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The Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard — a neighborhood food share currently open outside the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center on 10th Avenue — is seeking a second home with electricity for a refrigerator as they look to expand operations.

The HK Cupboard outside the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center. Photo: Phil O’ Brien

The HK Cupboard was founded in January of 2021 by Shruthi Velidi, Stephanie Kwok, Caitlin Marshall, and Alex Julius, neighborhood residents interested in reducing food waste and food insecurity in Midtown West. Connected by the organizers of the Hell’s Kitchen Free Store (a great local option and featured in our neighborhood guide to donation and exchange!) and the Chelsea Fridge, they banded together to find an easily accessible location in the area.

After six months of searching, they were put in contact with the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center, where the HK Cupboard eventually landed. In the months since, the cupboard has collected a crew of over 30 regular volunteers and dozens of partnerships with local businesses. 

The HK Cupboard, open 24/7, operates on the principle of mutual aid where, as outlined in their mission statement and guidelines, there are no givers and no receivers — mutual aid is based on an exchange among equals. The cupboard is not a charity or nonprofit, nor does it receive governmental or institutional funding, it solely operates through the organization and contribution of fellow community residents and businesses. The cupboard’s mission is to build community care and foster a culture where you “take what you need, and leave what you can,” with no questions asked and no judgment. 

A volunteer stocks the Cupboard with fruit from partner 43 Fruit Stand. Photo: HK Fridge Instagram

Fundraising primarily through social media donations and events with local organizations (the Broadway Comedy Club donated the proceeds from a benefit show in September), the HK Cupboard has managed to put together a daily supply of accessible food, often rescued from the excess of the neighborhood’s restaurants and bakeries. Current local partnerships include 43 Fruit Stand, Amy’s Bread, Citi Deli, Fridge No More, Gorillas, Stony Hill Farms, Sullivan Street Bakery, and the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, plus event-based local donations such as the Westway Diner’s contribution to their holiday drive. 

The HK Cupboard’s work has proved vital over the course of the pandemic, where food insecurity is at a record high and immunocompromised neighborhood residents face significant health risks by going to the grocery store. Over the holiday season, the HK Cupboard delivered grocery bags to neighbors who needed extra food support.

Now, the HK Cupboard seeks the community’s help to find a second location to host a fridge, which would allow the group to rescue and offer more kinds of foods, including meat and dairy as well as prepared meals. 

The HK Cupboard has been stocked by local volunteers and businesses. Photo: HK Fridge Instagram

HK Cupboard is seeking a host with an outdoor electrical outlet (or the willingness to let organizers install one) — the group asks that anyone with a lead or who is willing to host to contact them at hkcommunityfridge@gmail.com or reach out via Instagram @hkfridge

If you’re looking for additional ways to contribute, the HK Cupboard is in need of volunteers to assist with fundraising through grant-writing and partnership development (all of which can be done remotely), as well as volunteers to help regularly pick up donations, work community events, and stock, clean, and maintain the cupboard. Community members may also donate via Venmo/CashApp to @hkfridge, and via PayPal to hkcommunityfridge@gmail.com

Volunteers at the HK Cupboard. Photo: HK Fridge Instagram

The community-building impact of the cupboard is already evident. Co-founder Velidi recalled that as one family arrived at the Cupboard, asking how they could volunteer, the child in tow announced that they had asked Santa for a community fridge. The child and family are now regular volunteers.

And it’s clear that the relationships built through shared community care are needed now more than ever — as volunteer Martha Gelnaw observed, “These relationships through food connected us. These are sacred moments in these times of disconnection.” A new host for the organization will continue to strengthen its essential role in Hell’s Kitchen through the pandemic and beyond. 

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