Local

‘Take what you need, leave what you can’: Free fridges helping feed the hungry in local communities

LYNN, Mass. — Getting good food to many people in need continues to be a challenge.

The numbers tell a troubling story.

According to the Greater Boston Food Bank, 1.8 million adults are food insecure in Massachusetts. That’s about a third on the population.

Even more concerning is the number of children in this predicament. 36% are not sure where their next meal is coming from or whether it will be healthy and appropriate for a growing body.

That’s because 30% of struggling households say they’ve had to water down food, even baby formula, to make sure it lasts a little longer.

Now many cities and towns are launching programs encouraging neighbors to help neighbors.

They’re creating Community Fridges where the motto is “Take what you need, Leave what you can.”

“Anyone in the community can donate and anyone in the community can take from the fridge,” explained Emily Bucklin who created the Lynn Community Fridge a few years ago.

“The main mission here is just to fight food insecurity in Lynn and just be able to supply healthy items.”

The fridge was full of fresh kale as a group of students from a local school came by to drop off extra meals from their cafeteria.

They all say as soon as the fridge is filled, it is quickly emptied which is indicative of the level of need in the north shore city.

“We’ve seen a lot of pantries and shelters at over capacity since COVID,” said Bucklin. “This is just an additional way for our families to be able to feed themselves on a daily basis.”

In central Massachusetts, UMass Memorial Health-Harrington Hospital in Southbridge just opened a community fridge right outside their main entrance.

It’s stocked with fresh dairy products, orange juice, and canned staples.

“Food insecurity is one of the components of social determinants of health,” said Dr. Francis Powers, the hospital’s medical director.

He says getting healthy food to people fits the hospital’s mission, particularly because it’s in a rural part of Worcester County.

“Part of that food insecurity is just having access to a variety of healthy foods and a reliable source of it as well,” said Dr. Powers.

He said rural settings have their own challenges. “You might not have access to healthy food. You might have to go to the local convenience store that lacks the variety or the quality or quantity of foods that are healthy for you.”

Even solidly middle-class communities are feeling the strain of feeding their hungry.

Steve Deude is one of the founding members of the Watertown Community Fridge. “We have noticed that our fridge here in the community is probably doing twice as many people as it was doing a year ago.”

He describes the need as intense.

“You have a lot of need in Cambridge, Watertown, Belmont, Waltham. It’s everywhere, across the board.”

Duede says a community fridge is particularly helpful for working people because it is open 24-7 and doesn’t require any kind of sign-up.

He says any community can launch a fridge.

In Watertown, they raised $5,000 and assembled a core of committed volunteers.

Finding a source of electricity is also necessary.

Duede believes a project like this lifts the entire community.

“I’ve noticed that there’s so much positive energy around what we’re doing here, even if you’re not necessarily benefiting from it. The fact that it’s here, I think, makes people feel really good about the town they live in.”

All the fridge personnel emphasized no questions are asked when someone takes food.

They just hope that people will remember the fridge when their circumstances improve and they’re capable of making a donation.

Many of the programs will also take used clothing, or new items like underwear or socks, all of which are also desperately needed.

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