Refrigerators will be set up around Salem to feed the hungry without asking questions

The organizers of Free Fridge Salem raised more than $ 4,000 at an online auction in October. This money will be used to purchase refrigerators and supplies to build community pantries.

James, a homeless man living around Lancaster Drive, adds mayonnaise to a lunch sandwich after answering questions from Salem’s One-Time Tally in 2019 (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter)

Most families keep refrigerators in the corners of the kitchen. Two women in the Salem area hope to see these devices in driveways, parking lots and other open spaces across the city soon.

They intend to help people without secure housing or without sufficient wages to use the refrigerators to obtain healthy food without judgment.

The project, which they call Free Fridge Salem, began in September when wildfires hit the area. April Sandvig, local macrame artist and owner of Fiber and Blood, and Summer Reyes, local community organizer, noticed the community’s willingness to help those less fortunate.

“Some people just couldn’t get out of the smoke, and everyone wanted to help them,” Sandvig said. “We handed out masks, food and water. But we really saw the community wanting to do more.”

Reyes had read that free fridges were popping up in places like Eugene and Portland, and both thought Salem needed something similar.

The model is simple.

A host agrees to provide an electrical outlet and access. The volunteers deliver a refrigerator housed inside a weatherproof structure. Some locations also have pantries that hold dry goods and other donated items. Everyone is welcome to stock the food depots – or help each other as needed.

Sandvig recognizes that other organizations in Salem are already providing food and supplies to those in need. But she said this model is different in several important ways.

“A lot of people who are on the streets are there because of a trauma that happened in their family. Maybe they were kicked out because their family church doesn’t agree. with what they believe in, so the thought of going to church is traumatic, ”she said. “A lot of the organizations that donate food to the community are religious, which is wonderful, and I’m very grateful for that. But you can see how painful it can be for some people.”

The refrigerator model also allows volunteers to provide nutritious meals from ingredients (like green vegetables) that might otherwise be wasted, as they are not easily distributed as a snack in their natural state.

“There is a lot of food waste in Salem,” Sandvig said. “We would love to get in touch with restaurateurs and the like who are just throwing food away. We will take it! And we can then turn that food into a soup, a casserole, or a meal. “

Free Fridge Salem’s handful of volunteers will stock refrigerators and pantries. The group can host cooking parties to prepare bulk meals, and teams can also travel to the community to collect donated food.

The group is also hoping residents of the Salem area will walk to the refrigerators with their own donations of healthy food.

The first two refrigerators are purchased and their outdoor shelters are under construction. Both will be in residential communities, but the group won’t publish the locations until construction is complete. Sandvig estimated that the job will be completed in a few weeks.

The next phase of the project involves six mini-fridges and smaller pantries for families who want to provide a place but can’t find space for a larger appliance.

Money for the project came from donations, including an online fundraiser in October. About 50 donors provided more than 120 auction items, and in total the group raised $ 4,010.

“There are a lot of people who want to help out, but we’re really in a place where we stand and wait for the shelters to be built, so there’s a place to put the food,” Sandvig says.

There are three places people hoping to get involved now can drop off non-perishable foods:

Cooke Stationery Company at 370 State St.

IKE box at 299 Cottage Street NE

Salem Riverfront Carousel at 101 Front Street NE

Anyone wishing to host a refrigerator or otherwise help can connect with the team on Instagram. Updates on the new locations will be posted there when they become available.

Sandvig said his team will make sure those who need them know about these resources through zines and other print materials.

Many people could benefit from this project. Marion County Estimates that 1,218 people in the community were permanently homeless in 2018. And in 2019, more than 40 percent of respondents to a Salem poll cited homelessness as their main concern, as well as a lack of confidence in the government’s response.

“I feel like our homeless community and those in our community with mental illness have not been heard or supported, and we want to change that,” Sandvig said. “I think there are more and more people who are struggling to make ends meet and feed their families good, nutritious food.”

The project is still in its early stages, but Sandvig has been encouraged by the response so far.

“What touched me the most is what happens in the community when people start to show their love for each other,” she said. want to look at their neighbor, no matter who or who he is, with compassion. “

“It’s important because it changes the way you look at your neighbor. I think it’s the only way we’re actually going to see change in our community. It’s pretty huge and important if we’re going to change, and I think most of us do, ”she said.

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Karl M. Bailey