On February 27, the Umoja Community Refrigerator opened on Jefferson Street near 22nd to provide 24/7 access to necessities like food, water, baby food, hygiene products and menstrual products. There are nearly 30 community refrigerators around Philadelphia where donations are needed.
Community refrigerators provide healthy resources to meet people’s basic needs, said Ajima Olaghere, a professor of criminal justice. They act as a basic response to extreme food insecurity, especially in neighborhoods where traditional forms of food assistance, such as food banks, are difficult to access.
Even with the benefit of community refrigerators, residents of North Philadelphia continue to struggle to access nutritious and affordable food options. As a large institution in North Philadelphia, Temple should support community refrigerators by hosting events and donating funds and food, which would ensure these refrigerators are fully stocked with the resources local residents need.
As a food wasteland, North Philadelphia lacks accessible nutritious options, which often puts residents at increased risk for obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.
Philadelphia has a food insecurity rate of 16.3%, according to Feeding America, a national network of food banks. Food prices in the city have already increased by more than 8% between 2019 and 2021 and are expected to rise for at least the next six months due to inflation and supply chain issues.
With soaring food prices, the need for community refrigerators will also increase. To meet increased demand, community members cannot provide refrigerators alone as food prices continue to rise.
Community involvement is important in providing refrigerators, said Kenny Chiu, a freshman in urban studies at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Fridges and Family, a local community refrigerator, located in the 1940 residence.
“The community part is the most important,” Chiu said. “If people have extra food, they can leave it in the fridge, and if people need it, they can check from the fridge 24/7.”
Because community refrigerators are informal, they can reach a wider range of people than traditional systems, said Philip Crosby, assistant professor of architecture. They are also more convenient than traditional systems because they do not require traveling long distances or meeting government eligibility criteria.
“It could reach people who for one reason or another avoid the more structured systems that might be in place,” Crosby said.
However, high demand in communities can cause community refrigerators to run out of food before being replenished. Beyond purchasing food, organizations that oversee refrigerators also need funding to run the refrigerator itself, such as electricity to run it.
Since Temple has more funds than individuals to support community refrigerators, they should seek to collaborate with these refrigerators either by helping with the payments necessary to maintain the electrical costs of a refrigerator, by making monetary donations for supplies from the fridge or by donating leftover food.
For example, start-up costs for a community refrigerator can range from $500 to $1,000, with electricity bills typically costing $15 per month, Mashable reported. The high costs might be unsustainable for residents who already face food insecurity, but manageable for a large university like Temple.
“Temple is part of this community, we are a neighbor,” Olaghere said. “And with that comes a specific responsibility and empathy for our neighbors, who rely on us to be good neighbours.”
Temple’s mission statement focuses on opportunity, engagement, and discovery, saying the university has not strayed from its original mission and remains a beacon of public service, social activism, and leadership. community engagement. However, the university cannot be called a beacon of public service or community engagement if it does not strive to address the food insecurity of full-time residents in addition to their students.
In February 2019, Temple established the Cherry Pantry to provide free non-perishable food to students in need. However, students are allowed one visit to the Cherry Pantry per week and are limited in the number of free items they are allowed to carry, according to Giving Temple.
Twenty-five percent of college students in Philadelphia said they feared they would run out of food before they could buy more in the fall 2020 semester, according to a May 2021 survey from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. In addition, 26% said they could not afford balanced meals.
Philadelphia students are no strangers to food insecurity, and by supporting community refrigerators, Temple could help address significant student concerns about purchasing nutritious meals.
Temples should play a leading role in providing consistent donations, monetary or otherwise, to community refrigerators to help address food shortages for their students and the communities they are part of.