“FREE99FRIDGE BRINGS MUTUAL AID, COMMUNITY FRIDGES & LOVE TO ATLANTA“
Wholesome Wave Georgia and Free99Fridge have a shared mission to match food insecure families with fresh, nourishing food.
WWG partners with 68 local farms and markets so that SNAP recipients can purchase $1 worth of farm fresh produce for every 50 cents spent using their EBT card.
Latisha Springer strolls into the Community Movement Builders’ vegetable garden and the sunny, blue sky day becomes even brighter. The founder of the Atlanta metro area’s Free99Fridge project exudes hope and possibility before she even speaks a word. Dressed in cheery leggings, a Free99Fridge t-shirt, colorful head wrap, and the eponymous face mask, her inviting energy fills the outdoor space. We have met at one of the fridges so I can learn about the project.
During the summer months of 2020, Latisha marched with protesters for social justice and Black Lives Matter. While she found participating in the collective movement meaningful, she longed for evidence that her actions made a concrete, observable difference to people who were suffering. Mulling on the essence of healing and wellbeing, she realized the critical nature of certain fundamental requirements: nourishing food, positive connection, and community.
A meal meets “a basic need [that’s] connected to everything else,” she says. “If there’s a mom that we give dinner to, then she can feed her family and use the money she would have used on food to pay her rent. Then her kid has a place to live, and then that kid has a stable home to do better in school. You know, it’s all connected. It’s not just about food.”
From this blossomed the Free99Fridge project and her first community ‘solidarity’ refrigerator, which is “providing support, much needed resources, and just love. So many people are hurting right now.”
Free99Fridge is part of a nationwide grassroots effort to assure everyone has access to fresh, nourishing food. Latisha explained that the free community fridge movement is inspired by food insecure families, a number that has grown exponentially as a result of the pandemic. According to NPR, nearly 1 in 4 families in the U.S. have encountered hunger this year. New Orleans, New York, Boston, Oakland, and Atlanta are a few of the cities with volunteer-driven community fridges housed in a shelter and placed in a public space. Volunteers contribute food and/or personal hygiene items, and anyone may freely access a fridge. The rallying mantra is, “Leave what you can, take what you need.”
Latisha stresses that this is mutual aid, not charity. She explains that the give and take has a positive ripple effect. “One person shares their head of broccoli. Then that person helps another person, and that person helps another person …” It’s like passing on a smile: both the giver and the taker benefit. “We all have a role to play,” she says. “Everyone can contribute.”.
Important to note is that the Free99Fridge project is not a non-profit or charitable organization “We are an LLC,” says Latisha. “It’s really important to me … for this to be people-centered and people driven.” She wants to assure that everyone, regardless of circumstances, feels welcome at any of the six locations. Latisha emphasizes through community education and awareness raising that they are not limited to serving a homeless population. Many who have roofs over their heads periodically don’t have enough to eat or have more than they need. “It’s food sharing. A lot of us have abundance and we don’t even recognize it. Every little bit counts.”
The six Free99Fridge locations contain a donated refrigerator that is housed in an artfully designed, hand constructed, and painted shelter. There is room for a grocery bag dispenser, shelves for dry goods with a door to protect them from weather, and a sanitation station with running water and soap. Each is named after an African American who tragically lost their life to unwarranted violence. George [Floyd] is near his namesake memorial on Edgewood at the Joystick Gamebar. The twin fridges, Tamir (Rice) and Elijah (McClain) reside by Best End Brewery. Michael (Brown) is at Lost-and-Found Youth Thrift Store on Chantilly, and Korryn (Gaines) is on Hosea Williams Drive at Poor Hendrix.
At the Community Movement Builders’ garden, “the donor named … the refrigerator Sandra” after Sandra Bland. “All of the refrigerators are named after someone we lost. And so the Hodgepodge location is named after Breonna Taylor – that one’s pink and gold. All of the fridges are different colors. It’s really important to me that this be like a colorful, happy manifestation of what we have going on here.”
Latisha unwittingly prepared herself perfectly for this project. She holds two bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Florida in Business Management and Business Marketing, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Georgia. She is a consultant in operations management, logistics, and marketing as well as a realtor. She has an artist’s eye for color and design, and she brought all of her expertise and experience to Free99Fridge. Nevertheless, she laughs, “this is a complete social experiment! I have never done this before. We are still learning.”
The organization was founded just months ago on July 19, 2020. “I wanted one fridge and I got seven!”
She posts everything on the Free99Fridge Instagram page, including pleas to the community to fill an empty fridge or to support the organization financially through Venmo, Cash App, or GoFundMe, and the community provides. “It magically appears!” However, Latisha observes, “At this point the community is not quite meeting demand,” at the empty fridges, “so we have to grocery shop.”
Volunteers do ‘wellness’ checks on the fridges several times daily to see that they are properly stocked, tidy, and clean. Latisha requires that the fridges and pantries look nice and that the food is wholesome and accurately labeled. These are gifts for the soul as well as the body, she observes.
“It’s so important to me that we provide high quality, good food … It should be a beautiful experience for the community to come in and shop the fridges. I’m also very strict about what we accept and what we don’t.” Posted on each fridge is a list of acceptable items to guide the giver.
Instagram followers help connect Free99Fridge with those who can stock the fridges, volunteer, or otherwise help. Along with a steady stream of individuals providing grocery items, money, handyman and artist skills, and volunteer time, restaurants such as Souper Jenny and B.A.D. Gyal Vegan, contribute frozen complete individual meals. Businesses support in a variety of ways, like the cool sticker logos on the fridges by She Prints it or the food provided by Eco Paradigm. Postmates’ Food Fight program picks up excess food at restaurants in the West End to deliver straight to the nearby fridge for free. Nonprofits with overlapping goals, like Umi Feeds, Chris 180, Fully Furnished Ministries, Everybody Eats Atlanta and Gwinnett’s Impact Church, participate in stocking the fridges. Love Beyond Walls partnered with Latisha to provide the sanitation stations.
“We’re all doing it in different ways, but we’re all trying to alleviate food insecurity and bring good quality food to others.”
Free99Fridge also loosely partners with local farms to stock the fridges with fresh produce. Volkstuin Farms in Austell provided a fridge. A member of the local farm community saw Latisha’s posts on Instagram and shared them to the Georgia Farmers Market Association social media, which “exists to promote healthy communities by connecting people to food systems.” Aluma Farm, A Sip of Paradise, and Gangstas to Growers, among others, responded to that post and have given from their abundance as often as they can. “I just ask them that if they have extra, please put it in the fridges.” Maurice Small helped her move six of the seven fridges. “Maurice is the One Man Show,” Latisha says with a broad smile. “He’s amazing.”
Latisha feels strongly about the social justice issue of food insecurity, where food is fundamental to the health of an individual and healthy individuals are vital to a thriving community. Regarding the term ‘food deserts,’ she holds that the better term is ‘food apartheid.’ “‘Food deserts’ sounds naturally occurring. This is human made.”
Looking around the garden where we sit, Latisha sees a tangible example of tending something positive and compares it to her goals for Free99Fridge. “That’s why I call them fridge ‘plantings,’” she says. “It is a seed and it is the beginning of something bigger … You know it all adds up to make a big impact on the community. It’s a mind shift that has to happen here to get the community fridge going and to keep it going.”
We “are literally growing community and love.”
More information about Free99Fridge can be found here.
Original Article: https://www.wholesomewavegeorgia.org/blog/free99fridge