(WEST NEW YORK, N.J.) — On a recent Sunday morning in the Palisade Avenue neighborhood, a woman in a red fleece jacket and a beige hoodie steps out of a two-story, brick house with a yellow refrigerator on the front yard that reads, “Free Food.” With a black beanie under her hoodie and with her hands in her pockets, she greets a reporter with a warm smile.
“My name is Amanda Esther Lopez. That’s my full name,” she laughed. “I actually never say my middle name.”
Lopez, 24, owns a dog walking and pet care service called Amanda Walks LLC. She graduated from New Jersey City University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in art therapy. When her labrador retriever of 13 years passed away, she struggled through a low point in her life where she promised not to deal with dogs again. However, her love for animals could not keep her away.
“I started walking dogs in my sophomore year of college,” Lopez said. “I was working a reception job and felt miserable since I’m more of a hands-on person. It’s been my form of therapy ever since. I opened my LLC a year ago to make it all official!”
Besides dogs, Lopez has also taken care of cats and some reptiles. In fact, she even owns a Madagascar cockroach. Lopez is also an artist. She dabbles in pottery, drawing, oil painting and printmaking.
Her schedule varies from day-to-day but no matter how busy she gets, Lopez finds time to stock her front yard refrigerator each morning.
The refrigerator is the center of “Food for Us,” a community service project Lopez founded with her friend, Valerie Gomez. They installed the fridge outside of Lopez’s house to provide fresh produce and non-perishable items to low-income families in West New York. It started in August 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic to help children who relied on school lunches they were not receiving and adults who lost their jobs or hours during the pandemic. Food for Us started as a food drive in July 2020. But soon, they ran out of space to store food. The refrigerator allows them to offer food as it comes in and expand and shrink depending on their resources and volunteers.
As Lopez prepared the fridge for a new day, she pulled bananas, oranges, and potatoes from a grocery bag and placed them in their crisper drawers labeled “fruits” and “vegetables.” She explained that Gomez used to live down the block from her house. While they used to be childhood friends, they were not in-touch growing up.
“Amanda reached out to me about the idea for Food for Us,” Gomez said. “We were never day-to-day friends. We became close friends through this project.”
Gomez, 23, is a math teacher at Van Siclen Community Middle School in Brooklyn. While she does not meet up with Lopez every day, they update each other as much as they can. Lopez mostly handles opening and closing the fridge, while Gomez handles food rescue pickups and restocks. They also have volunteers who come over to help manage and clean the area of the fridge. They admit to getting exhausted while juggling their personal lives and careers, but their passion for the project and the positive reinforcement from their community pushes them to keep going.
“Her work ethic is on a hundred, which I appreciate because my work ethic is also on a hundred,” Gomez said. “It’s very inspiring to see someone like-minded as myself. She pushes me. I can’t give up because she’s not giving up.”
They have future goals of expanding around Hudson County but as of the moment, Food for Us is still open-ended. They are very careful with every step they take as they do not want to overextend themselves.
“We’re just taking it day by day and seeing how everyone else reacts to it because without everyone, the people, then we won’t be able to function,” Lopez said.