“Inside a few hours, the fridge was empty,” Umpster shared. Organizers discovered this discovery significantly alarming as a result of it uncovered an actual want for this service within the Bedford-Stuyvesant space. IOH continued to restock the fridge and, over the course of a number of weeks, started to discover methods of increasing the venture to different areas of town. 

Umpster identified that IOH did not invent the idea of group fridges, however their efforts have contributed to catalyzing their popularization within the U.S. 9 months after their first group fridge, IOH has distributed sources to teams in different cities trying to replicate its mannequin, together with Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Auckland, Toronto, Glasgow, Calgary, and Granada.

Meals insecurity predates the pandemic

Although the timing of the venture had vital overlap with the pandemic, IOH organizers preserve that COVID-19 was not their major motivation for increasing this venture. “There’s the on a regular basis disaster of the pandemic, after which there’s the on a regular basis disaster of capitalism,” mentioned Umpster. Serving to communities fortify themselves towards the violence of capitalism is certainly one of IOH’s foundational rules, whatever the state of public well being.

Nonetheless, the pandemic-induced surge in unemployment did coincide with a proportional improve within the want for the venture’s companies. Extra individuals started using the Bedford-Stuyvesant fridge, together with those that have been ineligible for unemployment insurance coverage or the CARES stimulus cost. These patrons have been largely members of New York Metropolis’s numerous immigrant populations, akin to undocumented people and visa carriers unable to legally work or return dwelling. The urgency of assembly this want in the end catalyzed its general growth.

Previous to overly growing the venture’s scale, IOH ensured that quite a few rules have been constant all through its community of fridges. Firstly, IOH’s solely prerequisite to organizing with residents of different cities or neighborhoods is the settlement that the meals stocked in these fridges will likely be free and accessible to everybody. Past this major level of unity, the entire fridges are autonomous. Hosts are additionally welcome to embellish fridges in no matter method they’d like, a observe that was popularized by the Bushwick’s fridge (aka The Friendly Fridge). A variety of fridges have been painted by outstanding muralists and graffiti artists, akin to Morgan Smith, Tiffany Baker, and Hugo Gyrl.


Other than ornament, hosts also can determine which items are prioritized at every location. For instance, Jersey Metropolis’s West Side Community Fridge has supplied quite a few reproductive healthcare merchandise, together with contraception, menstrual pads, being pregnant checks, and Plan B. Its organizer, Tatiana Smith, who works professionally as a doula, has additionally added a Freedom Retailer to her location. Modeled after IOH’s Brooklyn Free Retailer, the Freedom Retailer distributes free maternity and child gadgets, akin to nursing bras, diapers, strollers, and types of formulation not available at native Jersey Metropolis grocery shops. For Smith, meals and reproductive justice are inextricably linked since each take care of problems with accessibility and social stigma. Although sustaining consistency is necessary, a part of the venture’s charisma comes from every fridge’s individuality.

Although hosts are afforded an excessive amount of independence, IOH could be very clear on sustaining a collective understanding that the venture is mutual support, not charity.

“A charity is the place individuals, who’re ‘higher off’ so to talk, are giving handouts to their ‘lessers,’ and this can be a very totally different relationship. We’re all on this collectively … While you share meals with your loved ones, it’s not charity. After I share meals with my neighbors, it’s not charity, whether or not they give one thing again or not,” mentioned Umpster.

The standard of relationships between patrons and organizers is exemplified by a standard observe the place one particular person will put together a meal from the fridge’s contents after which restock it with leftovers to share with others. Other than mutual support on the neighborhood stage, IOH additionally executes these efforts at an inter-neighborhood stage. Oftentimes, one fridge will obtain a bigger donation of meals than it may well bodily maintain. In such situations, IOH will set up the transportation of extra meals to many different fridges throughout town till it’s all safely saved. Organizers’ dedication to the observe of mutual support is likely one of the major causes that the venture has been so profitable.

From April to the tip of June, IOH went from having two to 16 fridges within the better New York Metropolis space, and the venture was solely simply getting began.


The Neighborhood Fridge Challenge started rising at a nationwide and worldwide stage because of social media. Umpster famous that almost all of fridge hosts first realized in regards to the venture from Instagram after which reached out to IOH organizers by way of direct message for sources.

He additionally shared that almost all of people that have volunteered to mobilize for this motion, each on-line and offline, are girls of shade. In reality, the primary group that efficiently expanded the venture exterior of New York Metropolis was composed of girls of shade.

After the primary Los Angeles-based fridge was established, the venture expanded to main U.S. cities together with Nashville, Chicago, and New Orleans. Round this similar time, it went worldwide with a location in Toronto. Within the following months, different chapters have been created in cities akin to Miami, Atlanta, Auckland, Glasgow, Calgary, and Granada.

Although the precise sequence of occasions has diverse relying on every metropolis, the method of establishing virtually all future places started with the alternate of direct messages adopted by the distribution of supplies from a central Google Drive folder. Exceptions occurred in Nashville and Quito, the place a mixture of digital organizing and in-person relationships enabled their respective chapters to turn out to be a actuality.

As a result of the venture is unfold throughout a number of cities, every with totally different authorized codes and political climates, not all organizers have shared related experiences with public officers. In New York Metropolis, IOH has by no means run into any points. In reality, well being officers have reached out to organizers as non-public residents providing to assist them navigate any future citations. The Los Angeles chapter had three locations shut down because of violations of the California Retail Meals Code, in addition to Compton and Los Angeles municipal codes. The Atlanta chapter determined to work in collaboration with town’s well being division and was in the end granted its approval. In Mexico Metropolis, a gaggle has been struggling to efficiently arrange a fridge because of the difficult nature of navigating native corruption and the violence of drug cartels. Regardless of these challenges, the unfold of group fridges is not going to be stopping anytime quickly.

Juliana Clark (she/her) is a contract journalist and audio producer. She is enthusiastic about selling fairness by way of her reporting and a progressive feminist perspective by way of her arts and leisure criticism. Clark has bylines in The Eye and the Columbia Journal, and produced an episode for the podcast Notes From a Sister. Clark has a B.A. in English with a focus in artistic writing and a minor in anthropology from Barnard School of Columbia College. She at the moment resides in Los Angeles, California.

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit information outlet that facilities the individuals, locations and points at the moment underreported by our nationwide media. Via our authentic reporting, evaluation, and commentary, we problem dominant, poisonous narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to construct a full and correct report of what’s occurring in our democracy. Observe us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.