Freedges, or ‘free fridges,’ continue to expand nationwide

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Ever since Victoria Jayne helped work with free meals on four community refrigerators in Philadelphia, she’s been amazed at how quickly they empty. And it seems that hungry Philadelphians are picking up food in every fridge: in front of a medical office, from an art space, next to an apartment building, and even from a playground.

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“Fridge, they get completely rolled up every eight hours,” she said. “You put something on at night. You show up the next morning and it’s gone.

The fridges are just a handful of the vast network of community food centers launched in cities large and small across the country.

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During the coronavirus pandemic, as the economy picks up and demand for food banks continues to rise in many places, so too, local food activists have a desire to create smaller spaces where anyone can pick up certain items at any given time. could. No questions asked.

While the concept has existed for several years, the pandemic has inspired hundreds of new free fridges in dozens of cities over the past 18 months to make them something that’s here to stay.

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Ernst Berton Ohinger, Joe Rune freedge.org, an online list of free fridges around the world, estimates conservatively that there are 400 free fridges in the U.S. and almost all of them were built in the last 18 months.

The fridge has only continued to proliferate, and some are breaking into different business models and offering other products.

A fridge project in Chicago is not only making food available for pickup but also producing free produce boxes for local distribution. Another group in Washington state provides not only food but also health products. A food bank in suburban Boston has expanded its traditional brick-and-mortar offerings to include a free fridge, installed in front of the dry cleaner. And a fridge project in Los Angeles provides bedding and other camping-related items for homeless communities desperate to stay warm.

People gather in Chicago on November 16 to pick up free fresh produce from Dion’s Dream Fridge. Evan Jenkins for Granthshala News

“It takes a tapestry of programs and approaches to end the multi-faceted problem of hunger in the United States, and certainly community refrigerators can play an important role,” said Diane Whitmore Shanzenbach, professor of economics at Northwestern University and poverty expert who is on the board of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

how do they work

Free fridges are generally driven by some version of a fairly straightforward motto: “Take what you need and leave what you can.”

Its goal is to provide a reliable place for people to get something to eat, especially in neighborhoods that experience high rate of poverty,

“We have people who go grocery shopping and leave some extra,” Jane said.

A few free fridges across the country, sometimes referred to as “freezeDonated groceries run on others. Others work more on cash donations, which are used to buy food to give.

South Philadelphia community fridges rely primarily on donations of staples such as cooking oil, coffee, grains and other items from food banks, grocery stores, non-profit organizations and individuals. In addition, the group takes in thousands of dollars in donations a month.

small but mighty

Some people running free fridges are under the illusion that they can make a massive, real impact on a national scale. But every little bit helps.

a report released This year the Department of Agriculture found that more than 10 percent of American households, or about 14 million people, remain food-insecure.

More than 1.3 million people face hunger throughout Pennsylvania, according to Feeding America, a non-profit national food bank organization. Philabundance, Philadelphia’s largest food bank, distributed more than 55 million pounds of food last year, serving more than 135,000 people a week.

Food policy experts say the four-point network of fridges, like all of southern Philadelphia, could have a small but positive effect. One of the many benefits is that most free fridges never close, unlike food banks and pantries that have set delivery hours.

Jayne said community-building is an important part of the work of her and dozens of other volunteers.

“People need to eat. That’s really all,” she said. “It’s important to me that my neighbors’ needs are being met.”

Kristin Guerin, who started her First free fridge over a year old in Miami, admits that the efforts of free fridge organizers are small compared to the scope of the problem. But he is proud of the small effort he has made to reduce hunger.

A community fridge in Miami. Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images

“A large part of the work we have to refocus on is countering that work to make sure we’re working towards long-term change,” she said. “Community fridges are a Band-Aid. The ultimate goal is to end food insecurity.”

different models

While the Philadelphia network of always-open fridges is one model, the other model operates in the Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where Dion’s Dream Fridge Open seven hours a day, five days a week.

The fridge is run by 30-year-old Dion Dawson, who said she started her location just across the street from a playground a year ago. The organization mainly takes cash donations but does not accept food gifts, and it prefers to buy food from retailers. Dawson said that unlike most single fridges or networks of fridges, his group is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has grown from a budget of $20,000 to a budget of $300,000 in the past year.

“We realized that we had to fill our fridge with brand new products so that we could stabilize the quality and make sure it was as impressive as possible,” he said. “From there, from September 11, 2020, we have stocked our fridges every day. We do not take donations or mutual aid.”

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