In a shed in downtown Merced, California, there is a random refrigerator overflowing with an ever-changing bounty of persimmons, lettuce, celery, and other locally sourced whole fruits and vegetables.
Everything in the fridge is free; twenty-four hours a day, anyone can visit to pick up what they might need.
“The People’s Fridge” is a volunteer labor of love, organized by Erin Meyer and Steve Roussos. Volunteers built a shed for the donated fridge, which was placed just outside the 18th Street People’s Garden. The fridge is sanitized three times per day, and regularly restocked by surplus from the Merced Farmer’s market, produce from local gardeners, and contributions from restaurants.
Erin became a sustainable food activist after her own experiences with food insecurity. As a college student, she struggled with hunger and sometimes relied on food banks; yet also during this time, she worked at a cafe where each night she had to throw away perfectly good food at the end of her shift. This disconnect led her to study food waste, and she eventually obtained a Master’s degree in Sustainable & Resilient Food Systems.
In America, 80 billion pounds of food are sent to the landfill each year; nearly 40% of the country’s food supply. At the same time, 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure. This reality underlies Erin’s life motto: “Save the food, feed the people.”
The community fridge is a model that is empowering, because “Often, food insecure folks are given a box of food with no choice of what is in it. That model is wasteful and disempowering by taking away choice. This model gives people the freedom and power to choose what they want,” says Erin.
Volunteers weigh the donations coming in and how much food is wasted at the fridge, allowing them to determine how much food they are getting to those in need. Erin has connected with folks around the country who have set up community fridges to gain insights on best practices and program development. She also began the Freedge Learning Network, a Slack channel for community fridge organizers.
In the future, Erin hopes to open more community fridges in low-income areas of the community. Her seed grant from The Pollination Project will help assist in that effort, and also provide maintenance on the fridge when it is needed.
For more information about starting a community fridge where you live, visit https://freedge.org/freedge-yourself/.