By Taraneh Azar
April 21, 2021
The Jamaica Plain community fridge is officially back and better than ever.
Now located at 672 Center Street in the parking lot behind City Feed and Supply, the new fridge — complete with a housing shed and dry-goods pantry — is a testament to the resilience of community-based organizing and Boston-area mutual aid efforts.
By the people and for the people, the JP fridge, which is one of now nearly a dozen other Boston-area fridges in the decentralized mutual aid network, is completely free and available to any and everyone — no questions asked.
“There's nothing more important than making sure that people are fed, they have medicine, that they have shelter,” explained Rowan Walrath, a volunteer with the fridge who also helps run their social media accounts.
“And if we can feed people, and in doing so make sure that our whole community is fed and our whole community is coming together to communicate about the fridge and have something that is communal, then that's great.”
Stocked with contributions from volunteers, local businesses, and anyone walking by, the fridge is just one of countless community organized and led efforts to combat food insecurity in the face of the global pandemic. Take what you want and leave what you can.
“Our slogan is ‘Solidarity not charity,’” explained Josiel Gonzalez, co-founder and one of the main organizers of the fridge.
“What I really like about the mutual aid movement is that we don't make assumptions. We don't make assumptions on what the needs of the people are. We go directly to the people and ask. You know, this is a movement that's of the people and for the people.”
The Jamaica Plain community fridge was the first of its kind to pop up in the Boston area back in September. The first JP fridge operated for months outside of D’Friends Barber Shop and quickly inspired a network of similar free fridges and pantries to crop up around the greater-Boston area. A tragic traffic accident rendered the first fridge unusable, halting operations until now, but that didn’t stop volunteers from continuing to distribute food to other area fridges and assisting mutual aid efforts elsewhere.
“Everyone that's involved is genuinely invested in their community. And that's what I really, really love about it. At some point, we can't continue to rely on government assistance when it's just clear that it's not enough,” explained Gonzalez. “So it's, it's a way of leaning on one another and somehow finding a way to — given everybody's capacity and talents — help to make this world a better place. And also, with the understanding that maybe more communities can adopt this exact same thing that we're doing in JP or Roslindale or Dorchester, and we’re seeing that more and more.”
Thanks to the dedication of volunteers, the fridge is the direct product of crowd-funding and sourcing. It also speaks to the power of social media when utilized effectively to mobilize people and resources in pursuit of collective goals, as the fridge effort started through a series of Instagram posts and stories, bringing together people interested in combating food insecurity and giving back to the community.
“A lot of it is due to just a good team effort,” explained Veronica Bettio, co-founder and volunteer with the JP fridge, recalling all of the elements that came together to make the second fridge possible.
“I think it all just shows that people really want to just give things to each other for free and support each other.”
In addition to fighting food insecurity, free friendly fridges and pantries across the nation are also combating the massive amounts of food waste, a byproduct of late capitalism. As the people go hungry, state and local regulations often require stores and businesses to discard perfectly good food past a certain date. Teaming up with local businesses to intercept that waste and rather allocate it toward communities is just one step people are taking to drive change through community organizing.
“I always try to echo that our mission, yes, we want to help food insecurity. But we're also combating food waste,” explained Gonzalez. “I think it's something like 30% of food in America goes to waste every year. And when you think about how large our population is, 30% of food can do a lot. And we noticed that right away.”
Anyone can donate dry and canned goods, fresh veggies and fruits, bread, clearly labeled pre-made meals with ingredients, date made and expiration dates listed, frozen foods, water bottles and personal protective equipment (PPE). And anyone can visit the fridge for these goods and more.
If you are a business or organization that would like to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or message the team on social @bostoncommunityfridge.
You can also donate via Cash App $bostonfridge or PayPal (bostonfridge). The fridge is always looking for volunteers to join the effort and people are encouraged to join their organizing Slack channel or reach out via Instagram or email.
“It's amazing that people have continued to volunteer their time and their literal legwork to make sure the fridge is running,” added Walrath. “I think that’s something that from the outside you can't necessarily see. You don't think about the person who is wiping down the shelves and throwing out the expired food and things like that. But the day-to-day is what's really important.”
Community fridges also exist in Dorchester, Allston, the South End, Fenway, Cambridge, Somerville, Roslindale, Worcester and Roxbury. Additionally, Solidarity Supply Distro distributes free groceries outside of MakeShift Boston (549 Columbus Ave) every Monday at 4:30, no questions asked.
“I think if anything, seeing that ripple effect, creates a huge momentum,” explained Gonzalez.
“I think that hopefully, [mutual aid] can start to be more widely implemented, and also just change the conversation to—instead of ‘What can the government do for us?’—like, ‘What can we do for our people? What can we do for one another?’ Because it's community. It's like family at the end of the day.”