“Comida Gratis” is painted in bright letters along with painted fruits and vegetables. The fridge is bright and welcoming, along with the people who helped with its creation, but it also comes with a sense of urgency and fight.
Community fridges have been appearing more frequently along major coastal cities Los Angeles and NYC. Originating from NYC anarchist organizers, the community fridge movement has spread its wings to many California cities, including Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles. The fridges bring communities together for a common cause: to feed and nourish. Anyone in need can take as much as they want without questioning in order to establish community trust in one another.
With many fridges popping up all over California, I wanted to focus on the creation of a new one in Venice. In West Los Angeles specifically, the rising houselessness population demands a significant need for food services.
Many Los Angeles inhabitants will point to the city as a cause of this rise. This week I sat down with UC Davis student Al (they/them) to talk about their involvement in the creation of the fridge, and what it takes to establish one in the first place. “The city has failed so many during this crisis, and there’s a lot of NIMBY-ism” they said in regards to the city. “There’s a lack of infrastructure to help houseless people prevent houselessness to begin with.”
Al noted that it was difficult to find a place to host the fridge, and unfortunately they had to move spaces a few times. But they found that the organizer coalition “Street Watch LA” was a great way to connect with people who could help.
Finding the fridge on Craigslist or NextDoor tends to be the easier part. But organizing donations from people and businesses proves itself to be a little more difficult. (It’s important to note that during Covid-19, community fridge organizers have been very diligent about making sure the fridge is cleaned consistently and all food is sanitized and safe to eat. Organizers visit the fridge consistently to make sure it is taken care of and ready for servicing.)
In creating a community fridge, organizers have to navigate the non-hierarchical structure of community fridge organizing. The goal of the community fridge organizations are to be entirely mutual aid, rather than charity, so all leadership hierarchies are taken down. Volunteers must navigate how to delegate the work, as well as how much they are willing to contribute without over-stretching their ability.
“I always suggest that if someone wants to get this off the ground, they should designate someone to take the reins in distributing labor.” Al explained how important it was for people to be tasked with speaking to businesses and keeping in contact with them about what they could contribute. Community fridges thrive on donations, but especially on the participation of local restaurants and grocery stores with left-over food.
They recommended that for anyone interested in starting a community fridge to situate near a food bank and stay in close personal contact with businesses. One thing the Venice community fridge decided to do is to not establish themselves near a restaurant for various legal problems, but instead at Beyond Baroque, a community garden and local arts space. “It’s an ideal situation for people needing to put produce places” they said.
“There’s definitely been an outpouring of support, virtually and in real life.”
Venice Community Fridge is expected to be up and running soon, and if you would like to donate to the cause you can go to their GoFundMe, or get involved by donating food or your business services.
You can visit the Instagram @venicecommunityfridge to learn how to help, or @lacommunityfridges to learn more about community fridge developments in the broader Los Angeles area.