Community Fridges: Revolutionary or Conventional?

Photo taken by Walter Wlodarczyk

On 52nd Street, West Philly you’ll find The Fridge on 52nd. What’s this you ask? Well, it’s a community fridge, one of many that have been popping up around the United States since the spring in an effort to combat food insecurity during the pandemic. It’s been attracting headlines as a revolutionary form of aid as the fridges are not run by any non-profit, NGO, or charity networks—it’s for the community by the community. Generally, the fridges run with an honor system of  “take what you need, leave what you don’t.” 

An article from the Socialist Project describes how the fridges bring a sense of community in a time of social-distancing and that it is a “rediscovery of working class solidarity through the practices of mutual aid.” It also goes beyond being just a place where food is stocked but also for BIPOC communities to own and shape their own narratives. This is expressed through stunning paintwork on the exterior of fridges by local BIPOC members in the community. The artwork represents the communities as to how they see themselves and not how outsiders perceive them. The hope with all of this is to, “…build stronger, more resilient, self-sustaining, autonomous communities.” 

In contrast, throughout the summer as community fridges were trending, an article from Civil Eats argued that this will not solve food hunger and is actually more harmful to true food justice work. According to Feeding America, due to COVID-19, more than 54 million people in the United States may experience food insecurity. One would think that these community fridges are a blessing because it’s free. However, author Rae Gomes argues otherwise saying that the fridge is just an accessory to the preexisting emergency food system which was not built to eradicate hunger. The author declares that the fridges are not sustainable because they are run on a charity-based model. Gomes worries that the fridge’s presence on social media and other media outlets merely distracts people from the truly sustainable food justice work that has been taking place. This raises the question of what kind of charity is considered good? Is the concept of charity even a genuine and sustainable act?

All that said, food insecurity is a serious problem in the United States and the effects on education are very real. According to the American Youth Policy Forum, a child’s chances of completing high school are reduced and these children and adolescents are more likely to miss school if they are experiencing food insecurity. If the United States as a whole or even just communities are to address access to education, they must first address basic needs such as hunger in children and teens. 

Both articles raise important awareness around different topics such as ownership of the local community, reclaiming BIPOC community narratives, and whether or not the community fridges actually serve as a symbol of oppression. It’s important to look closely into how a system is running and if the methods in helping are simply just an extension of a flawed model. While the community fridges seem innovative and are bringing a lot of positivity and connection some questions must be raised: What happens when the pandemic is over? Will volunteers still be able to commit time to the fridges? Will people still drop off donations consistently? There needs to be a new normal that is not a band-aid treatment, but one that is autonomous, sustainable, and addresses the root cause of poverty, *ahem* predatory capitalism. 

Written by Amy Yang

Resources:

  1. Deeds, Carinne. (2015, Aug 24). “Food for Thought: How Food Insecurity Affects a Child’s Education.” American Youth Policy Forum. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.aypf.org/blog/food-for-thought-how-food-insecurity-affects-a-childs-education/ 
  2. Feeding America. (2020, Jun 3). “The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity.” Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.aypf.org/blog/food-for-thought-how-food-insecurity-affects-a-childs-education/ 
  3. Gomes, R. (2020, July 30). “Op-ed: Why Those Community Fridges Won’t Solve Hunger.” Civil Eats. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://civileats.com/2020/07/30/op-ed-why-those-community-fridges-wont-solve-hunger/ 
  4. Short, April M. (2020, October 6). “Community Fridges and Mutual Aid Amid the Pandemic – The Bullet.” Socialist Project. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://socialistproject.ca/2020/10/community-fridges-mutual-aid-amid-pandemic/ 
  5. Westervelt, E. (2020, September 29). “Freedge Movement: Grassroots Efforts Fight Food Insecurity With Free Refrigerators.”  NPR. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/917023702/freedge-movement-grassroots-efforts-fight-food-insecurity-with-free-refrigerator
  6. Wlodarczyk, W. “Community Fridges Are Making Neighborhoods Even Friendlier.” [Photograph]. Domino. https://www.domino.com/content/community-refrigerators/

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