Free food, no questions asked.
That’s what the four “community fridges” in Evanston offer, for anyone in need.
Now, the group, which opened its first “fridge” in 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, would like to add another.
“The whole community fridge movement is based on trust,” explains Anna Grant-Bolton, outreach organizer for the non-profit organization.
Community fridges are small sheds, containing both a refrigerator/freezer and a dry goods pantry, set up on the property of a cooperating business.
Volunteers, often anonymous, stock the shelves, and recipients, also anonymous — no one has to sign anything — take what they need, when they need it.
“Anyone can take from the fridge,” Grant-Bolton says.
“We’re trying to de-stigmatize” free supplies, because “there’s a huge need,” she adds.
“The fridges are being used a lot,” and are often empty, waiting to be re-stocked.
The four “fridges” are located at 1335 Dodge Ave. (Childcare Network of Evanston), 717 Custer Ave. (Kombucha Brava), 1601 Payne St. (Soul & Smoke), and 619 Howard St.(Palmhouse).
Grant-Bolton says the group is currently talking with a potential host business in central Evanston, although at this point there’s “no guarantee” the expansion will come through.
Long-term, however, the goal is to have more locations.
“This whole thing is run by the community, for the community,” Grant-Bolton adds.
One way the community can help, she says, is by making actual grocery store runs for a “fridge,” as opposed to just dropping off a few items.
Such grocery store shoppers can be reimbursed by Community Fridges for their purchases by providing receipts.
Rules for food drop-off, particularly for perishable items, are posted on the sheds.
While the health department inspects the “fridges” annually, Grant-Bolton says, community members are responsible for helping to clean out the refrigerators and freezers, wiping them down, and getting rid of any items that may have expired.
According to NBC News, there are more than 400 “community fridges” nationwide.
The Evanston model is based on “Love Fridges” in Chicago, which has more than 20 locations.
The group “Evanston Fight for Black Lives” helped establish the first one here.
But that first Evanston “fridge” was almost put out of business before it could get started. A car crashed into the Dodge Avenue shed in 2020, delaying the opening.
But it ultimately did get going, and growing.
The proof, says Grant-Bolton, is not only how often the “fridges” are empty, needing to be refilled, but also in the “sweet notes” the group receives “from people relying on it.”
“That,” she says, “really keeps us going.”
To find out more about “fridge” operations, donations, and volunteer opportunities, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.