United Community Corporation (UCC) teamed up with La Casa de Don Pedro to debut a community refrigerator that will help raise the level of access to much-needed supplemental food items for Newark residents.
The refrigerator, which is located at La Casa’s 39 Broadway location, is part of an initiative spearheaded by UCC to bring food directly to members of Newark’s food deserts. It is stocked up to five times per week and provides around-the-clock access to staple goods such as milk, juice, cheese, fresh fruits, and vegetables at no cost. The new refrigerator debuted with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon.
“It is important for UCC’s mission to bridge multiple antipoverty-focused projects and activities to better the lives of individuals and families in this city,” UCC Executive Director Craig Mainor said. “Our goal is to assist all those in this city, regardless of neighborhood and demographics. La Casa de Don Pedro is a long-standing social service agency in the City of Newark, that shares UCC’s commitment to ending and lessening the burdening pressures of poverty in the city. Our partnership with La Casa along our two agencies to share resources, and affect the lives in a wide-reaching way that benefits the communities who need the help, wherever they need it.”
The refrigerator at La Casa is the fourth unit UCC and its partners have installed throughout the City of Newark. One is located in the East Ward at 106 Ann Street, another is in the West Ward at 332 South 8th Street, and a third is located in the South Ward at the Avon Avenue Elementary School.
Joining UCC for Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was La Casa, a nonprofit that serves the Greater Newark region. La Casa was formed in 1972 following a period of civil strife in Newark in the late 1960s. Over the years, the nonprofit’s mission has been to foster self-sufficiency, empowerment and neighborhood revitalization through advocacy, education, and support in the community. Today, La Casa’s operations serve upwards of 50,000 people per year and employs over 200 people.
For La Casa President and CEO Peter Rosario, the refrigerator will serve as another resource in the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to address the needs of the community.
“At the onset of the pandemic, we all learned just how pervasive food insecurity is in Newark and across the country. We were compelled to come up with new and innovative methods to combat hunger. Some worked and some didn’t. Clearly, community refrigerators have worked and are here to stay,” Rosario said. “Fostering meaningful partnerships is a critical component of our strategic plan. We are looking to move beyond transactional partnerships to transformational partnerships focused on collective impact, not outputs or outcomes. Access to healthy food is a human right and not an entitlement; if we want to be serious about this work, we need partners like UCC and others to come together.”
The community refrigerator, which was purchased by Amerigroup, came as part of a joint effort between UCC and its dedicated partners and funders including Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the Presbytery of Northeast New Jersey, Clinton Hill Community Action, the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, Newark Opportunity Youth Network, and Partners In Health.
“We’re so proud to partner with UCC on the community refrigerator projects. Projects like this keep Amerigroup rooted deeply in the community,” Amerigroup Director of Member Experience and Growth Anya Nawrocky said. “It also helps us improve our members’ health by improving a key social driver in health in food insecurity.”
In addition, UCC’s YouthBuild construction students have taken part in all four projects by designing and building the refrigerators’ protective structures from scratch. The students have also installed the refrigerators to be easily accessible for community members. These projects help the students further develop their leadership skills by allowing them to see and understand the importance of working to build their community.
“Building each encasement for the refrigerators not only provides them with the necessary hands-on training required to obtain their construction certification, but it also provides them with real-life skills such as empathy, compassion and love for their neighbors,” UCC YouthBuild Director Jacqueline Henry said.
The refrigerator will be another tool in UCC’s pursuit to tackle hunger across Newark. Since debuting its first community refrigerator in January 2022, UCC’s refrigerators have provided more than 31,000 meals to the community.
Earlier this year, UCC also launched its Mobile Food Pantry, an initiative that features a food truck outfitted to serve prepared and packaged meals directly to individuals. The mobile unit is designed to meet the needs of the community, help overcome the barriers of transportation encountered by low-income residents and eliminate the stigma of going to a food pantry or soup kitchen.
“Free community refrigerator projects allow nonprofits, like UCC and La Casa, to meet the feeding needs of underserved neighborhoods,” Mainor said. “We are able to identify through demographic surveys, distance measures, and specific needs assessments, which neighborhoods would benefit most from the free-standing nutritional food resource. And while the City of Newark has long been branded a ‘food desert,’ many of our neighborhoods stand out more than others.”
To join UCC in the fight against poverty, contact UCC Director of Community Engagement Alena Minatee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Amerigroup was mistakenly named as a purchaser of the fridge in the news release. They are NOT. They are a sponsor for UCC’s community fridge initiative.
All photos courtesy of the United Newark Community Corporation