Boston teen’s community fridge opens up in Mattapan

If you’re looking for a way to help or be helped with a lot more home cooking than red tape, Nikkia Jean-Charles has the spot for you.
The teenager’s push to put up a “community fridge” on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan came to fruition a week ago when neighborhood activists began stocking food into the roadside refrigerator for people in need.
“At the end of the day, we just want people in our community healthy,” Jean-Charles told the Herald, saying that’s particularly needed amid the pandemic and around the holidays. “We don’t have enough resources in our community without showing your Social Security card, so we just wanted to directly help people.”
The front of the colorful fridge reads, “Take what you need, leave what you can.” The “Mattapan Mutual Aid Fridge,” as the writing across the top of it says, has “free food” written on it in a few different languages in the Boston neighborhood with higher proportions of people of color and lower incomes than the city as a whole.
Even tucked into the little shelter Jean-Charles and her fellow activists made from donated wood, the refrigerator sticks out due to the its bright red-orange paint job and the colorful mural from local artist Thirteen Vic.
It’s in front of Cafe Juice Up — “our lovely host,” she says —  at 1290 Blue Hill Ave., which Jean-Charles said is providing the electricity. She said about 15 volunteers across various shifts are taking care of the fridge and the pantry cupboard built in next to it in the shelter.
“We wanted our community members to feel free to stop by on their way to work or school,” said the teenager, who lives nearby. This isn’t the first community fridge in the area — there’s one in Roslindale, and others in Cambridge and Somerville.
So far she’s pleased with how this one’s working. A bunch of the food that people put in during the first few days is gone, but it’s been replaced with new contributions from people in the area.
“It just really shows how much need there is,” Jean-Charles said, noting how the coronavirus pandemic has just worsened already existing issues for many people. She said it seems like there’s the most demand for the staples — milk, bread, pasta and fruits and vegetables.
Emily Mulla, a Boston nurse who lives nearby on the Milton-Mattapan line, stopped by on Saturday morning to add a bit to the fridge’s stores.
“It’s so simple to do, if you have the means,” Mulla said. “It’s easy to get so paralyzed by what you can’t do — but if you’re doing something, it makes everything easier.”
Fatima Ali-Salaam, the chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council, praised “the kids” — the young activists and council members — for putting in the leg work to get the fridge up and running.
“I had put eight containers, and people took like seven in one day,” Ali-Salaam, who’d brought some prepared meals, said. “It’s a big help to people.”
Jean-Charles, who turned 18 this month, is a senior at Cathedral High School in the South End — and a board member of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council. She said she’s already a veteran of several years’ youth organizing around food, housing, gun violence and other issues, and plans to go to college for political science.
Locally, she’s already thinking of where to put the next fridge — probably somewhere around Roxbury, another historically overlooked majority-Black neighborhood.
“We want to make sure our food is going toward people who need it,” Jean-Charles said. We’re just trying to get resources directly to where they’re needed most.”

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