You’ve seen them all over Instagram — vibrant, brightly colored posts with photos of outdoor refrigerators. They’re usually decorated with an Acid House happy face, and always feature an incredible font (which, according to What The Font, is some sort of custom type, closely related to Ortem or Spirits Soft Regular, for all the typography heads out there). But these are no ordinary ice boxes, they’re stocked by the community, for the community.
If it’s not a concept that’s familiar to you (we definitely had to do some research), we put together a list of things you should know about the food-based mutual aid. Consider this our Community Fridge F.A.Q.
Community Fridge F.A.Q.
So what is a community fridge?
It’s exactly what it sounds like - a refrigerator, run by its community or neighborhood, like Leimert Park, Mid-City, or Arlington Heights. Inspired by a similar project in New York, businesses, organizations, and individuals work together to keep them stocked with everything from prepackaged salads to heirloom tomatoes to fresh herbs, eggs, and Gatorade.
And all of it’s free! Anyone can take anything, and at any time of day. A community fridge in Mid-City is decorated with the message “This fridge belongs to you.” Another in Highland Park reads “Comida gratis,” or “free food.”
Who’s in charge of it?
Well, technically, no one. Fridges are typically hosted by local businesses, like Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, or Yeaj Yalhalhj Floreria Aquino in Arlington Heights. All they need to do is provide the electricity (a.k.a. an outlet) and make sure that their location is accessible. Then, everything else - from the stocking to the cleaning to the maintaining - will be handled by volunteers in the community.
Why is this a thing?
Maybe you should be asking, “Why isn’t this a bigger thing?” No? OK, well, fresh, nutritional food should never be a privilege. According to the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, LA has the largest number of food insecure people in the entire country - yet we dump more than one million tons of food into the city’s landfills every year. Many community fridges are located in areas with high levels of food insecurity, either in “food deserts” (neighborhoods that lack access to fresh, affordable food) or “food swamps” (neighborhoods where there is an overabundance of fast food).
The hope here is that with 24/7 access to fresh foods, people in the community will feel empowered.
What’s the difference between this and, like, a food pantry?
Unlike more traditional forms of aid, these fridges are 100% anonymous. This is crucial. There are no forms to fill out, or limits to what you can take (food pantries usually distribute resources based on income, or how many people are in your family), nor hours that you have to abide by. Anyone can come whenever they want, and take as much or as little as they want. And it’s that exact freedom of choice that makes the experience of acquiring food a lot more dignified - community fridges trust those in the community to make the right call for themselves.
What can you find in a community fridge?
Pretty much anything you’d find in a grocery store - fresh produce, canned goods, prepackaged meals, hygiene products, etc. When we visited the one on South Hill and W. 28th St., it was filled with grapes, asparagus, hotdogs, and cans of sparkling water. Some fridges will ask for specific donations based on what they’re running low on. For example, the Leimert Park fridge needs to be stocked with paper towels and crates for storing dry goods in.
Small note: Community fridges should not be stocked with raw meat.
So… literally anyone can drop anything off? Or take anything they want?
Yes. And yes. Community fridges are built on trust. But if you’re interested in stocking a fridge, LA Community Fridges asks that you first sign up as a volunteer.
Sounds cool (pun intended). Where can I find one in my area?
SMH. LA Community Fridges has a full map of active fridges here.