Good Food. Good Stories. Community Fridges.

We know that accessibility needs sometimes make it difficult for our friends and neighbours to access Food for Life Neighbourhood Food Programs. That’s why we decided to bring food directly to those who need it most through open-access community fridges, placed strategically in Halton communities.

“The idea was that people can just come and access a bag of food,” says Donna Slater, Director of Impact at Food for Life. “There are no questions asked. The food is there and available for people who need it.”

Food for Life’s first open community fridge was located in the Glen Abbey Branch of the Oakville Public Library where healthy food was delivered Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Here, patrons accessing library programs and services, could also anonymously take home a small plastic grocery bag filled with fresh good food. “In the end, we were doing 25-30 bags of food a week,” says Slater.

Community fridges have also been integral to our partnership with Halton Housing, which provides support for individuals to access and maintain safe and affordable housing. Through this partnership, Food for Life placed large commercial fridges in community spaces at three seniors’ residences in Georgetown.

“Every Tuesday, our driver would deliver crates full of fresh food which had been packed in our warehouse,” says Slater. Each fridge would receive four crates of food with four to eight varieties of good, healthy food that residents could access whenever they wanted.

“The key to it was there were no rules around access,” says Slater. “Some people might come get everything they wanted right then and there, or they might come sporadically throughout the week. It worked really well!”

Donna Slater

“The key to it was there were no rules around access,” says Slater. “Some people might come get everything they wanted right then and there, or they might come sporadically throughout the week. It worked really well!”

The community fridges became much more than simple receptacles for food. Instead, they became hubs for conversation and storytelling.

“What you ended up having is seniors at the fridge discussing recipes around Brussel sprouts or eggplants and then sharing that with fellow seniors,” says Slater, who notes that seniors on fixed income often don’t spend money on foods they’re not sure they’ll like or don’t know how to prepare. “Now they’re 86 and they’re eating eggplant!”

Another positive outcome was the sharing of food. “It was a neighbour-building experience,” says Slater who says that seniors would take large items, like squash, and take them back to their apartment to cut up or cook to share with others. “Their stories came out through food and what they eat and how they prepare it.”

Community fridges offer seniors freedom of choice, especially when they’re navigating mobility challenges.

“Food can be heavy. A lot of times you have to buy carrots in a larger bag. Potatoes are quite a bit more if you buy them individually,” says Slater. “With community fridges, seniors could access those heavier food items. They didn’t have to worry about carrying home potatoes or carrots,” she says, adding that sometimes seniors might need only one or two carrots or potatoes to make a stew or soup.

Community fridges are not a fad, but they’re still a difficult concept for people to wrap their minds around. “What do you mean you’re giving away food?” says Slater of one of the many questions she’s been asked. “Don’t you need to know who it’s going to?” Slater laughs. “We rescue more than four million pounds of good food each year, and we’re happy to share it, after all our vision is that everyone has access to healthy food.”

Food for Life Community Fridges will be expanding to have a presence in all Halton communities and in strategic partnerships in Hamilton by the end of 2020!