MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – What could have been a holiday disaster, turned into a Christmas miracle for a South Florida woman who helps feed the poor in Miami.
Sherina Jones is responsible for starting Village Freedge, a small network of outdoor community refrigerators stocked with food for those in need.
CBS4 first spoke with Jones in August when she used $180 of her own money to buy a used refrigerator that was set up as her first community fridge.
"Take what you need, donate what you don't," the sign on the fridge read.
Since then, Jones expanded to three refrigerators, which she placed in different neighborhoods in Miami. About half of her clients are homeless; others are day laborers who take to-go lunches or single moms who can't feed their kids.
However, two days before Thanksgiving, one of the free community refrigerators was stolen.
it was more than a theft. It felt like an act against a community in need.
"I cried for three days," Jones said. "I was devastated that someone would do something to hurt the community. You hurt the 80-something people I feed a day."
Just when it seemed the Grinch-like act would ruin the holiday, something magical happened: Residents of a community where many can barely afford rent pulled together, each giving a little until they ended up collecting quite a lot.
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Jones' former high-school classmate Tamesha Glegg hadn't been in touch with Jones for years, but saw a post on social media and felt a tug on her heart. She and her husband decided to replace the fridge — and then some.
"I said, 'Let's just buy her two of them,'" said Glegg, an ICU nurse. "I just really love what she's doing. I really feel like it's our spiritual duty to do those things."
The Rev. Michael Daily heard about the stolen refrigerator on the news. He works at a community agency that helps local churches and knew that many parishioners were counting on those meals.
He used agency funds to buy Jones a fancy double-door refrigerator and enlisted a construction worker to help build protective housing so it can't be stolen. A group of artists designed T-shirts and donated the proceeds.
The Community Agency advertising firm scaled back on a fancy holiday party, donating huge boxes of food and about $3,500 for the refrigerator project.
More than 330 people raised over $24,000 on a fundraising website.
Even after the pandemic upended her job, Joanne O'Brien still helped stock the refrigerator occasionally. But she wanted to do more. Jones introduced her to a single mom who feeds her kids breakfast from one of the community refrigerators. O'Brien bought the family a Christmas tree, as well as desks for online schooling and curtains and bedding for the home.
"The kids were jumping up and down when I was finished with the tree," O'Brien said.
The 4-year-old told her with grave concern that this was going to be a bad Christmas with no presents, but O'Brien secretly purchased and collected toys, clothes and stockings with the children's names.
The community's response to a toy drive in December allowed Jones to give away dozens of bicycles, dolls and other presents to 400 families.
Jones still operates three free community refrigerators. She uses the extra ones to store food and donations. She has volunteers, but mostly runs the charity with her mom and aunt.
She has one leftover holiday wish: a van to transport food and warehouse space to store it in. She has applied for nonprofit status and is transitioning to become a food bank.
"People come by and stock the fridge during the evenings or buy a bulk of things and drop it off. I'm so appreciative," she said. "We've all come together to take care of each other."
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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