New East Falls community fridge helps fight food insecurity
Deanna Marshall doesn’t consider herself the founder of the East Falls Community fridge, just a neighbor who first put out the call and helped organize the initial efforts. For her, the fridge (and pantry) in front of Vault and Vine flower shop (3507 Midvale Avenue) is a neighborhood effort that couldn’t have happened without the overwhelming response she’s seen from all corners of the Falls.
Oats, fruits, vegetables, canned goods, milk, fresh-baked bread, and even homemade meals have filled the shelves on a regular basis since the fridge began operating in early January. One neighbor went a step further and created the shelving for the pantry (check out the cool welding pic on the East Falls Fridge Facebook page) while another volunteer created a website (and took over hosting).
For Deanna, it’s a heartwarming effort that’s boosted the sense of community she always felt in the Falls. “We knew it was a tight-knit community the moment we first moved here a year ago” she said. “But the COVID lockdowns and social distancing had us feeling a bit separated from our neighbors.” The fridge rekindled that community spirit, generating offers of help from “so many people we’d never met. People who had nothing else in common other than they live here and care deeply about this place.”
Community fridges have been popping up all over Philadelphia (one of the poorest big cities in the nation), but the main inspiration for Deanna was the Germantown Community Fridge. She first encountered it when she lived on the border of Germantown and East Falls. Located in front of the Greene Street Friends School, it drew Deanna’s attention immediately.
“I’ve believed for a long time that food is a human right and the fridge provided a direct way to get high quality, fresh food into people’s hands as quickly as possible.” She and her husband shopped specifically for the fridge and donated any leftover produce from their CSA (community supported agriculture) orders. She then got to know Jane Ellis, the fridge’s founder, and sought advice about how to create a community fridge in East Falls.
“The great thing about community fridges is that no matter what section of the city they’re in, they all cooperate whether it’s food or ideas. Fighting food insecurity is a shared mission that we’re all passionate about.” Case in point: as the East Falls fridge has picked up momentum, and donors, Deanna occasionally delivers excess donations up the road to the Germantown fridge.
“We’re fortunate and unfortunate to have so many donations that they occasionally exceed our capacity,” she said. “It’s great to have so much food for people (and volunteers to lend a hand with the fridge) but now we have to work harder to get the word out to those who need it.” It’s a “problem” she thinks will balance out as outreach efforts evolve. “We’re in the early stages, when there are plenty of volunteers and contributions, we just haven’t gotten the message to enough people yet who might need it.”
And the people in need can often be surprising, she adds. Even though East Falls has many university students because of its proximity to Jefferson, “we know that about 40% of undergrads at 4-year institutions are food insecure.” There’s also the demographic of our neighborhood, which she describes as a “mixed income community” which means there are people at all income levels to both fill and use the fridge.
COVID has added to the difficulties of both students and neighbors who’ve lost income, causing many to make difficult choices regarding rent and food. Others have been more fortunate. “In many ways it’s a perfect neighborhood for a mutual aid effort.” For Deanna, mutual aid is a “lovely idea” and the main goal of the fridge. It’s not charity – it’s about neighbors working together to ensure everyone is able to eat well always.
Got some spare time or food? Whether it’s tending to the fridge, donating items, or helping with community/business outreach, the community fridge team could use your help. (Feel free to suggest other ways to help too. Deanna’s been pleasantly surprised by community generated ideas, so feel free to pitch her if you’ve got a good one!)
Find EF’s Community Fridge at the entrance of Vault + Vine flower shop cafe at 3507 Midvale Avenue. For more information, visit eastfallscommunityfridge.com where you can also click a handy form to volunteer. Follow @east falls community fridge on Instagram and Facebook! Venmo: efcommunityfridge.
For food donations, anyone can contribute any time they’d like. Please ensure that perishable foods are fresh (with at least a few days before the listed expiration). NOTE: In addition to the fridge, there’s also a generous pantry area for cans, dry goods and other non-perishables.
GERMANTOWNERS — You’ve got not one but two community fridges standing by for donations and, of course, to help any neighbors in need. One is at 20 West Armat (GSF) and the other is 19 East High Street. Big thanks and praise to everyone pitching in to fight food insecurity.