Free takeaway from the Paper Moon Cafe, a small coffee shop on North Second Street in downtown San Jose, a refrigerator, and a series of shelves filled with gallons of juice, loaves of bread, and a bevy of produce and canned goods.
The small pop-up pantry known as the San Jose Community Fridge is on the rise as lockdown orders increase food demand during the pandemic, closing stores, and placing some of the area’s most vulnerable residents in an even more dangerous situation. Paper Moon barista Arlyn Garcia hopes the San Jose Community Fridge in store inspires more downtown businesses to make room for their own pantry nooks.
“There’s so much more gentrification and redevelopment going on downtown so it would be more helpful to have more communal refrigerators in the area as it could turn into a food wasteland,” Garcia told San Jose Inside. “The goal of the San Jose Community Fridge is to provide access to food for the unhoused community and the people who live on our streets.”
Other organizations across the country have installed similar refrigerators and pantries to feed their local communities since the pandemic began. This creates a lifeline during the pandemic, especially for low-income residents. Their main purpose is to provide food in a convenient and easily accessible place to the people who need it most.
A problem even before the pandemic, the numbers on food insecurity skyrocketed during the Covid-19 crisis. The second harvest from Silicon Valley, one of the largest food banks in the country, has struggled to meet demand, which doubled to 500,000 customers per month last year.
The city of San Jose, which uses Federal CARES Act money to feed a growing number of hungry residents, saw recipients grow 15 percent in December alone.
In Santa Clara County, information from the nonprofit Feeding America shows that 7.2 percent of residents were food unsafe or hungry in 2018. Meanwhile, the proportion of households in Santa Clara County receiving CalFresh food aid increased 81 percent between February and June 2020. according to state data.
Eric Glader, the director of community engagement for the San Jose Downtown Association, said the Paper Moon Cafe has shown time and time again that it wants to be a differentiator.
“They’re paying it up by taking care of those around them,” he said. “The great thing about Paper Moon is that they aren’t just a communal kitchen. Someone can come in and pick up a clementine or eat a cracker and no one wants to judge anyone. They also do cool things like pop-ups to help support micro businesses and their neighborhood. “
Paper Moon is also donating containers of coffee and tea to Feed The Block San Jose, which is distributing packaged meals for the unhoused community.
The final effort with the San Jose Community Fridge came after a conversation with a friend left Garcia wondering why there weren’t such pantries downtown. Then she set about doing something about his absence. Last November, Garcia and owner Jerry Wang met with organizers from the San Jose Community Fridge to install one at Paper Moon on 17 North Second St.
“Before we met, they actually reached out to local businesses downtown but missed us by one street,” Garcia said. “They were looking for someone to host and we wanted to do it. The response from the community has been great as we receive donations from many people. “
The pantry relies on donations and volunteers to keep it full, clean, and organized. Food or cash donations go straight to the refrigerator and community aid. For more information about donating, visit the San Jose Community Fridge website.