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A Free Community Fridge Is Filling Bellies in Southwest Detroit

People can take the food they need and donate what they have to give at the Detroit Community Fridge on West Vernor Highway

The Detroit Community Fridge is located at the corner of Morrell Street and West Vernor Highway.
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

A free community fridge recently appeared in Southwest Detroit, providing people in the neighborhood with access to fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable foods as well as other necessary supplies.

Alyssa Rogers and Emily Eicher, two Wayne State University students, are behind the Detroit Community Fridge, which debuted on August 27 next to the Rocky’s Road Brew food truck at the corner of West Vernor Highway and Morrell Street, helping bridge the gap in local food insecurity. Eicher and Rogers began discussing the idea of a community fridge after seeing similar mutual aid projects pop-up across the country.

Community fridges and pantries have emerged as a judgement-free space for people to get the items they need in an economy that’s been ravaged by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the summer fridges began to appear in cities across the country including Austin, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and beyond. Similar to a Little Free Library or a Little Free Pantry, these mutual aid projects provide an open door policy for community members to take and leave items at will.

Eicher had an underutilized fridge in her garage and the pair put out a call on Instagram asking if others would be willing to help maintain a community fridge. Knowing that Kaylan Waterman, a local musician, had already established a similar project called the Sharing Table in New Center, the pair looked for a neighborhood different neighborhood that might also benefit from a pantry. Southwest Detroit felt like the right place, and after talking to local business owners, the group was eventually connected with Rocky Coronado. Coronado had been planning to create a community space in the empty lot beside their building. Not long after, the Detroit Community Fridge was installed.

Rogers and Eicher weren’t sure exactly how the fridge would be used at first, but say that it only took a few days for people in the neighborhood to start using it as a resource for food and supplies.

“The fridge every day goes through a cycle of either starting empty or starting full,” Eicher says. “There will be mornings where someone will come and drop off a bunch of milk, dairy, eggs, butter and in a couple hours I’ll go there to check and it’ll be empty.” Some of the most popular items are fresh and frozen foods as well as things like diapers, toilet paper, and tampons.

The rules are simple: Take what you need. People are also encouraged to donate items; fridge managers just ask that groceries are labeled and dated with notes on possible allergies for prepared foods. It also helps with sanitation if donations are unpacked, so people can see what’s on the fridge shelves rather than digging through bags. A growing cohort of fridge volunteers helps restock the fridge and keep it, and the neighboring dry goods table, clean.

“I’ve met a variety of people picking from the fridge when I happen to be there restocking it from homeless people that are just trying to get something that they can eat on the go to like families that are trying to shop for their pantry at home because they’ve hit a hard time,” Rogers says.

Eicher says that at times it’s been hard to keep up with the need for goods to refill the fridge. “I knew there was a need, but not I didn’t realize that it would be emptying pretty much every day,” Eicher says. “I’m trying to shift my perspective with that like, ‘Okay. An empty fridge means people are taking stuff and it means that they’re eating, which is a good thing.’”

Going into the winter, Rogers and Eicher are working on a plan to build platform and a shelter for the community fridge as well as installing pantries to enclose the dry goods. The enclosure as well as the restocking of groceries is being funded through monetary and material donations.

People who want to contribute to the Detroit Community Fridge can drop off properly labeled donations anytime or give to the project through Venmo at @detroit-communityfridge. The organization is also looking for volunteers to help maintain the fridge.

Detroit Community Fridge [Instagram]
The Eater Detroit Guide on How to Help Fight Food Insecurity [ED]
All How to Help Coverage [E]