Aoife Tracey has a plan, a location, and even volunteers ready to jump in to make her dream of opening White Rock’s first community fridge come true.
“I’ve seen the change in the city,” she said. “I just see there’s a lot more people struggling right now.
She’s lived in White Rock since 2001 and, during that time, she has seen an increase in what she calls “secret poverty.”
White Rock is a suburban community on Semiahmoo Bay, about a 45 minute drive south of Vancouver. It’s known as an affluent area but Tracey said she’s seen a lot of people in the area who are in need of more services and support. Her idea is to launch a publicly accessible fridge in the downtown area.
“I would love to start it in my home community just because I think that would be a beautiful place to start,” she said.
Tracey said food access played a big part in her upbringing. “Around the dinner table, our conversations are often about … getting food to people who need it. The reality is that, we’re really lucky to have food on our table without having to really question it. And there are so many people in B.C. … who are struggling to do that”, she said.
In a 2017/2018 report, 12.4 per cent of B.C. households reported experiencing “inadequate or uncertain access to food.” This year, Sources White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank reported an increase in clients across all age groups, with the starkest difference being a 21-per-cent jump in the number of children registered for services.
Tracey said there’s a disconnect between the city’s perceived affluence and the reality of many people in her community.
“I think like White Rock has this … kind of like a shame towards struggling. [There’s] this perception that everyone is doing like really well. And I just think a community fridge could help sort of [end] the stigma,” she said.
The idea is not new. Starting in Berlin in 2012, community fridges have sprung up around the world. Unlike other public food services, community fridges are always open and the food is always free. Community fridges have been installed to address food inequality, improve access to fresh produce, and encourage alternatives to throwing away food.
“I just think it would be a really good opportunity to bring people together, as well as lowering food waste, bringing [accessible] food to people”, said Tracey.
Tracey has secured a location and said she hopes to present her plans to the city in the coming weeks.
In Vancouver, a couple of community-fridge initiatives are already underway. Convivial Cafe and Bakery is running a pilot community fridge program and Vancouver Community Fridges recently announced plans to provide a fridge in collaboration with the Chinatown Seniors Food program.
In Calgary, when Sasha Lavoie, co-founder of Calgary Community Fridge, and her team proposed installing a public fridge in August, the response from the community was encouraging. The team launched a successful crowd funding campaign and opened the fridge in the same month.
Lavoie attests that getting approval to place the fridge on private property with access to electricity (for a nominal fee) was what enabled them to be up and running so quickly.
“One of the co-founders works for a property management company who owns the block that we’re on,” she said. “So we approached them and they were completely fine with it”.
According to Lavoie, the majority of people accessing the fridge aren’t local to the neighbourhood. Some people are travelling up to two hours to take advantage of the service.
“We’ve also heard of people walking to the fridge and it taking hours,” she said.
Lavoie and team were most drawn to the anonymity and accessibility of a community fridge.
“It was the removing of barriers that I think we all just really jumped at,” she said. “Being like, no questions asked, take what you need.”
Sources Food Bank in White Rock/South Surrey requires a photo ID, proof of address, and proof of dependents to register.
Tracey’s community is already stepping up to support her vision. One friend offered to build her a shelving unit for dry goods while others volunteered to help her with daily cleaning and upkeep.
“Really, this whole project is community teamwork. It depends on people who want to donate their food, people who want to take the food. If there’s no community teamwork, it just, it wouldn’t work”, she said.
Other food-sharing initiatives are already underway in the Lower Mainland including The PLOT, a community-run garden in Surrey that has been supporting local food security through food sharing for years. In response to COVID-19, PLOT volunteers started Care Baskets, an initiative to provide weekly produce boxes to neighbours in need.
Lowering barriers to access is also important to Tracey. “Some food banks want you to share your income, and that can be really embarrassing for some people. It can just put you off the whole idea,” she said.
Aman Chandi, a PLOT volunteer, said the initiative has received positive feedback. “A lot of recipients have been very thankful,” she said, noting that because they are low income, many have never had a regular supply of fresh produce, and now their health is improving.
Tracey said she hopes her community fridge will have a similarly positive impact in White Rock.
“There’s not an application to join,” she said. “It’s just, if you need food, take it.”