The Kitchener Community Fridge, located outside the Kitchener Market, is an example of KW’s resilient and supportive community, especially in light of the pandemic. Run completely by community members, the fridge consists of freshly donated foods anyone can take for free, and is designed to facilitate access to food, reduce food waste, and foster community engagement.
Kamil Ahmed started the project after graduating from the Wilfrid Laurier University but it has now become a community-led initiative. The fridge addresses three community-based goals: increase local food security, reduce local food waste and foster relationships between people who otherwise would not have met, especially in light of COVID-19.
“We’ve heard of people who tell our volunteers that they don’t know what they would have done without the fridge, they don’t know if they would have been able to feed all their kids without the fridge. They don’t know if they would have made it through Christmas dinner without the fridge. So, there’s been these really profound measures of impact, ” Ahmed said. Ahmed moved to Kitchener after his graduation and fell in love with the city, seeing the opportunity to connect with the community and become part of its revitalization and vibrancy.
“The other piece that drew me to Kitchener was purpose, this sense of like ‘there’s work to be done and progress that can be facilitated in so many different ways’, and food insecurity and food waste was one of those spaces that I’ve always had a passion for and have had lived experience around,” he said.
Inspired by the large community fridge networks in cities like Regina, Vancouver and Toronto, Kamil and community organizers believed there to be no reason why Kitchener should be an exception.
“So, on Aug. 10, 2020, we sent our first email with a Gmail email address—no money, no website, no systemic legitimacy, no grant money, nothing—literally, just an idea,” Ahmed said.
“We sent out emails to local organizations and businesses saying this is something that we want to start. We knew it was a really crazy time because local businesses were struggling then as well…And so on Aug. 25, we opened our first fridge,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed drew a contrast between food banks and the Community Fridge, which does not require ID or special permission for access.
“There’s no data collected on you. There’s no one monitoring you, there’s no limitation on how much or how little you can take and nobody’s telling you what you get. You just access the fridge and pantry like it’s your own,” he said.
Instead of opting for a charity-model where power moves through a hierarchy from top-bottom, Kamil and organizers wanted the fridge to be a mutual aid demonstration where power moves through the community equally, recognizing that there are times when people are in need and times when they can also give.
Food waste is another of the three goals. Ahmed said a lot of the food wasted in Canada every year can be relocated within communities to address issues like hunger and food security. All food that comes into the fridge consists of donations through partnerships with local businesses, organizations, farms, individual donations and people who go to the market and buy a little extra.
The final goal of the community fridge is to foster relationships between people who would have otherwise not met, especially during COVID-19.
“It was a matter of feeling isolated or feeling insulated. We wanted the Community Fridge to be this like space and opportunity for people to connect and build relationships with people, be witness to the lived experiences in our community and build connections where you would not otherwise,” Ahmed said. “The Community Fridge was like this demonstration of different experiences and community coexisting, but also like engaging in participating with one another.”
Ahmed says the Community Fridge is having a profound impact on the KW community in these three areas, and while the fridge does not collect any formal data or reports on fridge access or impact, day to day community stories are a testament to the value of this community initiative.
“Anytime you go to the fridge for a check in, there’s almost always someone there waiting to access something hoping that something will come in that they’ll be able to take home.
“One big donation day, like when we have our food partners…come with big donations. There’s a lineup of at least 10 to 20 people waiting to access food. So, I know that it has had an impact on local food insecurity,” Ahmed said.