Oct. 9, 2020

Take what you need, leave what you can: The story of a Calgary community fridge

Mutual aid projects pop up as COVID-19 widens the wealth gap

Community fridges have popped up across Canada and the U.S. in a flurry this past summer. These DIY initiatives are mutual aid projects, where people take responsibility in caring for one another by a redistribution of wealth and resources.

Fridges are accessible 24/7 and housed outdoors, where users can take what they need, and leave what they can, no questions asked. Spaces are then meant to be restocked by anyone, anytime — neighbours, grocers, restaurants, businesses, families and friends across the city can donate food to stock the fridge in the same fashion.

Located at 902 Centre Street North, the Calgary Community Fridge has seen substantial use since it launched on Aug. 17, demonstrating a clear demand for the resource.  

A UCalgary community member, along with several friends, was inspired by the vibrantly painted and freshly stocked fridges in cities like Toronto and Chicago, where they saw a level of community care and food access so decidedly addressed. After an initial meeting in late July, the fridge opened to the public three weeks later, thanks to an outpouring of volunteer labour and donations.

  • Photo above: Community fridge organizers, from left: Sasha Lavoie, Jennifer Jetté, Megan Kirk, Alice Lam. Photo by team member James Hill

“Volunteering at the Distress Centre, working in mental health communications, seeing wealth disparities increase during COVID-19, and how adversely that impacts someone’s well-being were real motivating factors for me in getting this project off the ground,” says Sasha Lavoie, communications co-ordinator, Campus Mental Health Strategy, and Calgary Community Fridge co-founder.

Being able to obtain sustaining, nourishing food shouldn’t be a privilege. The idea of fresh produce sitting in a fridge, available to anyone at any time seemed like good temporary solution we could make happen.

The fridge has been running for close to two months now and has seen a bustle of activity. “Use of the Calgary Community Fridge has kind of been overwhelming,” says Lavoie. “We hosted a food drive in late September, and we’ve pretty much used every last item donated. That being said, we’re overblown in the best way by the support and feedback we’ve received from donors and fridge users.

"I was shocked by how many people donating to us mentioned that they themselves have faced food insecurities growing up and now are in a place where they want to give back.”

With cold weather approaching, the Community Fridge team is developing solutions to winterize the fridge. Ensuring that pantry items are protected from the elements and that the fridge maintains proper temperature all winter long are top priorities. In addition, to ensure COVID-19 safety regulations are met, a regular rotation of volunteers cleans and checks the fridge. Food donation guidelines in compliance with Alberta Health Services bylaws are posted outside the fridge and online 

Support the Calgary Community Fridge 

Interested in contributing to the Calgary Community Fridge? Here’s what you can do: 

  • Donate to the GoFundMe campaign.  
  • Bring food to the fridge to donate. 
  • Share the fundraiser, Instagram page or fridge information with your network. 

The Calgary Community Fridge supports United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 3 and 10. 

Learn more about UCalgary's Mental Health Strategy

The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a roadmap for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to be a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability.