Food insecurity is the inability of citizens to have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. It is present in every county in the United States. The solutions range from federal initiatives such as free lunch and after-school snack programs at public schools and WIC and SNAP dollars to help with groceries, to food pantries and mobile grocery stores serving local communities. New Venture Advisors is fortunate to work with many of the people, communities, and organizations working to mitigate the impacts of food insecurity at the community level, work that requires substantial funding, staffing, programming, and planning.

In order to offer free services, food access programs rely on funding, and some of these sources may limit an organization’s ability to serve food to all because funding is prioritized or targeted to certain population segments. It is not uncommon for an individual to be food insecure yet ineligible for SNAP, making it difficult for them to receive food access support. And many community-level programs are only available during limited opening hours or on certain days of the week because of the cost to operate more regularly.

As the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020 disrupted supply chains and usual food systems, the community fridge model began popularizing as a 24/7 low-barrier-to-entry option for folks looking to share or receive food. Hopefully, they are here to stay.


What is a Community Fridge?

A community fridge is any refrigerator or refrigerator/freezer combo placed somewhere the public can readily access. They can be seen on sidewalks or near grocery stores. Anyone in the community can stock the fridge with fresh produce, packaged foods, and frozen items for anyone to take without limit and free of charge, garnering these fridges the nickname “freedges.”

Organized community groups or volunteers generally manage fridge programs. Because they require a power source, they are often located on the premises of a service agency or community center. This community-organized micro-infrastructure mitigates food waste, extends the time period when free food is readily available, and offers a low-management strategy to address food insecurity.


Setting Up a Community Fridge

Before setting up a fridge program, there are a few things to consider.

    • Liability: Donation rules and foods accepted vary by location, but the USDA does provide guidelines through the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This act protects folks donating food in good faith from liability (USDA).
    • Placement: Fridges are often placed in areas with high foot traffic to encourage more engagement and easy access.
    • Stocking: Volunteers may contact local businesses and organizations to help repackage & redirect foods or pick up and transport extra foods.
    • Community Rules: Instructions and guidelines are often posted on or adjacent to the fridge encouraging volunteers, nearby food businesses, and passers-by to donate.
    • Maintenance: One organization usually manages a volunteer team for cleaning and inventory control.
The Cost Factor

While these are low-barrier solutions, they still come with expenses affiliated with set-up and ongoing maintenance, including:

    • Building a fridge shelter — Fridges and their wiring should be protected from the elements and critters on the ground. A simple wooden structure to lift and surround the fridge will usually suffice.
    • Initial refrigerator purchase cost (unless donated) — Buying a secondhand fridge will add to the program’s environmental sustainability. It can be a standard household fridge, but a display fridge from a grocery store is sure to draw more engagement when possible.
    • Electricity — Often, a business may be willing to sponsor a fridge and cover the utilities, but if not, a consistent power source is needed to ensure project sustainability.
    • Maintenance — The fridge may need to be serviced or cleaned. While the community can help keep the fridge clean and dispose of spoiled food, it’s still important to have an individual or organization in charge to oversee it.
    • Repackaging — When farms or food rescue organizations donate food, it may need to be divided and repackaged to make storing and taking home easier.

There are many options for funding, including local community foundations, business sponsorships, or other food access initiatives. If a community fridge is part of a more extensive solution addressing food access, check out New Venture Advisors’ Good Food Funding Guide for additional suggestions.


Examples of Community Fridges

The Love Fridge Chicago is establishing a network of community fridges around the Windy City. This mutual aid organization partners with businesses, farms, markets, and restaurants to keep the fridges full and the community fed. Local artists paint fridges to reflect the communities in which they live. The newly introduced Love Fridge Culinary Kits Initiative distributes pre-packaged food kits containing portable kitchen tools, allowing individuals without access to a kitchen to cook food anywhere.

Neighborhood Fridge is a grassroots organization based in Orlando that combats food insecurity and waste in underserved communities in Central Florida by creating a decentralized network of community fridges and pantries. In addition to relying on donations from individuals and local businesses, they rescue food that would otherwise go to waste. For those with limited access to transportation, they offer delivery distributions from the fridge whenever possible.

Friendly Fridge Foundation hosts the first community fridge in the Bronx. Since its inception in 2020, the Fridge has redirected 60,000 pounds of healthy produce and prepared meals per month away from landfills. The fridge feeds more than 1,800 people a week and is stocked through partnerships with over 25 schools, pantries, community centers, restaurants, catering companies, farms, CSAs, and other organizations.


Community fridges that are clearly marked and explained offer easy opportunities for anyone to help reduce hunger. They enable organizations to extend food availability beyond staffing hours, create new outlets for rescued food, and offer food 24/7 to folks in any community. Look for existing community fridges near you and see how you can participate. Or if you are thinking about starting a fridge program in your community, check out these resources to help you get started.


Image: 5D Media via Shutterstock

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)