LITTLE VILLAGE — Near 21st Street and California Avenue, a fully stocked refrigerator faces the sidewalk, surrounded by shelving in Little Village. Miles away in a Bridgeport alley, a multi-colored refrigerator with the words “free food,” “comida gratis” and “the Love Fridge” sits outside Mars Brewery.
Before the end of the week, another refrigerator is set to come to life outside Moreno Liquors in Little Village.
Across the city, as residents struggle to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of residents are banding together to bring fully stocked refrigerators to neighborhoods struggling with food insecurity.
The grassroots effort, dubbed the Love Fridge, was largely organized through Instagram and paper flyers. It aims to bring free food to neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 on the South and West Sides, said Ashley Godfrey, one of the activists working on the new initiative.
“There are so many people out of work because of COVID and they can’t feed themselves or their families the way they’d like to, and that’s a reality,” Godfrey said.
At the community refrigerators, neighbors are welcome to take whatever they want and donate what they don’t need. The motto is “take you what you need, leave what you can,” Godfrey said.
Volunteers and neighbors can drop off items to one of the refrigerators. The group is also hoping to work with grocery stores and local famers to obtain unsold items, all in an effort to reduce food waste while feeding community members, Godfrey said.
Inspired by similar efforts in New York City, a core group of 15 organizers including Ramon “Radius” Norwood, James Wurm, Kate Battle and Lisa Armstrong lead the efforts. Eric Von Haynes of Flatland Press printed flyers for the group to spread the word across the city, Godfrey said.
Five weeks after launching the effort, the group has received donations of more than five refrigerators and its Slack channel of interested volunteers has surged to more than 90 members, Godfrey said.
“People want to help…People are tired of sitting around waiting for corporations and government to do the bare minimum for us,” Godfrey said.
Before coronavirus, South and West Side neighborhoods already were facing a lack of healthy food options in communities of color, Godfrey said. The coronavirus pandemic has since exacerbated that inaccessibility of healthy foods, she said.
Even as food pantries and weekly distributions have increased in some areas, organizers still see surging need for nutritious food in Southwest Side neighborhoods including Little Village, Pilsen and Back of the Yards.
Godfrey said the group is adopting a scattered site model to fill the need gap. Volunteers will monitor the refrigerators one to two times per week to make sure the refrigerators are stocked and clean.
“Food is love…We as a community should look out for each other and that’s why mutual aid grounded in food is our core mission,” she said.
For the refrigerator at Moreno Liquors, 3724 W. 26th St., Love Fridge is partnering with Grocery Run Club to stock the Little Village fridge once a week for a month. The Grocery Rub Club recently created a pop-up food pantry at a vacant storefront in Austin.
Other neighbors have stepped up too. A West Town mother-daughter duo who run Lily’s Lemonade will also donate proceeds to help stock some refrigerators, Godfrey said.
They hope to partner with grocery stores, local farms, businesses to help keep this effort going.
More refrigerators will be set up in other neighborhoods in the next few weeks once details were finalized, Godfrey said.
While the refrigerators aim to serve an immediate need from the coronavirus, Godfrey said Love Fridge hopes to operate these refrigerators for years to come.
“It’s been beautiful to see so many people help, [regardless] of their financial situation,” Godfrey said. “People want to help this movement in whatever way they can.”
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