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Love Fridges seek to nourish Chicago communities with food and support

Love Fridges seek to nourish Chicago communities with food and support
Love Fridges seek to nourish Chicago communities with food and support 05:13

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Love Fridge is celebrating its second year operating free community refrigerators around the city. 

Every several weeks, the Chicago Love Fridge sets up shop. They bring out their four-poster tents and fold-out lawn chairs, put up a few banners, lay out some refreshments, and invite the community out to learn about what they do; to hear about the resources they offer.

Most recently, the mutual-aid group held a community pop-up in Pilsen, in the park adjacent to the Museum of Mexican Art, just days before their two-year anniversary.

"We're here to activate the Pilsen community to let them know about the resources available to them, which is the Love Fridge on Blue Island, just south of 18th Street. So to learn about it as a resource, but also as something that I would benefit from more support in the community," said James Wurm, the organizer who hosted Chicago's first Love Fridge.  "[Being] a host entails having a location that you can host a refrigerator somewhere that has hopefully access to power supply, is facing a sidewalk, is accessible to anybody at 24 hours a day. I have an area on my property like that…it was my garage fridge and now it's the sidewalk fridge."

Since its inception in 2020, over two-dozen new Love Fridges have been set up in Chicago.

"Our primary objective is to engage the community to support the fridge locally. My fridge is very much supported by my neighbors, but also for use by my neighbors. And that means, if you're going grocery shopping, buying extra things to use at the fridge," said Wurm.

The Love Fridge says community outreach is one of the most effective ways to connect with the people who will be using and helping to supply the fridge. 

Similarly, the group relies on social media to spread the word about their work. It's how they were inspired to start their first Love Fridge.

"Really, this started on social media. We were inspired by community fridges that we saw popping up in Brooklyn, and understanding that that was actually a movement that was happening around the world, and we were activated to figure out how to get it going in Chicago," said Wurm. "Other people via social media learned about our organization, and were trying to get more involved with us and becoming hosts, contributing fridges, contributing moving fridges. People who are volunteering to build shelters, working with other organizations that might help support the fridges."

"Specifically for the Pilsen fridge, it's Chi Resists, it's the larger Love Fridge network. It's the Pilsen Solidarity Network, it's the Pilsen Food Pantry, it's the Pilsen Alliance, the Chicago State of Pandemic Response, even La Michoacana [Premium] leaves food so even just that one fridge, there are  more than ten groups that are looking out at different times to make sure that that fridge is being taken care of," said Amara "Rebel Betty" Martin, one of the managers of the Pilsen Love Fridge, at 1855 S Blue Island Ave, hosted by a local business called La Michoacana Premium.

"Really just being that in the neighborhood presence for the fridge and advocating for the fridge. And since there's 30 of them, we kind of each have to be active in our neighborhood to make sure that people are aware of it and taking care of it at the same time," said Martin.

The Love Fridge is majorly supplied by the community, though it has received some outside funding. Organizers say their hope is for the fridges to be a function of community activation and participation. 

"A lot of the donations are individual donations, but the main Love Fridge has received a couple of grants. The Pilsen fridge is operating food donations that come from the Chicago Food Sovereignty Coalition, which the Love Fridge is part of. Restaurant Rescue. Sometimes people go pick up food at restaurants or even stores that have extra food to pick up," said Martin. "Just a lot of individuals, I would say it's hundreds, hundreds of people who tap in periodically, but probably like a good core of people, like ten people who are day in and day out since the very beginning."

"Staff members are unpaid volunteers for those who want to tap in. You don't have to be a part of a group to pitch in with the fridges. I'm just a firm believer that not everybody has to be part of an org. We're kind of like loosely organized at work, so you don't necessarily have to be doing admin work to be a volunteer like you can just show up at your local fridge," Martin added.

"There's a lot of ways to be involved with the love fridge. The idea is that anyone who may want or need and it's no questions asked, we don't think anyone's need for food and it's freely accessible that that is there to be used for that purpose," said Wurm.

"But also, if you do have extra food or if you're interested in supporting that, you are you have a location where that's something that you can do in the neighborhood of Pilsen," said Wurm.

"A lot of times people think it's just something to take, but we really have to be reminding people that we need help cleaning it, that we need people to pick up food," said Martin.

For those looking to tap in and volunteer with the Love Fridge, social media is the best way to learn what the group is looking for and how volunteers can best help. 

"The origin of our group did start on social media and it's still a great way to reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook. But of course, we also have our website and that is where we have a map of all our refrigerators. But it's not just our refrigerators that we support in the Fridge network. We try to get knowledge about any other community fridge pantry set up and also include that on the map as well. We hope to learn more about what the needs are or how the love fridge can better support the community," said Wurm.

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