On Feb. 27, the Umoja Community Fridge opened on Jefferson Street near 22nd to provide 24/7 access to necessities like food, water, baby food, hygiene products and menstrual products. There are nearly 30 community fridges around Philadelphia where donations are needed.
Community fridges provide healthy resources to meet people’s basic needs, said Ajima Olaghere, a criminal justice professor. They act as a grassroots response to dire food insecurity, especially in neighborhoods where traditional forms of food assistance, like food banks, are difficult to access.
Even with the benefit of community fridges, North Philadelphia residents continue struggling to access nutritious and affordable food options. As a large institution in North Philadelphia, Temple should support community fridges by organizing events and donating funds and food, which would ensure these fridges are fully stocked with the resources that local residents need.
As a food desert, North Philadelphia has a lack of accessible, nutritious options, which often puts residents at an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and other health conditions.
Philadelphia has a food insecurity rate of 16.3 percent, according to Feeding America, a national network of food banks. Food prices in the city already rose by more than 8 percent between 2019 and 2021 and are expected to increase for at least the next six months due to inflation and supply chain issues.
With food prices soaring, the need for community fridges will rise as well. To meet increased demand, community members cannot be alone in supplying fridges while food prices continue to rise.
Community involvement is important in supplying fridges, said Kenny Chiu, a freshman urban studies major at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of Fridges and Family, a local community fridge, located in the 1940 Residence Hall.
“The community part is most important,” Chiu said. “If people have extra food, they can leave it in the fridge, and if people need to, they can check from the fridge 24/7.”
Because community fridges are informal, they can reach a broader range of people than traditional systems, said Philip Crosby, an adjunct architecture professor. They’re also more convenient than traditional systems as they don’t require traveling long distances or meeting government eligibility requirements.
“It might reach people who, for one reason or another, are shying away from the more structured systems that might be in place,” Crosby said.
However, high demand in communities can lead to community fridges running out of food before they’re replenished. Beyond purchasing foods, the organizations overseeing the fridges also need funding to run the fridge itself, like electricity to keep it running.
Because Temple has more funding than individual people to help community fridges, they must look to collaborate with these fridges either by assisting in the payments needed to maintain a fridge’s electrical costs, making monetary donations for the fridge’s supplies, or donating leftover food.
For example, the costs of starting a community fridge can range from $500 to $1,000 with electric bills typically costing $15 per month, Mashable reported. The steep costs might be unsustainable for residents who are already facing food insecurity, but manageable for a large university like Temple.
“Temple’s a part of that community, we are a neighbor,” Olaghere said. “And that with that comes specific responsibility and empathy for our neighbors, who look to us to be good neighbors.”
Temple’s mission statement focuses on opportunity, engagement and discovery, claiming the university has not strayed from its original mission and remains a beacon of public service, social activism and community engagement. However, the university cannot be called a beacon of public service or community engagement if they’re not making an effort to address food insecurity for full-time residents in addition to their students.
In February 2019, Temple created the Cherry Pantry to offer free, non-perishable food to students in need. However, students are allowed one visit to the Cherry Pantry per week and are limited in how many free items they’re allowed to take, according to Giving Temple.
Twenty-five percent of students at colleges in Philadelphia reported fearing they’d run out of food before they could buy more during the Fall 2020 semester, according to a May 2021 survey from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. Additionally, 26 percent reported being unable to afford balanced meals.
Philadelphia students are no strangers to food insecurity, and by supporting community fridges, Temple could help address the significant concerns students experience in affording nutritious meals.
Temples must take a leading role in providing consistent donations, monetary or otherwise, to community fridges to help fight food scarcity for their students and the communities they are part of.