Are community fridges in Hamilton a step towards resolving food insecurity?
Community Fridges HamOnt makes food more accessible within the Hamilton community.
Community fridges are free, accessible fridges holding food for the community to take and replenish. Community Fridges HamOnt does this within Hamilton
, at three different locations.
Jacqueline Cantar, one of the founders and program coordinators, and the team began their work in the midst of the pandemic, near the end of 2020, when food insecurity was a highly debated issue. The Community Fridges HamOnt team is entirely volunteer-based, contributing whatever resources they have to keep the fridges functional.
“Community Fridges HamOnt is a mutual aid group in Hamilton. We are not a charity organization; we are entirely volunteer, community run. That means we are just neighbors looking out for each other and trying to contribute whatever it is we have available,” said Cantar.
Their goal for the fridge is to make food accessible within the community. They keep the fridges open 24/7 to ensure that people can come and stop by when it is convenient for them. Additionally, a lack of restrictions encourages people to give and take where they can.
“It’s just about assessing about what you have that you can share, and also taking what you need when you need something,” said Cantar.
The initial community fridge in Hamilton was inspired by Community Fridges Toronto which began in summer 2020. The Community Fridges HamOnt team started with a simple group chat, comprised of strangers who wanted to make a change. Together, with lots of planning, they opened their first community fridge in Hamilton.
Social media was also vital in making their vision a reality.
“We started as a group chat of people who didn’t necessarily know each other but wanted to organize and at least launch the first community fridge which then pretty quickly turned into three locations—just by utilizing group chats and social media,” said Cantar.
To maintain the fridges, several factors are involved. Namely, the fridges all follow and keep up-to-date with the public health guidelines. Their volunteers also visit locations one to three times a day to ensure the fridges are filled with food that is safe to eat and can be stored for longer periods of time.
“We as an organization work together to create donation guidelines that’s in reference to public health guidelines as well. All of our community fridges are public health certified. We have a huge volunteer team that’s really committed to keeping things clean and safe,” said Cantar.
Fridges like these are very important for the ever-present issue that is food insecurity. In 2021 the Hamilton Food Share found a regular visit to a foodbank usually means getting food that could support them three to five days, however, 61% of people go to a food bank only once a month usually not getting enough for the periods in between.
Cantar speaks to how the community fridges are not the solution to food insecurity, just a step in the right direction. Although the community fridge can help someone at a particular moment, there are other ways to support people experiencing food insecurity so they don’t have to rely on community fridges. Issues like minimum wage and affordable housing also have an effect on someone's ability to get food.
“Community fridges are a really good example of the ways of people can come together and take care of each other. But we do need our government to make changes that can actually provide concrete solutions to the problems that are continuing to get worse for people that are in need,” said Cantar.
Community Fridges HamOnt provides Hamiltonians with a safe way to collect and donate food and support the local community. It sets a path for sustainable food sharing and contributes to the fight for tackling food insecurity. Nonetheless, it is still important to remember this is not a solution and bigger changes at the policy and government levels need to be made.