London's first community fridge another step to tackling food insecurity
The 24/7 fridge will open at St. John the Divine parish next Wednesday
Hunger is becoming a reality for more and more people in London. That's why one woman is spearheading the city's first outdoor community fridge launching in the Southcrest neighbourhood next week.
"It's a place where people experiencing food insecurity can get free, fresh food at any time of the day," said Patti Lake, who recruited a team of friends, family and donors to take on the project after being gifted seed money by her family for her 70th birthday.
The fridge and pantry will be open 24/7, seven days a week at St. John the Divine, a Catholic church at 390 Baseline Rd. W. where a food bank and community dinner are also run.
Parts of the area were flagged by the city with high food insecurity and low community resources, she said. With rising inflation and financial insecurity, record numbers of people in London can't afford food, the London Food Bank found — now serving over 20,000 people per month in the city.
The fridge will open on September 14 marking a year of logistical work on the project — and Lake's 71st birthday.
"The philosophy is take what you need, give what you can," said Lake. The group will rely on the London Food Bank to stock the fridge initially with hopes that community members will fill it once the idea catches on, she said.
"We hope that the community will embrace the feeding of the fridge and keep us stocked so that there's never a chance of somebody arriving there and not having anything to take with them," she said.
Volunteers trained in safe food handling will inspect the fridge daily to sanitize and ensure no damaged or rotten items are left, she said.
Fresh produce, dry foods, eggs, bread, dairy products and sealed non-alcoholic beverages are on the wish list for donations. But they've no need for raw meat or seafood, home-cooked meals, half-eaten or expired food.
Pantry items and essentials like hygiene products and diapers are welcome too, she said. Needs will be posted to their Instagram page.
The items are geared for people in the neighbourhood with access to kitchens to prepare food, said Kathleen Murphy, a co-lead in the project and member of St. John the Divine parish, which will reach those in affordable housing, working families and newcomers to Canada in the neighbourhood.
Food with no questions asked
"There'll be no questions asked and no registration," he said. "So many people don't have enough money or resources to buy food for them and their families," he said, noting the strain food banks are experiencing.
He hopes to see more fridges open across London in the next couple years, he said.
Organizers say it took approximately $10,000 to launch — but stress that not all community fridges need to be that elaborate. Donations from McKenzie Lake Lawyers, Libro Credit Union, Cushman & Wakefield, and the Rotary Club of London South made it possible. St. John the Divine will cover the hydro bill.
The shed housing the fridge and pantry is being built by Youth Opportunities Unlimited's wood shop program. A team is assembling the shed on site after over two weeks of construction at their wood shop.
But not every community fridge needs to be this elaborate. Some in Toronto are simple outdoor bar fridges, Lake said.
Ongoing, the fridge will be community-run through a "solidarity not charity" approach, she said.
She hopes the community will step up to donate food, volunteer and keep the fridge full.