When we spoke with Kristen Guerin, one of the co-founders of the non-profit organization, The Buddy System Miami, last April they had more than 400 volunteers in two counties committed to providing different assistance to people in need.
The initial focus was ensuring help to elderly and immunocompromised individuals who were among the first to self-quarantine. (“Buddy Up To Help”, April 13, 2020)
Requests for assistance with food has steadily escalated as the impact of COVID-19 has stretched into the winter.
Ever resourceful, Guerin explains their new “Community Fridge” project.
“We spent the first few months of the pandemic hosting weekly food distributions as well as placing homebound clients with local volunteers who could attend food pantries on their behalf. Many Miamians are experiencing unprecedented financial hardship right now and living in areas that don't have access to fresh produce and other healthy options; understandably, many people who can't afford to buy groceries right now also can't afford to own a car that would allow them to attend food pantries and distributions. As we listened more to the community, we continually heard gripes about lack of accessibility to healthy food options in neighborhoods experiencing structural poverty, or "food deserts." We wanted to find a tool that would support the community in empowering itself with long-term structural change and improve the landscape of food access in the city.
We’ve been able to expand immensely and provide food relief in underserved areas thanks to our recent partnership with Buchanan’s Whisky. With their help, we are able to establish and fully stock 10 community fridges through March 2021, providing approximately 28,000 meals to those in need.”
Now up to more than 850 volunteers in three counties, they reached out for recommendations of where to place the refrigerators. One of the Homestead volunteers is an enthusiast of Mr Tutis Fruties and they were happy to offer space at their juice shop located at 139 N Redland Rd #11, Florida City. Tel: (786) 339-9726 and find them on Facebook.
“In short, a community fridge is a public refrigerator that allows for food to be shared amongst the community,” Guerin explained to a query. “The aim is to reduce food waste and support people facing hardships by providing access to fresh produce and healthy food options. Neighbors can take what they need or leave what they can. We as a nonprofit also stock the fridges regularly with donated food from local farms, grocery stores and restaurants. Anyone can feel free to stop by their local fridge at any time to give or receive food access support. Our volunteers can sign up online for slots to clean and organize the fridge.”
In addition to the practical need this serves, there is a visual appeal as well. The Buddy System organization teamed with local artists to paint each refrigerator in their unique style. Vic Garcia is known for his vibrant imagery. In response to the question about being a fulltime artist, he speaks to his passion.
“I am — to me, art is my mouthpiece and my way of expressing things I never could with words. What started as pen and marker doodles on copy paper for me quickly evolved into full-blown canvases and murals and now even apparel. I created VGA World as a dimension where all my characters and stories live through my art. Every piece is made up of individuals who all contribute to spreading good vibes and good energy. Follow my journey on @vicgarcia, @vgastudios and VGAWorld.com.”
Garcia often finds way to support the community he grew up in and had already heard of the valuable work The Buddy System was doing. He quickly agreed when they and Buchanan’s Whisky asked him to be one of the selected artists. “Giving back is part of what inspires me every day and it’s through art and bright colors that I try to make an impact for a better world. Every time my paint touches a canvas, wall, paper (or fridge), I want people to connect with my world, disconnect from the crazy world we are living in and enjoy the smiles and beautiful messages.”
To learn more about the Community Fridge and other Buddy Systems programs, go to https://www.buddysystemmia.com or find them on Facebook.