‘I was amazed when I learned how much need there is for basics that most of us take for granted, like food, clothing and formula.’
“Eileen’s Free Bodega started from a friend’s suggestion. I was volunteering in the South Bronx at a community fridge where people could get fresh food any time they needed.
“My friend said, ‘Why don’t we have something like that in Suffolk?’ So I made an online petition requesting help to set up a community fridge on Long Island. We got 1,000 signatures, but when I presented it to legislators, it got the NIMBY response: not in my backyard.
“I searched for months until I tried the Consulate of El Salvador in Brentwood. Within 30 minutes, I saw Consul Henry Salgado, and he loved the idea! It started as a food table once a week. On the first day, we brought a huge amount of food, but it was gone in an hour.
“The project worked so well that the consul let us put a community fridge there. Shortly after, we spoke to Father [Juan] Reyes at Christ Episcopal Church in Brentwood and asked if we could set up a second community fridge at his church. He loved the idea, so now we have two locations that are always open.
My grandmother instilled in me a strong belief that you should speak out about injustice wherever it occurs and do everything you can to make a difference.
“I was amazed when I learned how much need there is for basics that most of us take for granted, like food, clothing and formula. Our community trusts us, so when they have other needs, we point them to organizations that can help. I often get asked why I do this, and my answer is always the same: This movement is community.
“Although I’m the face most people see, we have a whole team behind Eileen’s Free Bodega, people who work hard to make it all possible. We have so many supporters donating their time, money and food to share with the community. It is truly a beautiful thing. I’m in a position of privilege, and I’m conscious of the injustice in our society.
“As an adjunct social sciences professor at Queens College, I talk about inequalities and teach theory, but it doesn’t mean anything if I’m not applying it outside the classroom.
“My grandmother instilled in me a strong belief that you should speak out about injustice wherever it occurs and do everything you can to make a difference. That’s why I named it Eileen’s Free Bodega, for my grandmother, who passed away shortly after we started. She was a big part of the reason I am who I am.”
Interviewed by Jenna Kern – Rugile