You might have seen operational refrigerators in your neighborhood or community center with signs that say “Free Food / Comida Gratis”, or “Take what you need, leave what you don’t”. Other pop-up resources you might have seen are Free Pantries, which are a type of cabinet with shelves to stack canned food or non perishables. These resources are not funded by government. It’s everyday people who crank the volume level up to 11 and voluntarily provide whatever food they can. Sometimes hygiene kits, or harm reduction kits are also provided to help the community that continues to struggle.
Free Fridges can be found in many cities around the US. There are even some in different countries where Free Fridges and Pantries are popping up to help their communities. According to the Freedge database there were 160 free fridges spread around 28 American states. There are three key points to Free Fridge programs, which are :
Give what you can,
Take what you need, and
Share by getting involved.
Sharing can mean a few different things that are not just related to food, such as knowledge, experiences and resources.
Free Libraries are also a helpful resource for the community. Considering how many schools lack enough book funding, and how many neighborhoods lack bookstores and libraries with convenient open hours, such book exchanges are necessary for both children and adults. They are commonly found in some laundromats, community centers, and residential neighborhoods.
I think it’s pretty clear what the purpose of a Free Fridge program is. However, some will argue that it’s nothing but a disturbance in the community. These arguments are prevalent among some landlords and property owners who will not support it, claiming these resources attract groups of houseless individuals whom they do not want to see on their property. Others cite food health codes, or are simply apathetic because it doesn’t benefit them in any way. But just for the moment, picture this — Free Fridges and Pantries being placed where they are most convenient and accessible and where food is commonly found. Some examples of locations would be a food market center, laundromat, community center, public parks, — the list could go on.
When I visit the nearest fridge or pantry in my community and I see children with their parents picking out food for the night, or when I see individuals picking up something to eat for their camp, it makes it obvious that this program works and has a resilient purpose in our neighborhoods. And when I see people dropping off food, kits, and other resources for people to be able to survive the night, I know community members have inspired one another to keep this going. I feel more inspired and motivated to keep supporting mutual aid programs.
Personally, I think every neighborhood should have a free fridge and pantry. You don’t have to be houseless to need access to food, clothes, books and hygiene products. Even individuals who have jobs or a home can struggle with hunger. We continue to make poverty wages as the cost of living goes up, and most struggle with feeding themselves and their families while trying to keep a roof over their heads at the same time, sometimes having to choose between one or the other. It’s a sad reality and I think we are way past the point of asking government officials for help. We don’t need government officials to do something that we can all come together and do ourselves.
Check out some resources below for location information and guidelines on how to start your own free fridge.
*Town Fridge maps (Oakland, CA)