When the pandemic hit in March 2020, KW experienced an increase in food insecurity according to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. In their 2019-20 annual report, the food bank documented a 40 per cent growth in food distribution compared to 2019.
Many cities across the country are implementing community fridges, a project that aims to provide more food accessibility options and decrease food waste.
A team of volunteers brought the very first community fridge to KW last December, opening the fridge a few days before Christmas.
“It was a really great time to be able to be of service to those in need,” said Edna Bozhori, a core team member of Community Fridge KW (CFKW) and a fourth-year health studies student at the University of Waterloo.
Community fridges are public, typically outdoor refrigerators full of fresh produce provided by the community for members within that community.
“We always try to put out the message, and you’ll see it on our fridges, ‘take what you need, leave what you can’,” described Bozhori.
Bozhori also mentioned that another goal of community fridges is to remove stigma regarding food aid and other barriers for individuals who are experiencing food insecurity.
“One of the big benefits of community fridges is that they are stigma-free. You don’t have to put your name down and what you’re taking, or have an inventory of what you took,” Bozhori said. “If someone is not comfortable sharing their financial state, then they don’t need to.”
“We are here to provide to the community, no questions asked, no judgement.”
Community fridges are non-profit, grassroots projects operated and maintained entirely by volunteers.
The fridge, donated by one of the volunteers, is encased in a handmade wooden box constructed by volunteers to protect it from the weather, and store extra non-perishable goods on the shelves inside. CFKW’s host, Full Circle Foods, provides the power needed to keep the fridge running.
“The last time I checked, our volunteer Facebook group was over 200, maybe 250 [members]. That’s how many volunteers we have to call upon when we need support or to facilitate fridge check-ins,” Bozhori said. The fridge’s Instagram page, which also provides updates and lists ways for people to get involved, has thousands of followers.
At CFKW, the fridge is routinely checked and maintained daily by the volunteers for health and safety purposes.
“We have our volunteers go in three times a day to check the state of the fridge. So making sure that things are cleanly wiped down, making sure that any food that can’t be accepted is removed,” explained Bozhori. Certain foods like dairy products cannot be accepted at CFKW, due to public health reasons.
Food can be accessed or donations can be made at any time of the day as the fridge is open 24 hours, seven days a week.
How to get involved
CFKW is located at 3 Charles St. West beside Full Circle Foods in downtown Kitchener.
“The beautiful thing is not only can people take from the fridge, but people can donate,” Bozhori said. “You don’t have to be a business or a restaurant to give food, if you’re a local citizen, a local neighbour and you decide to pick up some extra cans of chickpeas you can donate them to the shelves of the fridge, being mindful of our donations guidelines.”
The donation rules and guidelines are posted on the fridge and can also be found on CFKW’s social media pages.
“When people donate we ask that they fill out logs that are posted inside the fridge. So if you are a business or just a regular citizen donating, we like to have people write down what they donated and the state [of the product] so we can also keep track of that for health and safety guidelines,” Bozhori said.
CFKW has had a great start and impact on the community in the first six months since they opened last winter. The project has received a lot of positive feedback from community members who use its services.
“When we get those messages and hear those stories, it warms our heart and affirms that we are making a difference.”