Back in July, Empanada Nirvana owner Nelson Pantoja and business partner/manager Addie Torres had the idea to start a free food fridge in Walden. Months later, concerns have risen.
The idea of the food fridge originally formed because of the occasional excess of food left over at the end of the night. With a background in giving to the community with events under their belt like “Feed the Need” for local residents to come get free food around COVID time, Pantoja and Torres wanted to extend their reach to those in need. Months ago, Pantoja noted Walden Mayor John Ramos donated the fridge for this to happen.
Recently Pantoja says he’s getting trouble from some Walden Trustees despite following local health department guidelines. He stated the health department told him that when the restaurant is closed, the fridge has to be closed, which the local health department confirmed.
According to Orange County Department of Health public health sanitarian Tim Gaeta, who works in the environmental department, the fridge has to be locked after hours.
“As far as Department of Health concerns go, we wanted to make sure that the food in there was labeled with dates [production dates], that the refrigerator was locked after hours,’ Gaeta said. “ and that there was a thermometer present in the refrigerator to maintain the temperature and to keep an eye on the temperature.”
Gaeta also added that the food had to be provided from an “approved source.” By approved source, he means facilities permitted to produce food. “It’s got to be from a permitted facility through New York State Department of Health, Orange County Department Health or New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets,” said Gaeta.
On October 18, 2022, a remedy violation signed by former building inspector Dean Stickles regarding the fridge was sent out. It stated that the fridge was a village violation.
According to Waldern Trustee and retired nurse Lynn Thompson, it’s a village violation because within the village code, outdoor refrigerators are not permitted. The code she is referring to is in Chapter 214, NYS Code Section 108, section 214-4F, 308.2.2. It reads, “In no instance shall upholstered furniture, carpeting, mattresses, box springs, clothing or any such fabric items, dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, stoves, ovens or any such indoor appliance be located in yards or yard enclosures or on porches where they are subject to weather deterioration or exposed to public view.”
Thompson mentioned that she has no problem with the idea of a food fridge, but wants it done correctly. “The concept was excellent, but the execution of this was not done well,” said Thompson. “You need to build an enclosed space,” she adds.
Thompson also brought it up at their board of trustees meeting last Tuesday, November 15, where she again stated she was in favor of a community refrigerator, but had some questions on the execution of it. “There’s been some very negative narrative about [it] which is unfortunate,” said Thompson.
Though Thompson isn’t fond of the execution, Mayor John Ramos is in full support of the fridge and having it stay despite concerns from the board. He notes that he’s very friendly with Pantoja and is looking to do whatever it takes to assist him and the food fridge.
“At one time he was providing 75 meals a day,” said Ramos. “I’m mission oriented. We see that this person needs help. Why not take steps? Why not bring it up to the board? Why can’t we have a refrigerator?”
In order to keep the fridge running, Ramos is willing to look and revise the village code. He has also spoken to Pantoja about making an enclosure. On top of this, Ramos noted Pantoja even considered moving to another building.“My deputy mayor Willie Carley and I are in perfect agreement that we should dissect our codes,” said Ramos.
However, Pantoja is pretty upset with the negative feedback and questioning about the fridge. “This is ridiculous, we’re just feeding people,” said Pantoja.