You may have seen them around town — fridges and pantries in front of homes and businesses stocked with food for anyone who needs it. It’s a simple concept: People can take what they need, and leave what they can for others. Through these free fridges and pantries, communities are creating ways to help their neighbors find nutritious food hyper-locally. We talked to PDX Free Fridge and Beaverton Food Project, two organizations working to establish a network of mutual aid spots to share food and other necessities.
How it works
At fridges and pantries, you’ll find food like vegetables, fruit, protein, snacks, as well as cooked meals, as long as they are labeled with ingredients and date. Some spots may also have hygiene and menstruation products, clothes, and small personal items like gloves for pickup. (Check the PDX Free Fridge and Beaverton Food Project websites for drop-off guidelines as not all spots allow drop offs due to space, and have consolidated spots for non-food donations.) What’s in the fridge or pantry will depend on what was dropped off recently; donations of any size are welcome.
All pantries and fridges are hosted by community members, and volunteers frequently check and clean the fridges and pantries. People come by and pick up what they need anonymously.
According to the Oregon Hunger Task Force, currently 1 in 4 Oregonians is food insecure. Communities of color and single mothers experience hunger at rates 2 to 3 times higher than the general population. Recent layoffs and unemployment have contributed to greater need for support in our local communities.
“The economic impact of the pandemic, for one, revealed just how little security and support communities have,” volunteers from the Beaverton Food Project say.
Tougher times brought on by the pandemic have contributed to the growth of pantries, but so has local interest in mutual aid efforts. Mutual aid is an ongoing commitment to sharing and community interconnectedness, not just temporary remedies for crises or a form of charity. According to volunteers at PDX Free Fridge, direct aid and working with your neighbors and community is necessary.
Is there enough for everyone?
Some people have wondered if others can take advantage of an open system like this.
Volunteers from PDX Free Fridge say it is not possible to take too much: “If someone has a need for those items, then they should take them! We love to see that people are using the fridges and getting some of their needs met. Our community can continually restock the fridges and pantries.” When a pantry or fridge is running low, the organizations sometimes share a post on social media letting followers know which location needs food.
“We want the pantries themselves to be community spaces, which means that community members are being respectful to one another and moving with an intention of care,” volunteers from the Beaverton Food Project say. “To us that looks like making sure that the spaces are judgement-free places where people can take what they need and not feel shame around it. This builds trust.”
The growth and impact of free pantries
Over the past months, the number of fridges and pantries has grown, with PDX Free Fridge and Beaverton Food Project often sharing new spots on their social media channels and adding them to their maps.
For those who are accessing food, community fridges and pantries offer a way to meet their needs locally, without judgement or bureaucracy. On their Instagram account, PDX Free Fridge shared a sample of notes they’ve received from people expressing gratitude for the ability to access food at a time when they needed it the most. Some hoped that they could donate food to the pantry in the future.
As need — and interest in helping our communities — continues to grow, both organizations are working to add more food sites and looking to the future. PDX Food Fridge is coordinating ways to have wish lists installed at the fridges, and Beaverton Food Project is planning to publish another zine this spring.
“The whole process has been incredibly supported and generative,” Beaverton Food Project volunteers say, “We are continually amazed by the support and attention these fridges and pantries have received, and we think that their expansion speaks to just how necessary this kind of aid is. And it speaks to the capacity of communities to show up for one another when given the opportunity.”
Find a fridge, read community guidelines, learn about dropping off food, volunteering, donating money or starting a fridge or pantry:
Follow the organizations on social media for updates and needs: