Discover Community Fridges & Why They Might Be the Way of the Future

Community fridges -- bringing us one step closer to utopia. Learn more about how they work, community benefits, and how you can get involved.

Published July 28, 2023
community fridge in DC

We've got a challenge. Tally up every perishable ingredient you either don't use all of or throw away because it's gone bad in your fridge. You're probably a little shocked at the number, right? If only you had somewhere other than the landfill to send all of that food. With a community fridge, you do.

Community fridges are mutual aid systems that work to help feed a community free of charge. In the past few years, they've started to gain traction around the U.S. Learn more about how community refrigerators work, and get tips for starting your own.

What Is a Community Fridge?

community fridge NYC

In the literal sense, a community fridge is an actual fridge (or collection of fridges) that are stocked with food anyone in the area can open up and take some from. In the broader sense, they represent a commitment towards mutual aid in a given community.

What exactly is mutual aid, then? Mutual aid describes the way a group of people work together to support one another, free of charge. This can look like the tiny book exchanges that pop up around a city where you can take a book to read or donate one you're ready to part with. The belief behind mutual aid is that even if our society doesn't help every member of a community thrive, people can work together to ensure everyone can eke out a beautiful, successful life.

How Does It Work?

Your community, or an organization like Freedge, sets up a self-powering fridge or secures a host (a building that will supply power for the fridge) in the local area. This fridge gets filled with donations of food goods that anyone in the community can take. This isn't a quid pro quo kind of situation. You don't have to bring something to replace what you're taking out in order to get anything.

@okay.molly let’s stock a community fridge together #fyp #foryou #chicago #mutualaid #thelovefridgechicago Levitating (feat. DaBaby) - Dua Lipa

Instead, there are multiple different management systems that volunteers can use to keep fridges fully stocked and freshly cleaned, and here are two of the most popular:

  • Some people oversee their own fridge, from stocking to cleaning. Gastonia's Shamelle Jackson uses this method for the community fridge she set up in the Charlotte, NC area.
  • Most community fridges rely on volunteers to help them maintain the fridges and stock. These volunteer shifts can be scheduled through Google docs or some other shared system in the community.

Because community fridges are grassroots by nature, they rely on individuals giving time and donations to keep them in working order, which can make organizing super important. This is where having a handful of people in charge of the fridge (like moderators on a Discord or Reddit thread) can really make or break the system. These are the people you can rely on to keep the volunteer schedules, check in with any local businesses that want to donate, and make sure the fridge is up and running properly.

In What Ways Is a Community Fridge Beneficial?

If you've never lived in a mutual aid-focused area, then the idea of a community fridge might feel foreign. But there are so many good reasons to set one up or get involved.

Decreases Food Waste

Think about how many oranges, apples, bananas, and heads of lettuce that you throw out every few weeks. When you guesstimate how many perishables you're going to need for the week or month, it's so easy to get a few more than you'll actually use.

Instead of letting those extras go bad in your fridge or tossing the perfectly good halves of things you didn't need for a recipe away, you can wrap them up and put them in a community fridge. Through community fridge donations, you can live more sustainably without having to take on composting or other anti-food waste methods.

Decreases Food Deserts/Insecurity

community fridge in Miami

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are "about 13.5 million people…[who] have low access to sources of healthful food." These places are food deserts, where fresh ingredients are inaccessible thanks to price, location, or quantity. So, if you live in a food desert, getting fresh food is substantially harder to do than in higher income, more accessible areas.

Community fridges supplement in areas where traditional grocery stores fail. Thus, people with access to these foods (whether because you grow them or you can afford them) can support people with low-access by donating to the fridges.

Helps Sustain the Unhoused

A burden that unhoused people deal with that you might've never thought of is how to keep a balanced diet without reliable places to store perishables. Small cooktops can work for making a variety of meals outside of a home, but carting around an electric mini-fridge is practically impossible.

In just the way that you're entitled to a nutritionally rich cooked meal, so are people experiencing homelessness. Community fridges are a great resource for the unhoused to grab fresh ingredients and supplement their nutritional needs in lieu of owning a full-blown kitchen.

Increases People's Investment in Their Community

Viewing your community as more than buildings passing by your car windows can have compounding effects. Donating to a community fridge is one way to feel like an active participant in the area around you, and that motivation can manifest in other ways the more you get involved.

You might start noticing that your local lakes or beaches need a clean-up day and help to organize one or promote voting in the local elections. Living in a community doesn't make you feel a part of one. But donating to a community fridge is one step towards becoming a full-fledged member.

5 Tips for Starting Your Own Community Fridge

Although they're gaining traction, there aren't that many community fridges across the United States. However, as a grassroots, community-sustained mutual aid program, it's something you and your friends can start yourselves! Every successful program has to start somewhere, and you can be a pioneer in your community by organizing a community fridge.

@rabbleio Have you wanted to join the community fridge movement? How about starting your own #communityfridge? Let's go thru the outline of setting on up. You would be surprised the amount of good and love it does when you pour back into the #community #neighborhood #charity #foodsecurity #stopfoodwaste #communityunity #feedpeople #greenscreenvideo #greenscreen Storytelling - Adriel

But how do you even get started? Here are some helpful first-timer tips:

  • Look for preexisting community fridges near you. You just might not know that there's already fridges set-up in your area. So, check sites like Change X to see if there are ones you can start donating to today.
  • Determine a good location. Think about areas where a community fridge could be most impactful. Look towards areas of low-income or ones with high BIPOC populations (who are disproportionately affected by food deserts) for example.
  • Reach out to local businesses and organizations to see if they'd want to partner. Partnering can help you keep a community fridge fully stocked throughout the week. The more people and businesses you have to donate, the better it'll be.
  • Order or convert a fridge. The whole point of a community fridge is having an actual fridge that the community can use, so a big step is ordering one. Freedge is a great resource for learning more about setting up a fridge unit.
  • Set up a rotating schedule for donors. The more organized you are, the less likely it is for a fridge to go unstocked for hours or days. The L.A. Community Fridge uses a donor QR-code/website form check-in to monitor when it's being restocked, which is something you might consider.

Don't let the scale of helping an entire community scare you. It just takes one person to run a community fridge -- and that person could be you.

Contribute to Your Neighbor's Table

Community fridges help you feed your neighbors one donation at a time. There are an undeniable number of forces in American society that prevent people a stone's throw away from you from accessing quality, affordable perishable items. So, take those leftover ingredients or that surplus from your garden and find a community fridge to donate it to.

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Discover Community Fridges & Why They Might Be the Way of the Future