The Community Fridge Movement ~ Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Jersey CityOct 29, 2021 02:12PM ● By Arati Patel
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs, making it difficult to afford rent, food, and other necessities. At the same time, we saw neighbors joining forces to help one another through the pandemic, such as the start of community fridges—refrigerators placed in public spaces to enable neighbors to share food freely, with no stigma for the borrowers.
Although community fridges have been around for decades, the idea gained traction in the wake of COVID, fueling a global grassroots movement. According to Freedge, an organization that helps install community fridges, there are currently 215 of them in the United States, a significant increase from before the pandemic.
Community fridges have many benefits, from reducing local food waste to alleviating food insecurity to helping the food system overall. But the most significant impact the larger movement has made is allowing individuals to form deeper connections within their community. This collective action was so inspirational that more people took the initiative and started community fridges in neighborhoods with a dire need for them. Today, we will highlight the story of the West Side Community Fridge, located in Jersey City.
How the West Side Community Fridge began
The phrase “Take What You Need. Leave What You Can” is printed on bright-orange paper taped to the West Side Community Fridge.
Disappointed in the quality of food provided in her neighborhood supermarket, Tatiana Smith—a product designer, writer, artist, activist and homeschool mom living in Jersey City—decided to start the fridge in the summer of 2020. Located on the far end of Delaware Avenue, it’s accessible to anyone, 24/7.
Smith had learned about community fridges on social media. She knew the problem she faced finding good food was bigger than her. West Side was a food desert. Many people in her community did not drive, and those in lower-to-moderate-income households typically did not have the luxury of going far to buy quality food.
“I believe everyone should have access to healthy, quality ingredients and delightful food choices, despite their income,” Smith says.
The West Side Community Fridge is hyperlocal and provides food that would otherwise be too expensive or inaccessible to people in the neighborhood. It also encourages them to try new things. Smith says she sees neighbors young and old using the fridge and contributing to it.
“Because the foundational principle of the fridge is mutual aid, there is no concept of ‘giving to the needy,’” she says.
Her goal is to foster a healthy community based on trust, love, and respect, not one that introduces unsavory power dynamics. She believes the fridge has created a true sense of community in the West Side by allowing residents to connect, and then educate and empower one another.
“I have seen folks talk to one another and help each other,” she says. “I also notice that people are more willing to share their lives and encourage one another with healthy eating.”
Who donates to the community fridge?
The fridge gets a large portion of its contents from food waste, Smith says. Supermarkets throw away massive amounts of good-quality food to make room for newer food. The West Side Community Fridge combats this waste by partnering with organizations to “rescue” food to feed the community.
Smith has collaborated with several organizations and restaurants to alleviate food insecurity in Jersey City. For example, The Salt Foundation gathers healthy, high-quality food that would otherwise be thrown away from grocery stores. It then distributes these items to homeless shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, community groups, churches, and community fridges such as the one on the West Side.
Partnerships like this are integral to reaching a larger group of people who can benefit from these resources, Smith says. Aside from local businesses and organizations that provide food, residents also contribute to the fridge.
Interested in getting involved?
With the holidays approaching, we are all looking for ways to give back to our community. One way is to help keep local community fridges clean and stocked with food donated by restaurants and markets. For community fridges like the West Side’s to continue operating and providing essential resources, they need the help of volunteers. Anyone interested in helping out is welcome to stop by Smith says. There’s always something to do.
To donate food to the West Side Community Fridge, just make sure all items are unopened.
“The fridge is a reflection of the community, so people should donate things they would imagine enjoying themselves,” Smith explains. The fridge does not accept frozen food or raw meat.
Smith has also set up a Venmo and Cashapp for monetary donations. She uses the money to buy fresh produce for the community.
In Jersey City, two other fridges share resources and the common philosophy of mutual aid: Greenville Community Fridge and JC Heights Community Fridge.
Thanks to these three community fridges, neighborhoods are getting stronger, people are helping one another out, and more genuine relationships built. Find the fridge nearest you and see how you can get involved.
Follow the Westside Community Fridge on social media @westsidecommunityfridge and spread the word. Monetary donations can be made via Venmo @ westsidecommunityfridge and Cashapp @ $westsidefridge.