More community fridges opening across P.E.I. to fight hunger

Community fridges are expanding to more locations across P.E.I., with charity Gifts from the Heart planning to open three soon.

'We serve these people with love and kindness. No one will be turned away.'

Workers lift the fridge into the tiny home outside the Gifts from the Heart headquarters near the Charlottetown Airport. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The rising cost of food has led to a rising need for community fridges on Prince Edward Island, charity officials say. 

P.E.I.'s first 24-hour community fridge opened last year in Charlottetown and several more are now planned throughout P.E.I. 

Although every group runs things differently, the concept is designed to be less formal than a food bank — people from the community stock the fridges with groceries, and anyone is free to take what they need.

The charity Gifts from the Heart plans to place three community fridges in tiny home buildings, with a staff person or volunteer inside to help give out food. 

The town of Alberton and the city of Summerside also have plans for community fridges. Back in 2020, the Montague Rotary Library opened a fridge that operated two afternoons a week.

Bryce Arsenault of Reno Kings Construction and Betty Begg-Brooks of Gifts from the Heart stand outside the tiny home building that will hold the newest community fridge. Arsenault's company and others donated their labour for the project. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Gifts from the Heart founder Betty Begg-Brooks was dancing with excitement as the first tiny home building for the first fridge was delivered on Friday. 

"We want to make sure that everybody gets what they need," said Begg-Brooks.

"It's just a struggle for everybody." 

Several companies volunteered time and labour and the provincial government provided $10,000 for Gifts from the Heart's community fridges. The money comes from a larger community food security fund, which is also helping with other projects and fridges. 

The first community fridge in P.E.I. is in Charlottetown. Its founders say it's well used. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We serve these people with love and kindness. No one will be turned away," said Begg-Brooks.

The first community fridge will be at the Gifts from the Heart headquarters on Maple Hill Avenue in Charlottetown, while other fridges will be in the West Royalty area of Charlottetown and in Stratford.

Community fridge model easier on pride

Mike MacDonald, the executive director of the Upper Room Food Bank in Charlottetown, says not everyone can get to a food bank or a soup kitchen. 

It's definitely bittersweet, but it's also not surprising to me because food insecurity has just been such a big issue.— Sandra Sunil

"The community fridges play an important role for quite a few people," he said.

MacDonald said there has been a 50-per-cent increase in the number of people coming to the food bank this summer, so he knows the need is there. This August, he said, 918 families came in for a basket of food.

"Unfortunately, the need is increasing," MacDonald said. 

He said community fridges are easier on people's pride and are more accessible. 

"It's extremely hard for people to come through the doors and ask for help," he said, pointing out that those in need can access a community fridge more privately.

Community fridge founder happy to see expansion

The first community fridge on the Island was started by Sandra Sunil and Samel Sunil, as part of their non-profit group, 4Love4Care.

Sandra Sunil said it's great to see others taking the idea to other communities.

"This resource removed all barriers and reduced the stigmatization of food aid," she, adding that it's a "no questions asked" space. 

The fridge gets filled three times a day and Sunil estimated that as much as $1,000 worth of food goes into the fridge each day. 

She said it's nice to see other fridges are being set up. 

"It's definitely bittersweet, but it's also not surprising to me because food insecurity has just been such a big issue on the Island for so many years," she said.


Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.


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