A community fridge is a refrigerator (colloquially "fridge") located in a public space. The fridges, sometimes called "freedges" are a type of mutual aid project which enables food to be shared within a community. Some community fridges also have an associated area for non-perishable food. Unlike traditional food pantries, anyone can put food in and take food out without limit, helping to remove the stigma from its use. The main aim of community fridges is to reduce food insecurity, while also mitigating food waste. They enable people facing hardship to have easy access to fresh, nutritious food. Community fridges can also serve as social spaces that enable people to connect to their communities; Shelterforce magazine notes that "community fridges seem to have discovered a sweet spot in service delivery: close enough to feel the warmth of shared humanity, but far enough to avoid a sense of resentment or burden."
In the UK, early community fridges were set up at Frome, South Derbyshire, Brixton (London), and Botley (Oxford). A national network of community fridges was set up in July 2017 by the environmental charity Hubbub UK, which offers a free support service to new projects.
Community fridges are a rapidly-growing phenomenon, with fridges also recently set up in India, New Zealand, Israel, the Netherlands, and Canada (Community Fridges Toronto has seven fridges).
Community fridges have recently made a wide emergence in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York City, community fridges, nicknamed “Friendly Fridges,” were introduced in February 2020, the first one placed by an activist group, In Our Hearts. In Our Hearts has now set up at least 14 fridges around New York City.
Using New York City as a model, community fridges have popped up in cities across the U.S. including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, and more. In the Greater Boston Area, the first community fridge was started in Jamaica Plain in September 2020. Soon after, another fridge emerged in the neighborhood of Dorchester, Boston's largest neighborhood. Other fridges in the neighborhoods of Allston and Roslindale, as well as the cities of Somerville and Cambridge, are in the process of development.
Issues surrounding community fridges include ensuring that they are kept clean, ensuring that the food is safe, and making sure that they are not abused (e.g. that nobody profits from the food). For instance, in the UK, setting up a community fridge requires a rota of volunteers to clean the fridge and check the food; public liability insurance; the support of the local authority environmental health officer; and, evidently, a fridge and associated waste bins. Several community fridges in Germany were threatened with closure due to health concerns.
Community fridges are also sometimes criticized for only fulfilling immediate need and not providing a systemic solution to food insecurity.
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