Victoria community fridge responds to growing demand

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Victoria’s lone community fridge on Rock Bay Avenue has seen a steady stream of users, donors and volunteers since it opened nearly five months ago.

“We can’t keep up with the need for food,” organizer Wren Shaman told Black Press Media.

The fridge – and accompanying pantry – was started by members of Victoria’s Community Food Support organization. Since then, the project has grown, with its own team and plans for expansion. Anyone can walk up to the location and take food, no questions asked.

The ultimate goal? Helping to eliminate food insecurity.

Food insecurity occurs when a household lacks regular access to food. Research shows it’s more common for low-income households, single-parent families, renters and Indigenous or Black residents.

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In 2011-12, 13 per cent of south Vancouver Island households reported experiencing food insecurity, and an estimated 50,000 people in Greater Victoria struggle to stay fed.

Shaman explained community fridges have popped up more across Canada in response to growing rates of hunger prompted by COVID-19.

Around 8.8 per cent of Canadian households were food insecure in 2017-18 – that number rose to 14.6 per cent in 2020.

The bulk of donations to the fridge and pantry are from community members, which Shaman said lets Rock Bay residents “take ownership” of the project.

“(Community fridges) are a decentralized form of mutual aid,” she said. “That’s part of why I love it so much.”

Other donations come from local businesses, which often contribute food that would otherwise go to waste.

“A lot of the time the food we get donated from businesses is food that would otherwise be wasted,” Shaman said. “If your yogurt has expired on the shelf in the store that day, we’re not that worried about it – within 20 minutes it’ll be gone.”

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The organization’s Rock Bay location has been such a success that volunteers are exploring sites for a second fridge. Shaman said the team is connecting with businesses in other neighbourhoods to find a host.

“I love the fridge here,” Shaman explained. “But it’s relatively inaccessible by transit or by foot. Having a fridge in a different area would be a great way to open up the resource.”

She added a site owner would need to provide a place for the fridge and electricity. Everything else would be set up and maintained by volunteers.

In the meantime, the Rock Bay fridge is still humming away. For those wanting to help, Shaman said volunteers and donors are always needed. Dairy, gluten-free items, meat alternatives and ready-to-eat meals are in demand, but “everything is welcome.”

The Victoria community fridge is open 24/7 daily outside The Number at 2725 Rock Bay Ave. To learn more or get involved, visit @communityfridgevictoria on Instagram.

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