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Worcester Community Fridges Take on Food Insecurity

By Stacey Dresner

CENTRAL MASS. – When ClarkU Hillel Director Jeff Narod saw a refrigerator outside of Fantastic Pizzaria on Main Street in Worcester being filled with food for the hungry last month, he knew students involved in ClarkU Hillel would want to get involved. 

Now Hillel is a community partner of Worcester Community Fridges, a project founded by Northboro teacher Maria Ravelli to provide easily accessed food for people in the community in public refrigerators, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The logo “Take What You Need; Leave What You Can” is emblazoned on the front of the Main Street fridge.

“At Hillel, tikkun olam is a huge part of what the students do. They are very socially conscious and as a part of the community feel they need to be contributing and reaching out to their neighbors to make things better,” Narod said. “The students have been involved in food insecurity issues for a long time now…This is a good fit with the community as well.”

Monica Sager, founder of ClarkU Hillel’s new Food Insecurity Initiative, shopping for food to donate to with Worcester Community Fridges.

Hillel students from both Clark and nearby Becker College are among those who have been supplying food to the Main Street fridge since it opened Jan. 31. Hillel also recently held a fundraising campaign bringing in more than $1,000 with which to purchase even more food for the community fridges, the second of which opened at 44 Portland Street in Worcester earlier this month. A third fridge, supported by the Central Mass. Jewish community is set to open after Passover.

Monica Sager, a senior at Clark and past Hillel president, has long been involved in the issue of food insecurity. 

Founder of ClarkU Hillel’s new Food Insecurity Initiative, Sager led the creation of a food aid plan at Clark providing five meals a week during the school year to students who cannot afford the meal plans. She also hosts and is the creator of The Campus Hunger Project Podcast, powered by Challah for Hunger.

“Jeff Narod and I have worked closely together around food insecurity at Clark, so we thought this is an amazing initiative that we can be part of to help the greater community,” Sager explained. “We’ve gone to Price Rite now twice and have delivered food to the fridge. We’re hoping to make this a regular thing. It’s sad to see this big of a need for the food, especially during the pandemic, but it’s great that people like Jeff and everyone else involved in the fridge can help and make a difference one orange or milk jug at a time.”

“ClarkU Hillel knows food insecurity is a major issue not only affecting college students, but those in our own community,” added Eli Cohen-Gordon, president of ClarkU Hillel. “Worcester is our home, and we are so grateful for the greater community, and we want to give back…We need to recognize the privilege a lot of us have at ClarkU Hillel, and do what our Jewish values tell us to do: to care for those who are in need.”

The third community refrigerator will be donated by Percy’s TV and Appliance and the Lavine family. It will open after Passover in Quinsigamond Village in Worcester and will supported by the Jewish Federation of Central Mass.; the Worcester Jewish Community Center, through its JCC Cares volunteer program and its JCC summer camp; as well as Hillel.

Mindy Hall, the director of outreach and engagement for the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., said that this program is a natural for the Jewish community.

“It’s so horrible that we’re seeing so many people and families going hungry,” she said. “This program is an amazing opportunity for people to get involved. Like PJ Library families; they can take their kids shopping and put food in the refrigerator. It’s a great message for them in terms of tikkun olam. But everybody can participate. It’s a great, easy way for people make a difference.”

“This summer, we look forward to supporting Worcester Community Fridges by engaging our campers and their families in collecting food which staff, volunteers and senior campers will deliver to the Community Fridges,” said Emily Rosenbaum, executive director of the Worcester JCC. “Worcester Community Fridges is a brilliant solution and very high on Maimonides’ Levels of Giving since it is not done for recognition sake — neither the donor nor the recipient knows one another.  We are so thankful to the founders and supporters of Worcester Community Fridges for their service to the community and excited to have this opportunity to pitch in and help with their expansion and sustainability of this noble project.”

Members of both the Jewish and general communities are already donating to the fridges on a regular basis. Fantastic Pizza, where the first community is located, donates the electricity needed to run it, and also gives a 30 percent discount on subs purchased there that are donated to the fridge.

Accepted food for fridge donations includes produce, unopened frozen foods, breads and pastries, prepackaged frozen meals, pantry Staples (bread, sugar flour, canned goods), packaged and labeled cheese, milk, yogurts, and packaged sealed deli meats. Foods that are not accepted are raw meat, expired food items, moldy fruits, vegetables, bread; previously opened foods, or homemade meals. 

Hall has sent a message out to the Jewish community, asking them to discuss how they can support the community fridges with their families at their seder tables this Passover. Hall is currently in the midst of a March food drive with PJ Library to help support Rachel’s Table and its clients with food needs.

“Anyone in the community who is in need can go to a fridge to pick up food whether they just grab a sandwich or find food to help make a meal for their family,” Hall explained. “Food banks get depleted and the demand at soup kitchens and shelters are strained. This doesn’t replace the great work of Rachel’s Table but helps soften the increased demand of immediate need. Every bit helps and it does take a village!”

Main Photo: ClarkU Hillel Director Jeff Narod, left, with ClarkU Hillel members who attend Becker College, after donating food to the Worcester Community Fridge on Main Street.

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