Community fridges, or “freedges,” are organizer and volunteer-led refrigerators that provide free food to their communities. The concept has been around for several years, but is surging in popularity as a way for people to support each other through food insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This mutual aid initiative is predicated on the philosophy to “take what you need, leave what you can.”
How does it work?
Community fridges are run, cleaned, and serviced by organizers and volunteers. Anyone with the means and desire can contribute to a community fridge. Community members can purchase groceries with the fridge in mind, or share items from their pantry or refrigerator that would otherwise go to waste.
Food also comes from local restaurants and grocery stores with a food surplus or food past it’s “best by” or “sell by” date. The fridges accept monetary donations to pay for electricity, gas to transport food, and to replenish high demand items.
Anyone in need of food can access it at any time. There is no registration required or sign ups. If you’re in need, you can help yourself to fresh produce, canned goods, prepared meals, whatever’s in stock — for free, 24 hours a day, no questions asked.
Why is it needed?
The USDA estimates that 30–40% of our food supply goes to waste due to problems at all levels of our supply chain. This includes exposure to insects, animals, or bacteria, improper storage, retailers over-ordering, disposal of blemished foods before sale, consumer waste, etc.
The nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, Feeding America, projects that the number of people affected by food insecurity could rise as high as 50 million people, up from an estimated 35 million people pre-pandemic.
Food banks are strained by the increased demand, school meal programs are struggling to distribute lunches to children learning remotely, and the government is not providing adequate economic stimulus to support people during this hard time. Further, undocumented residents may be ineligible for some forms of government assistance.
Community fridges help feed people impacted by food insecurity by distributing food that would have otherwise been wasted.
The benefit of having a plant-based fridge is to increase the availability of healthy and compassionate foods. Compared to a western pattern diet, a vegan diet offers reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. It is more climate-friendly, and kinder to animals on factory farms. Further, offering meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free foods promotes inclusivity for people with dietary restrictions and allergies.
Some of the highest demand items are fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based milks (soy, oat, almond, cashew, coconut, etc.), peanut butter, jam/jelly, pasta and sauce, canned vegetables, dried or canned beans and legumes, and ready-to-eat meals. The unhoused community may not have a space to prepare meals, so it’s important that foods that require little to no preparation are available.
Here are four plant-based community fridges operating in the United States right now.
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Veggie Mijas (Los Angeles, CA)
Veggie Mijas is an international collective of womxn, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people of color, that are plant-based or interested in a plant-based lifestyle. They focus on creating space for people with marginalized identities and/or experiences with food insecurity to discuss plant-based living, and do what they can to help their communities.
In August 2020, they established two community fridges increasing access to fresh produce and healthy food to food deserts in Los Angeles.
Locations: (1) Southern California Library: 6120 S Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90044, (2) Royalty Dry Cleaners: 2251 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Local Community Fridge (San Antonio, TX)
This San Antonio community fridge, led by community organizer Leslie Rivera, launched in August 2020 to provide community access to delicious and nutritious vegan food. They aim to provide support where the government is failing to provide adequate assistance to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and racial disparity. In addition to food, they also provide essential items such as face masks, hand sanitizer, hand soap, menstrual products, etc.
Leslie is working to establish community fridges across San Antonio. This requires local businesses to provide an easy-to-access location and electricity, and volunteers to maintain, clean, and stock the fridge.
Location: Swift Movers: 1316 Austin St, San Antonio, TX 78208
Overthrow Community Fridge (New York, NY)
In early February 2021, this fridge was established at Overthrow Boxing Gym, in partnership with Chilis on Wheels, Artists Athletes Activists, Vegan Activist Alliance, and NYC Hip Hop is Green. There mission is to provide access to healthy food where the city has failed to do so, or as they say, “bring the greens and the grains to our people.”
In addition to vegan food, Overthrow accepts donations of gently-used & new clothing, weather appropriate accessories (hats, gloves, scarves, etc.), boots & shoes, backpacks, sleeping bags, toiletries, and menstrual products.
Location: Overthrow Boxing Gym: at 9 Bleecker St. between Elizabeth St & Bowery St
DaVillage Vegan Free Food Community Fridge (Charlotte, NC)
DaVillage runs community fridges and pop-up shops to provide free food, winter clothes, blankets, shoes, toiletries, and school supplies to houseless and low-income families in the Charlotte community.
“If we don’t have what the community needs, we will get it,” says founder Shamelle Jackson on her Instagram page. Shamelle is actively looking for more stable locations to place fridges around Charlotte.
Location: Oh My Soul USA: 3046 N Davidson St, Charlotte, NC 28205
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Are you looking for a community fridge? Freedge offers a database of 300+ fridges across 50+ US cities and 20+ countries.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You.
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