Neighboring Sustaining

The Rise of the Community Fridge

Many cities across America have been under tremendous pressure with the weight of the pandemic, but one throughline remains “food insecurity.”

Food security is a general measure between the availability of food and the accessibility of it to community residents. The issue of insecurity affects communities of color at a disproportionate rate, meaning that while there’s a lack of accessibility to fresh food, there is also an extended overabundance of fast processed food. During early February and March, the impacts of COVID-19 became very severe. Local community organizers were in dire need of an abstract solution to connect wellness, nutritional supplementation, and genuine passions for a better tomorrow. And so began the rise of the community fridge, a much-needed resource.

The premise of a community fridge is quite simple: a fully functioning fridge, usually acquired through Craigslist, is filled with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables for the taking. The fridges are plugged in near local independent businesses, bodegas, or apartment buildings, and left on the sidewalk open to the entire community for anyone in need. Rules of the fridge, sometimes scribed onto the side of the machinery along with other eye-catching visuals done by local artists, are simple: Take what you need and leave what you don’t.

Community fridges have evolved into a network of sidewalk refrigerators plugged in across inner cities from Brooklyn to parts of Lower Manhattan, and the efforts have even been noted to occur in parts of Berlin, Germany. These fridges are aimed at fighting food waste and building trust in communities otherwise divided by gentrification and social politics alike.

Open a community fridge on any day of the week and inside one may find a plethora of produce donated locally by community residents, bakeries, end-of-day leftovers from restaurants, supermarkets, community farms, and rooftop gardens — from fruits, greens, fresh herbs, to milk, eggs, and even fully pre-made meals. The love isn’t limited to just food either — there have been notes of canned goods, to crackers, to health & beauty supplies from disposable diapers to body wash all available for those in need, totally free of charge.

The fridges are cleaned frequently by community organizers or volunteers and are checked on multiple times a day to regulate donations and resource inventory. Yet, no one monitors who utilizes resources from the fridge. This is where the foundational concept of community “trust” truly comes into play. In some cases, neighbors have collected an array of fresh food from the fridge to take it home and package it into meals, labeling each dish by contents, allergens, and possible expiration date. The conscience of these Black and Brown communities reign supreme over the ramifications of the pandemic and its harsh reality. Relief for the newly unemployed and sick is an effort of continual mutual aid; the community fridge is a source of empowerment.

-Amelia McDonald

Photo: Community fridges in Europe (Wikimedia Commons)

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