The Love Fridge Chicago Sets Up Neighborhood Pantries to Combat Food Insecurity

The concept couldn’t be simpler: If you need food, take food. If you have food, leave what you can.

While community food fridges have existed for quite a while in Europe and other countries to address food waste, The Love Fridge, a volunteer-run food sharing collective, came to Chicago in June to help fight food insecurity created by the pandemic.

What is The Love Fridge Chicago?

Currently in 17 neighborhoods, including Englewood, Back of the Yards, South Shore and Pilsen, these locations are strategically chosen based on need. According to a recent study by NPR, Harvard and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in six Chicago households cannot afford both bills and food.

Each Love Fridge is warm and inviting, painted by local artists. The phrase “free food” is prominent on every fridge in English and Spanish. All Love Fridges are located on host sites on private property and the majority are open 24 hours a day.

“The response in Chicago has been extremely positive,” says Risa Haynes, lead food distribution organizer at The Love Fridge. “These fridges went up as a response to COVID-19. Every week, we get more people and companies wanting to get involved.”

Haynes said the best part of The Love Fridge is that people don’t have to ask or beg for food, which can leave them feeling embarrassed. They can simply walk up to a fridge, see there’s food in it and take whatever they need.

In addition to providing food items to those in need, The Love Fridge recently launched The Full Circle Initiative, where, in partnership with local chefs, hearty and healthy individually packaged meals are delivered to fridges each week. This month, The Love Fridge partnered with Chef Channell and Awash Ethiopian Restaurant. The chefs receive a stipend to create the meals, which also helps keep their businesses afloat.

Haynes says becoming involved with an organization like The Love Fridge leads to a beautiful relationship between people and their communities. Having gotten her 10-year-old daughter, Ella, involved, she says, The Love Fridge offers easy levels of engagements that are simple to do with kids.

The Love Fridge is a great opportunity for community involvement, especially in a world that is socially distanced,” says Haynes. “We have found that people truly have so much to give.”

How your family can get involved

1. Help stock a fridge.

If this option is right for your family, please follow the fridge etiquette rules, which include wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer. All Love Fridges currently accept the following items:

Sealed packaged foods

  • Cheeses
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Table sauces
  • Pastry
  • Bread
  • Unopened pasteurized milk and yogurt
  • Unopened fruit juices
  • Fresh eggs (with a use-by date)
  • Cured meats (in a sealed container with a use-by date)

2. Be a fridge manager. 

You can sign up to manage a fridge site for an assigned day, which entails doing a fridge check up to throw away expired food items and wipe up spills.

3. Help distribute food.

Many food pantries, community gardens and local restaurants have food to provide to fridges. Families can sign up to pick up food from these locations and distribute it to fridge sites.

4. Donate a fridge.

If you have an old fridge, The Love Fridge would love to repurpose it. Simply e-mail thelovefridgechicago@gmail.com.


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