Unpacking the process of getting fresh food to those in need motivated Alex Quandt to pick up a slow-growing trend last year. When the East Side resident, interested in social justice issues, saw on Instagram that something called community fridges were popping up around New York City, she wondered: Why not here, too? That project, initially started by A New World in Our Hearts, partnered with local businesses to place refrigerators in publicly accessible places, each filled with fresh foods.
“The basis of the idea is that it is fully community supported,” says Quandt. “Anyone can leave food and anyone can take food.”
In November, Quandt launched Community Fridge Cleveland by installing the first community fridge inside the Root Cafe in Lakewood. The fridge itself was a donation, decorated by local artist September Shy with a painting of brightly colored fruits and veggies that blend in with the cafe’s funky, bohemian decor. At any given time, it’s stocked with fresh produce, dairy products, meat and eggs, all dropped off by donors, with Quandt occasionally fundraising on Instagram to purchase supplemental groceries.
“Food scarcity is just not a reality,” Quandt says. “There’s a lot of surplus food, and there are a lot of people that need it here in our city.”
Next to the fridge is a shelving unit for dry good donations like rice and pasta. Quandt has even expanded her inventory to include menstrual products, face masks, reusable bags and hand sanitizer. At its core, the fridge offers both accessibility and anonymity.
“There’s no paperwork that goes into it, and you don’t have to be approved,” Quandt says. “There are gaps in charity, where people who don’t have proper documentation can’t always access it, so the mutual aid model is really significant.”
As the project continues to grow and expand, Quandt has heard from people who want to make larger-scale donations such as kitchen appliances and utensils that go beyond the Root Cafe’s capacity. Regardless, Quandt is committed to working with donors to find homes for all of it and she hopes to install more community fridges this year.
To get the word out, she relies heavily on word-of-mouth and her Instagram account, @communityfridgecle, which has more than a thousand followers. Quandt’s hope is that by the end of 2021, Community Fridge Cleveland will have expanded across to neighborhoods like Larchmere, Collinwood and Ohio City.
“People reach out to me to say, ‘Because of this project, I was able to put food in the fridge in my home for my children,’ ” she says. “I can’t wait to do more and spread it across the city.”