Community fridges pop up in Toronto neighbourhoods during COVID-19 pandemic

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Day after day, volunteers have been cleaning and restocking outdoor fridges at locations all over Toronto. They contain fresh produce and meals provided by the community, for the community.

With food insecurity on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, an organization called Community Fridges Toronto stepped in to help address the problem. It operates on the principle “take what you need and leave what you can.”

This community-run initiative offers free food to people in the neighbourhood through the placement of communal fridges outside frequented stores.

“We have so many neighbours who have different needs,” said Zahra Dhanani, co-owner of Old’s Cool. “I know it could make a huge difference in the community so, of course, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Dhanani describes her store as a “social justice community retail hub.” The storefront is now home to a community fridge and a small pantry full of non-refrigerated food items that sit just to the left of its entrance. She’s known in her community as someone who connects with those around her through activism, so having a community fridge outside of her store made sense. It’s just another one of the ways that she can reach out to her neighbourhood and the people around her.

“People are so immediately invested,” said Dhanani said. “Almost all of them go well from the get-go.”

Community Fridges Toronto was founded by photographer Jalil Bokhari and chef and restaurant owner Julian Bentivegna. The friends started up the initiative in this city near the start of the pandemic with the help of small business owners and other community members.

Fridges are restocked and cleaned daily by organizers. Anyone can leave food that they no longer need at any time, so long as it isn’t expired or hazardous.

Like the slogan says, some people may take food from a fridge, while others may simply leave what they can. These fridges help reduce the likelihood of wasting food while providing for those who may need a little more than they can afford.