Community Fridge launches in KW, aims to tackle food insecurity and waste

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A small group of Waterloo students recently launched a local project that is intended to reduce food waste and provide nutritious food access at no cost to the Kitchener-Waterloo community.

Community Fridges are not a new concept, and their installations have seen success as they have started appearing throughout Canada, but this is the first fridge that has been established in the region. 

Kamil Ahmed, a recent Wilfrid Laurier University global studies graduate, is one of the organizers of the Community Fridge initiative and is passionate about providing accessible food options for those in need. 

Ahmed is excited for the mission to have been introduced — and already positively embraced — by the local community and he’s optimistic about the potential the new venture holds for the region.  

“A Community Fridge is very popular across Europe. They’re getting exposure in Canada, slowly but surely. Essentially, they are a demonstration of grassroots community. And they have a twofold mission: one is to reduce food waste,” Ahmed said. 

“Canada’s food waste is actually worth 27 billion dollars a year — that’s how much food waste we produce as a nation.” 

Community Fridges are also designed to target food insecurity. According to the Foodbank of Waterloo Region, 34,552 individuals were served by the Community Food Assistance Network last year. 

As well, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more obstacles for vulnerable families and individuals facing food insecurity, increasing the demand for accessible meal options in KW. 

“We are aware that there is a need for nutritious, free food in the region, and to have it without barriers to access. We’re really excited to be fulfilling that twofold mission, but also doing it with as minimal barriers to access that we can,” Ahmed said. 

“We really hope to create points of entry for people from all paths of life to be able to enter and participate in this fridge.” 

“But also students — if they depended on the student Food Bank, or if they depended on other services … whoever it is, food insecurity is not limited to a certain demographic, a certain experience, or even a certain monetary income that you earn … We really are trying to catch and reach everybody,” he said. 

The Community Fridge has been operating for just under a month inside Zero Waste Bulk, a sustainable grocer in uptown Waterloo. 

“Zero Waste Bulk has been so good to us, so we’re really lucky that we were able to find [this] location for our first fridge, and we’re actively working on our next fridge location,” Ahmed said. 

The response to the Community Fridge has been largely positive so far, with people interested in volunteering their time to help distribute food and multiple businesses looking to donate items.

“It’s been phenomenal, the outpour of support and love from the community has been overwhelming. We didn’t expect this at all,” Ahmed said. 

“Obviously, we knew there was a need and a gap that we were trying to fill, and we had done our research and homework and community engagement work, so we knew that there was a need we were still filling, but this is [the] next level.”

“Businesses are reaching out to me [saying that] they want to donate quality produce, not what they have at the end of the week [but], ‘we want to donate our quality produce that we just got today to you.’ And we’ve got businesses who are willing to host fridges, individuals who are willing to help us build shelters for outdoor fridges, we’ve got people willing to volunteer their time and their cars and make deliveries to people who can’t come down to the fridge,” he said. 

Ultimately, the goal of the project is for it to operate independently, without the need for individual facilitators. 

“We keep saying this on social media and to ourselves, the community is running this for the community. And that’s the goal, we want this to be sustainable. We don’t want us to be needed to make this mission work, we want the community to be the only thing the community needs.” 

In the meantime, Ahmed and the rest of the team at the Community Fridge are happy to keep working on making connections within KW and are currently in the process of setting up their next fridge. 

“We are absolutely not done with our mission yet. We’re actually actively working on our second fridge location, which is scheduled to go live in two weeks,” Ahmed said. 

This first Community Fridge is only the beginning of what Ahmed hopes will become a trend in combatting food waste and inequality, and will hopefully continue to spark future conversations and initiatives.

“The biggest goal is to inspire the community to facilitate this for the community. We’re hoping that two months in, three months in, eight months in, a year in, people feel inspired to pick up where we might have left off or pick up where we are working at and continue the project,” Ahmed said. 

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