Phoenix Community Refrigerators provide water and food to those in need

Metro Phoenix is ​​home to at least a dozen refrigerators where people can grab a cold drink or food, completely free of charge. The new concept is indispensable during the high temperature months in the valley.

In 2021, there were 339 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, marking a huge increase of around 70% from 2019, according to The Guardian. When temperatures frequently exceed 100 degrees, water is essential.

On August 4, Tammy Broselow and Sheena Williams loaded up community refrigerators in downtown Phoenix.

“Water is the most needed and distributed element,” Williams says. “It’s hard to operate without water in your system.”

She and Broselow co-founded Tom’s Palms, a nonprofit named after and inspired by the giving spirit of their fathers, nearly five years ago. The organization works to feed and provide basic necessities to the homeless population, including water.

“We stock refrigerators at the Social Spin laundromat on Portland Street,” she said. “They have two fridges outside and one inside.”

The laundromat, located at 2418 East Portland Street in downtown Phoenix, provides cost-effective laundry services and clean clothes to community members.

On May 1, Social Spin teamed up with Unsheltered Phoenix to create a summer heat relief program.

“We make sure our Phoenix location is open to our neighbors,” the Social Spin website says. “We will provide heat relief to our unsheltered neighbors and serve as a drop-off site for donations.”

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The stainless steel refrigerator at 1245 East Diamond Street

Michael Madriaga

Broselow and their volunteers distribute water and food at this location, which also serves free meals. The donated meals are served hot, unspiced and chewy, and provide sustenance for the beneficiaries, which sometimes include homeless families. Meals are dropped off by 8:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and feed over 100 people each week.

Last year, Tom’s Palms served more than 6,000 meals and provided toiletries and clothing to those in need. Recently, the organization received a large donation of Delta Air Lines gift bags to distribute. Local dispensaries also contribute.

Nature’s Medicines, a dispensary on McDowell Road, provided the nonprofit with storage space in its parking lot. There, Broselaw meets with food and water donors every Thursday morning.

“We then provide our volunteers with crates of water and food, and our volunteers distribute the things on the streets and in community refrigerators,” Broselaw explains.

Some volunteers are drivers for Lyft and Uber, and they pick up and drop off water and groceries in fridges between concerts. Whatever his profession, Broselaw is always looking for more volunteers.

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Williams spoke to rapper Twista after performing onstage at the Beat Therapy 2k concert in Flagstaff late last month.

Courtesy of Tom’s Palms

Recently, she and Williams attended the Beat Therapy 2k concert in Flagstaff, an event that raised money for Phoenix’s homeless community. Naturally, they distributed water.

At the gig, Williams networked with artists Lil’ Flip, MIMS, and Twista. Williams sat down with Twista after performing her 2004 hit “Slow Jamz.”

“I gave him a hug and our Tom’s Palms business card,” she said. “I’m here to let everyone know what we’re up to. Lil’ Flip might come to one of our events.”

Part of the spread of this word includes education. Williams is working to notify benefactors who leave leftovers in community refrigerators.

“To protect our volunteers, Tom’s Palms helps educate our helping hands with local procedures and laws in place. It is not legal to give home-prepared food to a homeless person,” she says, explaining the need for a food handler license. “You may, however, without a food handler’s license, distribute food, produce and perishables prepared by a licensed kitchen.”

These items can also be placed in one of the community refrigerators that Phoenix and Tempe have through the Heat Relief Network.

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Williams drops water and food into community refrigerators near the Human Services Campus at 204 South 12th Avenue in Phoenix.

Sheena Williams

Williams drops water and food into community refrigerators near the Human Services Campus at 204 South 12th Avenue in Phoenix. The HSC location has two refrigerators on campus about a mile east of I-17. Additionally, there are four other refrigerators in a block around campus.

“There’s another one at 1332 East Taylor Street in the Garfield neighborhood,” Broselow adds.

We visited two additional community fridges last month, which were posted on the Feed Phoenix Instagram page. One was in front of a house on West Wethersfield Road in North Phoenix. The fridge and freezer were full of food and water.

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The fridge near 29th Ave and Cactus in North Phoenix was packed.

Michael Madriaga

Next, we visited a stainless steel refrigerator at 1245 East Diamond Street. It was almost empty. Across the Valley, the need for free food and water remains strong.

Phoenix Rescue Mission estimates that in 2022, “more than 9,000 people in Maricopa County have no place to call home.” That’s a 244% increase since 2017.

Broselow estimates the real number to be over 10,000.

“We need more water bottles, food and volunteers for our [people],” she says.

Community refrigerators placed in homes and businesses in publicly accessible areas are a starting point.

Karl M. Bailey