anti-gentrification initiatives.
The Homeless Outreach Project holds food distribution events, provides warm clothes to homeless people during winter, and continues to raise money for homeless neighbors.
Amelia Harnish became a member of Ridgewood Tenants Union after observing the long lines of people at local food pantries and hearing about those who struggle with pandemic-related hardships.
“I have learned so much by joining and meeting people in the neighborhood,” she said. “New York can be so anonymous, so this is a way that we can all come together.
“We have the saying ‘We keep us safe and another world is possible,’ but in order for that to be true, we have to know each other and work as a unit,” Harnish added.
Representatives of Hunger Free NYC collect information. (Photo: Ridgewood Tenants Union)
A banner with the “We keep us safe” saying was displayed at the block party.