Community Refrigerators Help Feed Hard-Hit Neighborhoods in Philadelphia

Community Refrigerators Help Feed Hard-Hit Neighborhoods in Philadelphia

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

A recent study found since the beginning of the pandemic nearly 2-years ago, over 20 million Americans go to bed hungry nearly every night. However a grass-roots movement that began in the city of “brotherly love” providing community refrigerators stocked with food is helping to feed hungry neighbors, who otherwise couldn’t afford buying food.

The movement is part of a mutual-aid program that took off during the pandemic.

Lifelong Philadelphia resident Darrell Brokenborough stood outside his row home at 308 N. 39th St., opened the brightly colored refrigerator, smiled and said, “It’s full.”

Balancing himself on his cane Darrell peered into the cold crisper drawer to take a closer look at the fresh apples, yogurt, greens, pasta, cheese and chicken stacked inside.

On the front of the yellow fridge was written: “Free food” and “Take what you need. Leave what you don’t.”

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Darrell helped himself to several bags of apple slices, slipping them into his over-the-shoulder bag. He also took other items, however, quickly returned them for someone else. His favorite foods are fresh bagels and cream cheese, which weren’t there this time.

I always recommend the fridge to my friends with kids. There’s always something healthy here,” he said, calling the free food he gets at the fridge on his way to and from a nearby medical facility a “blessing.”

The city currently has over 20 refrigerators located throughout Philadelphia nestled outside restaurants and homes, offering free food to anyone passing by.

Volunteers keep the fridges clean and stocked with food donated from grocery stores, restaurants, local farmers and anyone with extra to share.

The concept of providing free community food isn’t new; in fact it’s been around for more than a decade. However, it exploded during the pandemic as hunger spiked in the United States and worldwide.

Many middle income Americans were forced for the first in their lives to wait on long lines in their cars for hours, for a box of food, provided by local food banks.

Today, more then 200 of these community fridge programs are sprinkled throughout the United States, mostly within impoverished neighborhoods.

There was a big focus on mutual aid in the past year in the U.S. as people were losing jobs. People wanted to bridge the gap between people who have food and people who don’t,” said Ernst Bertone Oehninger, who set up a freedge outside his Davis, Calif. home in 2014 and serves as a community organizer for Freedge. “Community fridges won’t solve all the problems of food insecurity and food waste, but they help people connect, like community gardens.

Terry Hare, 25, is one of the unemployed casualties from the pandemic, laid off from his job at a UPS store at the start of COVID. He said the “community refrigerator” that appeared a few houses down from his last fall has been a lifesaver. It took weeks to get unemployment aid, and longer to get food stamps.

The fridge often has Whole Food meats and fresh stuff,” Hare said. “It’s a great resource for people of all different situations.” Hare is optimistic he will land work again soon, but knowing the fridge is there has provided extra comfort.

Vicky Borgia, a doctor who hosts the South Sixth Street fridge and pantry outside her medial practice, along with paying the electric bill in running the fridge said; “I’ve seen an increase in people coming to get food. The economy isn’t better in South Philadelphia.”