December 14, 2020

Chicago’s Love Fridge is Tackling Food Insecurity During Pandemic

By Jenny Aleman and Monserrat Dominguez

love fridge photo


The Love Fridge outside Marz Community Brewing after getting its new shelter for the winter. (Photo/Love Fridge)

Little Village, Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Back of the Yards residents pass by “love fridges” on the streets each day.

The Love Fridge Chicago community organization is a collective that practices mutual aid grounded in food. Residents are allowed to take what they need from the community refrigerators and are also encouraged to leave what they can. 

Mutual aid as opposed to things like charity or non-profit refers to the community coming together to help one another while acknowledging that the society they live in was not built to meet those needs for them.  Like most mutual aid movements, the Love Fridge Chicago centers on practicing correlative and collective care for one another. Therefore, the Love Fridge is solely funded by donations. 

Because the Love Fridge collective emphasizes the concept of mutual aid, Eric Von Haynes of the Flatland Press and a co-founder of the Love Fridgesaid, “A big hurdle is always making sure you’re not doing charity. Not dictating what people need.”

Love Fridge During a Pandemic

For the people from the Love Fridge Chicago, Chicago communities seemed to be dealing with food insecurity at an all-time high rate.  According to Feeding America, more than 54 million people may have suffered food insecurity this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Due to the economic downturn of coronavirus, many individuals in Chicago neighborhoods have suffered from a lack of access to food.

The main communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic have mostly been in Black and Latino neighborhoods which is where most of the communal fridges have currently been placed. There are 18 total fridges around Chicago alone.  

This is why they focus a lot of their efforts on the South and West sides, said Ash Godfrey, one of the core organizers. The first-ever Love Fridge was actually set up in Little Village in July 2020, where today, its residents are: 84% Latino, 77% Mexican/Mexican American, 12% African American and 39% foreign-born. 

“Little Village has been the most amazing and supportive community …  we really wouldn’t be where we are without their support,” Godfrey said.. 

It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the main reasons why these communal fridges have been needed to begin with. However, it has also been holding the Love Fridge collective back from acting on other communal efforts they have decided they want to do. 

“If COVID wasn’t around, I think our team would be more on the ground,” Godfrey said. “Doing more within the communities, specifically in like Black and Brown communities.”

How It Works

The communal fridges are made possible thanks to The Love Fridge volunteers, along with the residents of the community where the love fridge was placed. The way it all comes together depends on what Eric Von Haynes, the co-founder of The Love Fridge, refers to as the three tiers of the program. 

The first tier refers to the residents who volunteer a piece of their land so that the fridges can be placed there. These residents also supply the power and are overall recognized as “hosts.”

Hosts are essential when it comes to helping this movement stay legal. Because the fridges are placed in private property, no permit from the city is needed which makes it possible to set many more of them.

Although everyone from the residents to businesses are encouraged to donate food, all of the fridges themselves have been solely donations by the community. After receiving the fridges, The Love Fridge collective building team build the shelter around the fridge so that it is protected from things like the sun.

The second tier refers to “dirt farms, star farms … where they supply food or make gardens for their community. And now they have a fridge to do surplus and has a dry pantry,” Haynes said.

Residents are allowed to take what they need from what is in these fridges, as well as encouraged to leave what they can. This motivates not only residents to drop off food but also nearby businesses with food surplus. Thanks to the Love Fridges, these neighborhoods are able to deal with issues like food waste along with food insecurity.

Despite wanting to accept all that they can, The Love Fridge does provide “food guidelines” that food donors are expected to follow. These guidelines include acceptable and unacceptable food donations and fridge etiquette.

The guidelines also include the COVID-19 precautions such as wearing a mask, wearing gloves when taking/dropping off food, and ensuring that peoples’ hands are clean and sanitized. One can find these guidelines posted on the fridge itself or beforehand on the Love Fridge website. Despite these guidelines, the Love Fridge collective tries to be as accessible to the community as possible. 

“There’s no discrimination between who eats, it’s free food for all people,” said Ramon “Radius” Norwood, the founder of The Love Fridge. 

The third and final tier would be retail locations such as popular Chicago restaurants. “We got Honey Butter, Dill Pickle … these venues for multiple reasons have partnered with us to serve food within their footprint,” Haynes said.

Despite this, making the Love Fridge movement function is not an easy three-step plan. There are things the organizers worry about from time to time that residents might not even think about.

 “We don’t have permits. There are no laws saying we can’t do it but there are definitely no laws necessarily protecting us. We just have the support of the communities.” Godfrey said.

The Love Fridge is a community effort as much as it is for the community. It is not to be thought of as only for those in “need” but for everyone. 

The Aftermath

When it comes to the communities’ responses to the Love Fridges, there have been some shocking responses by a few residents. However, Godfrey mentioned they mainly come from the older generation. 

“I think the people who are the most shocked by this are older people,” she said. “Especially people within the communities kind of seeing like ‘oh people care’ and people are willing to put their ass on the line to help other people.”

Unlike other community projects, they have had a lack of vandalism and even a lack of neighborhood complaints. Because of these optimistic responses and engagement, the communal fridges have been able to move forward and help many other neighborhoods during the pandemic. 

“People seeing these fridges is eye-opening and the fact that I don’t think a lot of people realize. That people still struggle to eat and feed themselves. [The Love Fridges are] a reminder that that’s a reality,” Godfrey said. 

Having fridges with free food allows each community to become familiar with the mutual aid concept and hopefully carry it with them everywhere they go. What better way to do that than through food? Just like Norwood and Von Haynes said:

“Food is love.” 

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