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New community fridge helping address Beltline food insecurity

Their mission is “No one goes hungry, and no good food goes to waste.”

Volunteers, along with the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association (BNA) have launched a new community fridge in the area to help address food waste and food insecurity.

The Mutual Aid Project Beltline fridge, located at 221 – 12 Avenue SW, is one of four community fridges in Calgary that are open 24 hours a day. This newest one addresses a need in a densely populated area that has a couple of area shelters, said Juliet Burgess with the BNA.

“It’s definitely a need in the community, and we also think there’s a generous spirit in the Beltline,” she said.

The community fridges are supported by volunteers and rely on community support to fill them, Burgess said. Calgarians are welcome to donate food at any time of the day.

She said they don’t plan to police who takes what from the community fridge.

“There is this understanding that if somebody’s taking every single item that’s for their home or for their community, we trust that they need that. So, it poses issues because, of course, the demand is always going to be higher than the than the needs right now,” Burgess said.

“The initiative, the mutual aid sort of hope, is that the community continues to step up for each other and make sure that these things are full as often as they can be.”

Other fridges have popped up in the city, filling a niche for those Calgarians who are struggling and may not be able to afford a meal. A year ago, one local grocer hosted a supermarket sweep to help fill a community fridge.

Predecessors have provided valuable insight

The Hatch Calgary runs a couple of the other fridges, according to Burgess, and their learning has been invaluable in setting up the new Mutual Aid Project Beltline fridge.

She said that the group has done a superb job of building a set of resources that help other groups set up their own fridge or pantry. They’ve dealt with everything from permitting to volunteers to security.

“We’ve learned a lot about, just sort of the security features we might need and sort of the regular maintenance we might need and some of the things that volunteers might encounter in terms of like vandalism, potentially,” Burgess said.

In terms of security, while they don’t police who takes it, Burgess said they want to make sure it’s a well-lit area in an open space. Volunteer items and other items are locked up she said, but other than that people are welcome to come and grab what they need.

“It’s just like a community project, and we really run on the honour system, and that’s kind of the beauty of it,” Burgess said.

The first community fridges started during the pandemic. Many Calgarians were struggling with job loss and having trouble making ends meet. Burgess said that need hasn’t stopped.

“As we’re seeing inflation now and people are back at work, but then everything is so much more expensive now. So, it’s just kind of continuing to be a big need,” she said.

Burgess said the entire project is volunteer-run. There’s always a need for Calgarians to contribute – plus maintain the fridge and help stock it.

Calgarians wanting to contribute can help by contacting the organization directly.

“Then just sort of that call out to the community that this is open now, it exists and that it’s really easy anytime to just drop off some food and make somebody’s day,” Burgess said.