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Grief has an Expiration Date

Does this statement surprise you? Me, too! I was shocked when I first realized the truth of it. Indeed, grief does have an expiration date, and only you know the date.

As you’ve heard before, “if we don’t transform grief, we transmit it”. Observing the present chaos, fear and the fracturing polarities of our world, it’s quite apparent that we are transmitting and projecting enormous grief and suffering upon one another.

So begins a series of articles that show us another way. I’m thrilled to share these real-life-stories with you! They will brighten your day, lift your hearts and spirits, and prove that as Grief’s grip on us finally expires, there is new life to be had.

Yes, it is possible and there is a simple formula to transforming grief:

  • Make an active decision to be well

  • Season it with plenty of willingness

  • Know that this ordinary moment is the doorway

  • Freedom lies beyond this threshold

  • Allow this path to take you to well-being and peace

  • Beware of resistance and obstacles!

Welcome to our series, Transforming Grief! You’ll see how these few simple steps can ease your grief, transform your life, and make the world a better place to be.

How a Grieving Mother Decided to Feed her Community:

“Social media is not my thing. But my wife Sara happened to be looking at Instagram last year, on the 7th anniversary of my son Michael’s death, and that’s where we first saw the Harlem Community Fridge.

Michael, an advocate for food justice, would have loved the project, where anyone in need could come and get fresh food for free. I decided to start a fridge like that in my Bronx neighborhood in memory of Michael, who struggled with bipolar disorder and took his own life at age 21.

I’m a special ed teacher, and Sara is a programmer. Neither of us knew a thing about this sort of mutual aid initiative. By the end of that day, though, we owned a refrigerator, bought for $300 on Craigslist.

Next, Sara and I walked along Broadway in our neighborhood and asked store owners if we could leave our fridge on their sidewalk and plug it into their outlet. Quite a few shop-keepers asked, “Are you kidding?” before one of the owners of the Last Stop Bar said, “Yes, we’ve got to help everyone.” He’s an angel. Later, we moved a few yards away and plugged into the Jerusalem Café. We named it the Friendly Fridge BX – it’s the first community fridge in the Bronx.

At first, we bought food with our own money. But as word got out, we started getting donations from individuals, community groups and local merchants. We receive greens, breads, soups, salads and treats from a Hebrew school, the local community center, a farmers’ market and a private college, among many others. New York City’s food pantry network participates, too. Nowadays we refill the fridge seven or eight times a day.

This past May 18th was the 8th anniversary of Michael’s death, which is always a difficult day for me. I didn’t mention it to anyone. A local food-pantry manager remembered, though, and brought an extra-abundant truckload of fresh produce, and we set up some chairs around the fridge. Sara and I sat there, taking pleasure in the people who took and brought. We were celebrating Michael’s life. We were celebrating the power of community. We were sustaining life. It was beautiful.”

Here’s how we did it:

Begin with the basics: We met with founders of two local fridges and followed their guidelines

Never say never: We pestered a Queens food pantry. They told us our fridge wasn’t big enough. Then they asked us if we could accept 600 USDA boxes, and we worked with a church to distribute them.

Create awareness: Spread the news! Anyone and everyone can help.

~ Selma Raven, for AARP Magazine

A lonely refrigerator sits on a Bronx sidewalk at 242nd Street and Broadway. It’s not trash.

Painted in bright yellows, purples, oranges and blues, the fridge has “Free Food” written in bubble letters across its freezer, with the same in Spanish, “Comida Gratis,” on its side.

Selma Raven makes good on that promise. She doesn’t ask prodding questions of those who visit the fridge. She sometimes chats as she disinfects the unit, which is plugged into a socket inside of a restaurant, and stocks it with fresh produce and ready-made meals.

“We don’t know everyone's story,” Ms. Raven said. “We’re really just trusting them.”

Jill Bellovin, left, unloads produce for a free-food refrigerator, also called a friendly fridge, in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Community-led, free-food refrigerators, sometimes nicknamed “friendly fridges,” have been popping up on city sidewalks since February.

When the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders halted New York City’s economy, many residents — some suddenly out of work, and others sick with the illness — struggled to fill their own refrigerators. The Bronx, where Ms. Raven lives, suffered the city’s highest rates of virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

At community refrigerators, anyone is welcome to take whatever they want and leave behind food they don’t need, like extra produce. Many volunteers who clean and stock the refrigerators daily ask local restaurants and stores to donate unused or unsold food items instead of throwing them away.

The goals are simple: Reduce food waste and feed the community.

Food insecurity and waste have plagued both New Yorkers and the environment long before the pandemic. In the city, about two million people, or one in every four New Yorkers, are food insecure.

About 30 percent of the country’s food supply is wasted, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

A network of New Yorkers collaborating with In Our Hearts, an activist group, have set up and maintained at least 14 fridges, which are plugged into local bodegas, restaurants or homes with permission.

Francisco Ramirez hands out free food from a fridge, recently painted by the graffiti artist Hugo Gyrl

Ms. Raven decided to set up the friendly fridge in the Bronx’s Fieldston neighborhood on May 18, which is usually a somber day for her. Years ago, it was the day her son Michael, who was passionate about farming and feeding the hungry, died by suicide at 21.

Her partner, Sara Allen, spotted a community fridge on Instagram and said it was “something Michael would’ve loved.”

Mothers, home attendants, nursing assistants and the unemployed stop by the fridge to pick up food, Ms. Raven said. At first, some residents were skeptical; even cabdrivers told her it wouldn’t work. Now, they’re allies.

“No one should go hungry,” Ms. Raven said, quoting her son.

~ By Amanda Rosa

July 8, 2020

New York Times

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