F&W Game Changers: Fridges for All
The COVID-19 pandemic has almost doubled the number of food-insecure Americans, with Feeding America estimating 50 million people lacked sufficient access to food by the end of 2020. As the public health crisis, in part spurred by mass job loss, continues to deepen, one grassroots solution is popping up on sidewalks all around the country: the community fridge. A mutual aid initiative aimed at keeping people fed, the free-standing fridges are open 24/7 for people to leave food as they can and take food as they need it.
Unlike food pantries or other forms of food assistance, community fridges don't attract large crowds or require interpersonal contact, making them particularly COVID-friendly. Masked volunteers fill the fridges with groceries purchased thanks to donations, often through Venmo or Cash App, and community members can add food to the fridges, too. While the concept has existed for years, the coronavirus pandemic has spurred a surge in community-generated support; fridges have become vital sources of fresh, easily accessible foods in Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Chicago, and more cities around the country. Freedge, an online database of community fridges, counts nearly 200 fridges in the states, and over 350 total worldwide. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, I can walk a few blocks to add fresh foods to the Greenpoint Fridge, an initiative from North Brooklyn Mutual Aid. "This is not charity, this is mutual aid," the fridge posted on Instagram. "The fridge is just one way that we come together as a community to support each other."
Kendra Richardson, 27, started Funky Town Fridge in Fort Worth, Texas, in September 2020. After spotting a growing number of community fridges on Instagram, the lifelong activist knew her neighborhood needed one. "It's the community's," she said. "We just maintain it until the community decides to take care of it on our own. We try to keep it updated and keep it clean, but anybody can fill it anytime, and anybody can go and take from it at any time." Historic cold weather conditions in February made many Texas fridges and pantries, including Funky Town Fridge, even more vital, as entire communities were left with food and electricity. "Before the storm it was hard to get people to fill it," said Richardson. "We tried to rely on the community as much as possible. Once that clicked, we now rely on the community to keep it full."
Funky Town Fridge now has three fridges in the Fort Worth area, with more planned. Richardson aims to open a fourth one on the city's south side, dedicated to Atatiana Jefferson, who was killed by Fort Worth Police in 2019. "I think it's been a good hope for the city," she said of the fridges. "It's been fulfilling."