By Sandra Sunil
Imagine a space where people can take surplus food items, and the community replenishes it with surplus food every day. Well, this is precisely what the PEI Community Fridge is about.
The PEI Community Fridge stemmed from hearing the struggles individuals and families went through to get access to food, especially cooked meals, during 4 Love 4 Care’s monthly meal events. The barriers to food security on PEI were also highlighted in the research conducted by PROOF between 2017 and 2018, which showed 1 in 5 children on PEI lives in households reporting some food insecurity - this is particularly true for single-parent led families.
Although the rooted and systemic challenges (i.e poverty) people face with food security must be addressed, the need to fill the gap still exists. It is crucial to have a resource that is accessible and there is no stigmatization of food aid.
So, when there is a vast surplus of food that gets thrown out without ever being eaten, why not redistribute the safe, good, and surplus food items to those that need it. According to the research conducted by the National Zero Waste Council in 2017, 63% of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten. This suggests that the average Canadian household wasted 140 kilograms of food per year.
Wasting food means we are wasting the resources used to grow, produce, and distribute that food to consumers. Getting food from farm to table, and then managing or disposing of food as waste, also has a significant carbon footprint – contributing to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Canada’s 2.2 million tonnes of avoidable household food waste is equivalent to 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 and 2.1 million cars on the road! Diverting food waste to composting is better than sending it to a landfill, but preventing food from being wasted in the first place is an even better way to lessen our impact on the environment.
Community Fridges are one tried and tested way of stopping good food from ending up in the bin. A successful Community Fridge will cut food waste, build stronger bonds within the community, and provide people with nutritious, perishable food items.
Community fridges are also different from existing food aid organizations and resources because they enable local businesses and members of the community to donate fresh good-quality surplus food, which would be otherwise wasted, and makes it freely available for community members to come and collect. This allows individuals to access food in a dignified manner and addresses the stigmatization of food aid.
In addition, a community fridge in the neighbourhood means that neighbours take action in ways to support each other. If someone is hungry or thirsty, there is an autonomous space where they can have direct access to the things they may need. If they have access to food, water, groceries, or money, the same free space is available for them to directly impact the community.
With the generous contributions of community members and local groups on PEI, the PEI Community Fridge was formed and opened on August 8, 2021. It is located in the parking lot of the Parkdale Sherwood Lions Club Bingo Hall (46 Valley St, Charlottetown) on the corner of Queen St. and Connolly St. The fridge is a 24/7 autonomous and inclusive outdoor space where people can take what they need and give what they can - no questions asked.
Since the opening of the PEI Community Fridge space on August 8, 2021, we have seen the fridge used by many individuals and families. The community also continues to replenish the space as the items are taken at least within 2 to 3 hours. For example, we have provided over 200 individually-packed meals and approximately $1,000.00 worth of food within the first two weeks.
Without the contributions of volunteers and community members, this would not be possible. As the foundation for the project is built on neighbours supporting neighbours, the fridges are completely run by volunteers. This promotes a sense of community as people come together to get produce, stock the fridge, and organize community gardens. Everyone has their part to play. Hence, the project is not charity-led and reflects the values of dignity, inclusion and accessibility.
There are still several ways to help and contribute to the PEI Community Fridge. For instance, you can drop off any of the acceptable items, such as fruits, vegetables, cooked meats, dry and canned goods, bottled water, single-serving snacks, juices, and more. You can sign-up to volunteer to keep the space tidy, pick up food donations, or help with organizing events by contacting us via email at email@example.com. You can also donate to the GoFundMe page at https://gofund.me/1c5757ae. Most importantly, you share with your friends and family about the PEI Community and follow us on Facebook or Instagram (@peicommunityfridge) to stay in the loop with all future updates.
The PEI Community Fridge is for everyone and we are all making a difference together.
Sandra Sunil is founder and president of 4 Love 4 Care, a non profit community group on PEI and also co-founder of the recently opened PEI Community Fridge. Sandra is a graduate of Dalhousie University and is currently studying Public Health at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador.