NEWARK, NJ — A few months ago, Principal Charity Haygood of Avon Avenue Elementary School in Newark read a story to her students about the importance of giving back to their community.
On May 23, her students took a huge step toward that goal when a community refrigerator was unveiled in the garden decorating the Newark elementary school’s front lawn. The refrigerator is part of an initiative spearheaded by United Community Corp. to bring food directly to members of Newark’s food deserts.
This project was made possible thanks to dedicated partners and funders such as the Presbytery of Northeast New Jersey, Clinton Hill Community Action, Amerigroup, the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, Newark Opportunity Youth Network and Partners In Health, and made what students learned in that story months ago become a reality.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while so when the students found out that this was going to happen here, they were thrilled,” Haygood said. “It wasn’t just in a book anymore. It wasn’t just a fairy tale. It’s happening here. This isn’t just going to bless our students. This is going to bless our neighbors and our community.”
Haygood and her scholars were onsite for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and were eager to see all of the food that will help their families and community.
“One of the things that was so phenomenal about today was that we got to see the children look at the refrigerator and see the excitement in their eyes,” Presbytery of Northeast New Jersey community ministry organizer Jerome Lane Jr. said. “Today’s ceremony was very inspiring. These refrigerators are really an awesome thing.”
The Avon Avenue refrigerator is the third United Community Corp. and its partners have installed throughout the city of Newark. One is in the East Ward at 106 Ann St. and another is in the West Ward at 332 S. 8th St. The refrigerators are accessible to the public 24/7 and are stocked up to five times per week. The refrigerators are stocked by UCC staff thanks to support from Aldi, Trader Joe’s, ShopRite, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and MEND Hunger Relief. Since debuting its first community refrigerator in January 2022, UCC’s refrigerators have provided more than 11,000 meals to the community.
UCC Executive Director Craig Mainor sees the Avon Avenue refrigerator as a great opportunity to show the city’s youths the impact projects like this can have.
“Avon Avenue is a school where the community feels connected to what the students are learning and the experiences they are having,” Mainor said. “Now it is truly becoming a place where families can benefit not only from schooling but from food assistance as well. This is a huge thing for the community.”
Lessons learned go beyond just the Avon Avenue students. UCC’s YouthBuild construction students have taken part in all three 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.
“I think it’s going to be a delayed process for the students to understand the impact of what they’ve done,” UCC YouthBuild construction training manager Darian Harris said. “They just completed the third refrigerator and they still don’t fully understand the importance of what they’re doing. I think something like this provides value to them directly because a lot of them come from households that can benefit from this.”
Photos Courtesy of United Community Corp.