Parkdale community fridge finds new home after city forced it to move

A community fridge in Parkdale that was shut down by the city last week has a new home on private property in the west end.

Fridge is now fully stocked at 269 Dunn Ave. after Parkdale acted fast to save it

The Parkdale Community Fridge, forced to move by the city last week, now stands in front of its new home at 269 Dunn Ave. (CBC)

A community fridge in Parkdale that was shut down by the city last week has a new home on private property in the west end.

The fridge is now located at 269 Dunn Ave., south of Queen Street West, in front of Nice Nice wine bar and Extra Burger, its new hosts. The fridge operates on the principle: "Take what you need. Leave what you can."

The Parkdale community acted fast after the city ordered the fridge removed from its previous location on the sidewalk in front of clothing store Black Diamond Vintage, at 1614 Queen St. W., according to Jalil Bokhari, organizer and founder of Community Fridges Toronto, which maintains the fridge. He said it is now fully stocked.

"It was really inspiring and heartwarming," Bokhari said of the fridge mobilization effort.

The city alleged the fridge was abandoned, and that it posed a safety risk and sanitation issues due to the pandemic. It also threatened to fine the store's landlord if the fridge was not removed within 24 hours. 

Bokhari said, however, the fridge clearly fills a need. He said it was moved immediately after the city made its threat. One business stored the fridge before it was moved, while another helped to move it. Then, artists painted it with new designs.

The city also said the fridge violated its abandoned appliances bylaw, which is in place to prevent children from getting trapped in discarded appliances outdoors. According to Community Fridges Toronto, the fridge was not abandoned and the bylaw is antiquated.

"The more we tried to rectify it or work around it, the more days the fridge wasn't there, the more days that people who relied on this fridge were going hungry," Bokhari said.

"Our priority was essentially to get it right back on the street in any other way we could and work around the bylaw."

Bokhari said people want to help their neighbours during the pandemic and food insecurity is a widespread problem in Toronto.

Jalil Bokhari, organizer and founder of Community Fridges Toronto, says the community rallied after the city threatened the fridge. (CBC)

Sierra Leedham, co-owner of Black Diamond Vintage, said she is pleased that the fridge has found a new home.

"We were sad not to have it in front of our space anymore, just because it was a great thing to have. But we are really happy that it's here. This is really a great location. There are fruit markets on both sides. It's a really busy area. We're just happy to see the community have the fridge again," Leedham said.

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, said the city has joined forces with community agencies to deal with the issue of food insecurity.

"I adore that people want to help. I think it's fantastic, but just trying to figure out a way to get a fridge on a sidewalk somewhere, that's not the best way to help," Perks said. 

"I am encouraging people who want to help this way to participate in one of the many of the programs that the city has partnered with community agencies on to make sure food that is being shared is being shared safely."

Pamela Chan, a local resident, admires the painted artwork on the front of the Parkdale community fridge. (CBC)

Dave Shellnutt, who calls himself the Biking Lawyer, said neighbours are helping neighbours.

"I think the pandemic has really highlighted and underscored the ways that our current systems are failing folks," Shellnutt said.

"We need to have quick, rapid responses to problems that governments are just not able to solve and communities need to come together and solve those on their own quickly, because winter is coming and it's going to get cold out there for folks," he said.

Pamela Chan, a Parkdale resident, agreed, saying the need is great in Parkdale.

"There are so many people in this community that are underserved. I have some extra. It's what you should do, right?"

With files from Talia Ricci and Muriel Draaisma