By Francess Dunbar
Millions of Americans take advantage of their local food bank every year, and that number has only grown during the pandemic (1). Cook County alone has almost 800,000 food insecure residents, a more than fifty percent increase since 2018 (2). But difficulties with distribution and social distancing have created new lines and delays at pantries even as rising unemployment has increased demand, and the older volunteer base which often sustains food distribution organizations has been forced inside indefinitely. The public transportation systems which patrons of food pantries often depend on have become vectors of transmission.
Like so many other areas of life, COVID-19 has forced food justice initiatives to reconsider how they were operating and localizing their distribution networks. One way this has taken shape in Chicago is through the growth of community-sustained neighborhood refrigerators which depend on mutual aid from members of the neighborhood instead of formalized networks of food distribution. Known as Love Fridges, they’re usually decorated by local artists and offer people who are experiencing food insecurity a way to get groceries for the week or just a snack without having to fill out any paperwork or interact with the structure of a formal pantry or food bank.
Because they are located across neighborhoods in Chicago and require no interaction, they are also a resource for those with limited mobility who may struggle to physically get to a food bank or sign up for a delivery online. They’re almost all available 24/7, which helps working families and those with children in school who may be unable to get to a pantry within normal business hours. Those experiencing homelessness also benefit, as there is no need to fill out paperwork or provide an address to justify receiving food. They’re often hidden in plain sight, stashed behind homes or under overhangs in alleys - one is even located in a Korean taco place in West Town.
While researching for this article, I was surprised to find that there was a fridge located just a few blocks from me, which was badly in need of cleaning. Love Fridges don’t require as much volunteer labor as a normal pantry, and they ask for only what you can give - whether that’s some extra staples from your last grocery run or forty-five minutes of scrubbing. On the Love Fridge website, you can look at the map of locations near you and see if they are in need of a volunteer checkup - almost all of them were, when I checked. One could be just around the corner from you - so grab an extra can of beans and some cleaning supplies and go on a walk in your neighborhood this afternoon. You never know who you might be able to help along the way.
1. "Hunger Statistics, Hunger Facts & Poverty Facts | Feeding America." Feeding America. http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/hunger-and-poverty-statistics.aspx.
2. Pena, Mauricio. “Chicago Is Experiencing The Biggest Hunger Crisis In Decades Because Of Coronavirus—And The Recovery Could Take Years.” Block Club. https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/12/23/chicago-is-experiencing-the-biggest-hunger-crisis-in-decades-because-of-coronavirus-and-the-recovery-could-take-years/#:~:text=on%20Tuesday%2C%20Dec.-,22.,people%20in%20the%20United%20States. Published Dec 23, 2020. Accessed February 4, 2020.