Community Fridges – The Power of Community

The Ukraine/Russia crisis is still foremost in my mind.  Little has changed since my post last week; there is still a desperate need to help.  But of course, we have problems that are closer to home too.  Food insecurity is one of those problems – right in our own neighborhoods.  Community fridges are blossoming as a solution to this problem, utilizing the power of community.

What is food insecurity?

The term, food insecurity, is relatively new to me.  I understood its general meaning, but I had never focused on what food insecurity would mean for a family. The USDA defines food insecurity as, “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” As a parent, it is painful for me to contemplate. I cannot imagine struggling to provide my child nutritious meals, reliably, every single day.

According to UNICEF’s 2021 report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, “Nearly one-tenth of the world population – up to 811 million people went hungry in 2020.”  I found this statistic staggering.  Food insecurity affects people in all corners of the world, in all countries and cities.  So, how can you help bring this number down in your own neighborhood?

What is a Community Fridge?

A solution that many communities are turning to is creating a place where neighbors can consistently come and take food as they need, whenever they need.  I have found them called Community Fridges, freedges, or even Little Free PantriesBut the idea is the same.  A person or group in the community organizes a place where neighbors can take and leave food items for each other.  

The first time I ran across this concept was while volunteering at Hour Children, an organization that supports formerly incarcerated women and their children.  Hour Children also has a food pantry that provides for its community in Queens, NY.  Additionally, they help stock and maintain the community fridge that is located in their neighborhood, accessible to locals anytime. 

I regularly replenished the fridge and witnessed the gratitude of people who received healthy basics like eggs, rice and vegetables.  It seems counterintuitive, but “healthy” food is often unaffordable.  Fresh fruits and vegetables can be especially expensive, a real luxury.

“Take what you need and share what you can.”

Public refrigerators and pantries are filling a niche that traditional soup kitchens miss.  Having full accessibility to food and the opportunity to choose only what you need are highly appealing factors.  And it gives the person taking one week the opportunity to share when they’re able to give back.

The Power of Community 

The beauty of this idea is that it’s run by the community for the community.  It often becomes a place of gathering and sharing information and ideas.  I partook in this myself, swapping information on how to cook an eggplant with tips for crispier fried rice.

And it’s not just individuals fueling this effort.  Many small businesses get involved and reduce their own waste at the same time, donating meals and food items that are edible but left over at the end of the day. 

“The organizations behind community fridges often consider themselves practitioners of mutual aid, where communities organize and take on the responsibility of supporting one another, often through the exchange of goods and services, rather than leaving individuals to fend for themselves.”

-Matthew Sedacca

Hurdles Along the Way

Although the idea is sound and the intentions are good, the people and groups organizing the spaces face bumps along the way.  The first one being the right to offer and maintain the fridge/pantry for the community in the first place.  Although they are governed differently than restaurants, these spaces still have their own legal requirements for the protection of the health of the community. 

However, depending on the type of space you want to offer, there are resources available online to help you with your effort. But, as with anything you find on the internet, proceed with caution. For example,  I found this legal advice from the freedge website interesting:

“We believe a favorable legal environment is not a prerequisite to start a community fridge, and freedges are great tools to help shape those laws. Therefore we encourage people to start their fridge first and deal with authorities later.”

freedge legal guide

In addition to some permitting hurdles, community fridges often find that they cannot keep up with the challenges of both the supply and demand of food products.   Cleaning and maintaining the space, ensuring the food is both fresh and resupplied, accepting donations from businesses and individuals – these tasks can require an army of volunteers.

But that’s where the community comes in.  When people become invested in their own neighborhood and start putting names to faces, they are more willing to assist.  And any effort is better than no effort.

“We’re giving whatever we can in our capacity and that just has to be enough, even though we know there’s no way that we’ll give everyone the food they need and keep every fridge full all the time.” – Kira Morrison, volunteers with the Los Angeles Community Fridges network

A Global Effort

Although community fridges have exponentially proliferated in the United States, the idea originated with a group in Germany called Foodsharing, according to an article on  And others are popping up in Spain and the UK.  It’s the type of idea that has universal appeal: one that you can get behind as well.

Even if it’s not the right fit for you to start your own fridge or pantry, that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute.  Find a way to help right here and get started making an impact in your own community.

Do you have a community fridge in your neighborhood?

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