Thursday, July 23, 2020

Community Fridges in LA

It’s a simple concept: Put a refrigerator in a public place, and invite everyone to stock it with food they don’t need. Then allow anyone to take what they need, no questions asked. 

Community fridges seem to have taken root in Los Angeles in California, USA. 

I read this article from the Los Angeles Times published on July 14, 2020 that they are appearing in neighborhoods where they’re needed. In fact, this initiative materialized on Instagram on July 03 before it began sprouting one after another. 

It’s all part of a growing mutual aid network called Los Angeles Community Fridges that assist in setting up community-run refrigerators that are plugged in and stocked with free food. 

These fridges are hosted and sustained by businesses, organizations and individuals, and supported through the network of more than 60 organizers across Los Angeles. 

Most of them are brightly painted and hard to miss – with “Free food” or “Take what you need, leave what you don’t” messages in both English and Spanish.

The food itself is donated by supermarkets, food pantries, restaurants, meal delivery services and individuals. 

If a business wants to get involved, all they need to do is provide electricity and accessibility. The stocking, maintenance and cleaning is all handled by volunteers. 

Inspired by similar efforts in New York City, the idea is to empower communities, feed people and eliminate food waste. 

“Food scarcity is a myth, and our communities deserve to be fed”, said LA Community Fridges’ Julia Lebows. 

Unlike more traditional forms of food aid, there are no forms to fill out, and no limit on how much food people can take or how often they can take it; the fridges are anonymous; their light is on 24/7; and they’re not being policed or regulated by anyone. 

The organizers insist they are not charity – something they say can be perceived as belittling for those on the receiving end – but mutual aid. 

“Mutual aid emphasizes this is from the community”, said Ian Cohen, another organizer with the network. “We aren’t gifting anything. We’re just putting resources where they need to go, because those resources are available. The issue is just getting them efficiently distributed”. 

That is so true because another organizer Senay Kenfe said: “I come in the morning and the fridge is almost completely empty, so clearly it’s speaking volumes to the necessity of access to fresh food and free food”. 

“We’re not trying to be saviors, we’re just members of the community helping each other out”, maintained Marina Vergara, a Community Fridge Los Angeles organizer. “People here are just walking over and dropping off extra groceries, an extra tomato or whatnot. It’s a grassroots, community-level mobilization to support those (who) are really in need”. 

It’s a timely effort. Community fridges are feeding people hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. More people are losing jobs and more families are seeking food aid – and already, it is exacerbating urban poverty and food insecurity. 

Indeed, community fridges are heaven-sent. It’s really about caring for the community through food sharing.

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