Community Fridges Are Helping Feed Americans in Need
Photo Credit: Aron Ranen/AP/Shutterstock
According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 37.2 million people, including 11.2 million children, did not have adequate access to nutritious food to live a healthy life. The events of 2020 have likely increased those findings, as Americans navigate lockdowns, furloughs, unemployment, and more. To help people in need, networks of free food fridges are popping up across the country.
The Friendly Fridge, for example, is a network of community fridges around New York City that provides food for people to take and fridge space for people to donate. The Fridges have information in both English and Spanish, and they receive donations from restaurants, grocery stores, and food distributors on a daily basis, as well as one-off items from personal pantries. A crew of volunteers makes sure the fridges are running and that the food is sealed and not expired. Aside from that, the donations and pickups are as anonymous as providers and recipients want them to be.
Inspired by Friendly Fridge's work and reputation, non-food related companies such as Stems Brooklyn have also begun donating items such as flower bouquets and seed starters at various locations. There are also donation tables where people can leave gently-used household items, all to give back to the community.
On the opposite side of the U.S., LA Community Fridges have created a network of 12 fridges, targeting areas that are especially vulnerable to food scarcity. Their online resources are constantly being updated to ensure messaging and access to these fridges is available to those who need it most.
Their team is highly organized and even has a Slack channel people can join to learn about ways to volunteer, discuss community issues, or just meet like-minded people. A spokesperson for LA Community Fridges, who requested to remain anonymous, told CircleAround that a lot of the work involves volunteers who are able to pick up produce and food from farms and restaurants in the area and drop them off to the closest fridge in their network. Outreach is also incredibly important and valuable for their team; volunteers are tasked with finding potential fridge locations that are safe pickup points with power sources.
If you’re considering donating to a community fridge, or want to get involved with volunteering, here are some things to consider.
1. It’s Okay to Start Small
Donating food to a community fridge doesn’t have to mean cooking a huge meal and dropping it off. The Friendly Fridge suggests picking up an extra item or two while you’re already at the grocery store and dropping it off in the fridge on your way home.
2. Non-Perishables Are Sometimes Preferred
The LA Community Fridges resource guide states any and all food is welcome, but that most of their produce is provided in bulk from farms they work with. Non-perishables, however — such as bottles of olive oil, spices, canned goods, grains, and dried legumes — help people prepare their own meals easily without having to worry about expiration dates. Bottled water is also suggested as an alternative to fresh food.
3. Package Food as Individual Servings
If you want to donate homemade food, avoid bringing trays of meals or big containers of food. “It is difficult for those without access to a kitchen to store and cook with food donated in bulk,” LA Community Fridges states.
They suggest making food products as singular as possible so that individuals, as well as families, can take the exact amount they need (and decrease waste). Also, ensure that any meal containers are labeled with ingredients so those with food allergies or intolerances can avoid any issues.
4. Consider Donating Other Household Goods
Toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, and more, can be used by anyone. If you’re moving and you don’t want to lug half-used bottles of cleaning supplies with you, a community fridge will be more than happy to take it off your hands.
5. Donate Your Time and Skills If You Can’t Donate Food
As most community fridges are run by volunteers, they rely on the help of others to ensure people are getting the food they need. If you don’t have food to donate, dropping by to clean the fridge, or offering to shuttle food donations, is always appreciated. LA Community Fridges suggests bringing a multi-surface cleaner and some paper towels to clean up any spills or messes when you drop off food; it takes five minutes and will make a huge difference for the volunteers, and those collecting food from the fridges as well.
Cities like New York and Los Angeles have inspired other places in the U.S. to start their own community fridge networks. We've listed some of them below, and hope these continue to grow and feed communities for years to come.