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“Healthy food is a right, not a privilege.”

The number of community fridges—a.k.a. fridges in public spaces that are accessible to anyone, anytime—began to grow in New York City when the pandemic hit, helping address food insecurity and serving as an alternative to long lines at food banks and pantries that only operated during certain hours (and when many were in school or at work).

Activist and mom Asmeret Berhe-Lumax was glad to see the presence of community fridges increase, but noticed that often the foods donated were highly processed, packaged, and/or unhealthful (often because they’re easier to handle and have later expiration dates). Her insight: That instead of nourishing and building health, this food was further contributing to illness in the community. 

In June 2020, with one mini fridge, Berhe-Lumax founded One Love Community—infusing love, care, respect, dignity, access, and inclusion into the community fridge resurgence. Now, One Love has a network of over 100 volunteers who bring fresh, nutrient-dense produce to 25 fridges in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan (including excess Sakara produce, meals, and snacks from our kitchen in Long Island City).

“There's a lot of things we can address at the same time we're addressing food insecurity,” says Berhe-Lumax. “We want to make sure we focus on fresh, high-quality food because there's a gap there. We want to make sure we create a space that’s inclusive… that's multi-generational, that’s multicultural.”

We sat down with Berhe-Lumax to talk about the ins and outs of One Love, the importance of nutritious food, and why One Love’s business model supports longevity, community, and health.


Lots to Love

Building and nourishing community is central to One Love. “[The fridges are] like extensions of our dinner table,” says Berhe-Lumax. “We talk about [our process] being beautiful—not from the sense of being superficial, but out of respect. It needs to be joyful.”

Cultivating a community around a fridge plays out quite organically too, as neighbors take ownership of a fridge in their area. When One Love comes bearing produce to restock, residents often jump in to help, from stocking the fridge to monitoring and maintaining it on their own time. 

“That's actually the most important thing in all of this because that ensures longevity,” continues Berhe-Lumax. “It adds purpose. It gives people pride.” 

Beyond physical fridge locations, One Love consistently brings people together to pack kits with fresh foods and necessities, gather for a nutrition education session, and enrich their own neighborhoods (and lives). They’re not hosting one-off charity events, but rather embedding themselves into the community, Berhe-Lumax notes.

The One Love Zine—a quarterly printed paper—provides fridge visitors with local resources (like maps of other fridges in the area), recipes, and community-building events. In four different languages (English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic), the zine educates and uplifts, and, as you flip through the pop-color page layouts, it’s clear how much love and care is infused into everything One Love touches.


Healthy Food is a Right, Not a Privilege

“Fresh food is usually the first thing that will go when you have a tight budget,” says Berhe-Lumax. “Actually, a lot of our community members live in areas where they don't even have access to it, to make the decision to buy this or that. Having access makes a huge difference—mentally, physically, emotionally.”

As Sakara’s charitable partner, One Love picks up from our kitchen several times a week, gathering excess plant-rich meals, snacks, and fresh produce, and distributing them to the fridges around the city. 

“The partnership [with Sakara] has been amazing because it really supports the values of respect, dignity, health, access, inclusion. To know that we consistently are able to bring produce, meals, and juices to the fridges on a consistent basis is really important,” says Berhe-Lumax.


What’s Next for One Love

After spending the past two years laying their foundation in New York City, and receiving an outpouring of support and eagerness from brands and individuals, One Love aims to expand and serve other geographical areas, with their eyes on LA next. The same basic premise would remain, but they plan to adapt their approach to best fit each community and their needs—ultimately working to end food insecurity and eliminate the stigma associated with hunger.

“All the work that we do is obviously rooted in inequity, and that’s really heavy and it's heartbreaking,” says Berhe-Lumax. “But our work needs to be joyful, beautiful, and respectful so that people want to be a part of it. People want to make these changes, and I feel like it's a testament to what we're doing.”


Support One Love’s mission with a donation. In New York City? Find and support a community fridge near you.

Filed Under: Asmeret berhe-lumax, Community fridges, Features, New york city

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