NORTH LAWNDALE — There’s a fridge out west full of fresh fruit, meat and vegetables — and everything inside is up for grabs.
Austin native Dearra Williams volunteered with The Love Fridge mutual aid network to bring a fridge to the area. It was installed outside the historic Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd., to address the food scarcity that plagues the West Side and has been exasperated by the pandemic.
The fridge is open 24/7 to anybody who needs fresh, healthy food. It is restocked regularly by local groups and residents.
The Love Fridge has installed 10 fridges from Logan Square to Hyde Park, including two in August to support neighbors in Little Village and Bridgeport.
Williams became passionate about improving food access on the West Side after recognizing she had spent much of her life living in a food desert, where residents had to travel miles to get to the nearest grocery stores.
“It’s limited. And if we do have food, it’s at corner stores with a lot of junk food and things like that,” Williams said. “But we need a balance. We need to be able to have fresh produce and veggies in these areas.”
The refrigerator was provided by the Love Fridge. All that was needed to get the project off the ground was a convenient spot to plug it in.
When Williams attended a community meeting as a representative of Love Fridge to find a location, Stone Temple’s Reshorna Fitzpatrick immediately volunteered her church. Just days later, the fridge was installed and filled with food for the community.
The love fridge was painted by artist Hailey Losselyong, who added signs to make it clear the food inside belongs to anybody who wants it. The painting on the fridge shows women of color and is designed to allow residents to see themselves represented in the solutions to a longstanding problem in the area.
“It’s just another element of making people feel seen and appreciated and that their community deserves to be painted,” Losselyong said. “You deserve to see something beautiful.”
Residents have embraced the fridge as a vital food resource, organizers said. As soon as the project was installed, Fitzpatrick let several people who are experiencing homelessness know about the free food.
“They came and they actually took some meat from the fridge and they barbecued. Man, I was inspired by that. It made me emotional. I was really grateful that we were able to provide that,” Fitzpatrick said.
The fridge was a perfect fit for Stone Temple since the church has a lush vegetable garden next door. Fitzpatrick has stocked the fridge with fresh produce grown nearby.
The garden is also a gathering space where Fitzpatrick plans to teach people how to incorporate healthy food into their diets.
“We have a grill, and we could show you and teach you through food demonstrations. That’s one of the things that we are going to do in the very near future,” Fitzpatrick said. “Making things available and putting the education behind it … will help them become even more healthy mentally, spiritually and physically.”
Love Fridge’s food supplies have been supplemented with donations from Black Lives Matter Chicago, from the food pantry operated by Marillac House Food Pantry and from local agriculture programs like Gardeneers and the Farm on Ogden.
Between the donations from neighborhood groups and the contributions of residents, Fitzpatrick said there’s enough donations so the fridge will never go empty.
“Anyone can donate food because this is a community fridge. I want the community to come together and help each other out with this,” Williams said.
Food can be donated by putting fresh produce into the fridge. You also can donate to Stone Temple to help restock the fridge by contacting Fitzpatrick at email@example.com or Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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