In the midst of a global pandemic that has caused a massive wave of health and job uncertainty, Wayne State students Emily Eicher, a grad student studying counseling and art therapy, and Alyssa Rogers, a junior studying biology, found a unique solution to the growing problem of food insecurity in the metro Detroit area. The duo founded the Detroit Community Fridge, located at 5410 W Vernor Hwy., in August, and has been supplying produce, dry goods, and other necessities to locals since then.
Here’s a look at how the project got started, what Eicher and Rogers’ plans are for the Detroit Community Fridge moving forward, and how you can get involved.
How the Detroit Community Fridge Got its Start
From the beginning of the nation-wide COVID-19 response, community fridges have been popping up across the country. The primary goal of a community fridge is to supply locals with free, safe, accessible food in a time when many are experiencing unemployment and financial instability. Eicher had seen pages promoting these locations on social media, and with an unused, empty fridge taking up space in her family’s garage, the Detroit Community Fridge was born. “Alyssa really pushed me to think about starting the fridge on a serious level,” Eicher says. Having extra free time during the summer they began scouting locations and ended up setting up shop in Southwest Detroit. “Detroit is pretty much a food desert right now. Southwest has a large Hispanic population, and those people are being really disproportionately affected by the virus,” Eicher says.
Eicher and Rogers chose their Southwest Detroit location after they were met with major support from local business owners and families living in the neighborhood. Local business owner Rocky, of vegan food truck Rocky’s Road Brew, has assisted the pair in making sure that the location is well taken care of and free of litter. Being welcomed by the community so openly has allowed the Detroit Community Fridge to thrive in the area, creating a community center-like environment.
The Fridge and its Impact
The colorfully decorated fridge is filled nearly every day with groceries such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. There’s also a dry goods table containing everything from various snack foods to hygiene products. Every product donated is dated as well. While Rogers and Eicher were initially stocking the fridge themselves, their Instagram page (@detroitcommunityfridge) has gotten a major response and led to countless donations. “Nothing sits in the fridge long enough to expire,” Eicher says. “We always tell people that whatever they are able to give will be gone within a couple of hours.”
The fridge itself is completely open to the public, no membership or passcode required. The only rules, printed clearly on the front of the fridge, are: Take what you need, leave what you don’t and label all donations with dates, contents, and potential allergies. “It’s helped so many people, whether they’re struggling with homelessness, or families who are being impacted by the current state of the world and need this food to get by,” Rogers says.
The number of visitors to the fridge fluctuates daily, making it hard for its founders to estimate how many people stop by each day. “Some people only come at night because that’s when they feel the most comfortable,” Eicher says. “We will have visitors at one or two in the morning.” Each day the fridge goes through countless cycles of filling, emptying, and refilling. “We had to change our way of thinking and remind ourselves that having an empty fridge at the end of the day is a good thing, it means people are getting what they need.”
What’s Next for the Detroit Community Fridge?
With winter approaching, the duo, with the help of friends, built a shelter for the fridge and dry goods table, complete with shelves to store even more donations. Eicher points out that as the seasons change, the success of the fridge is rooted in trial and error. “We’re hoping we don’t run into any problems. A lot of the fridges in other states are in really warm areas, so we just have our fingers crossed.”
For the holiday season, the founders are also adopting a few local families who frequently visit the fridge and have expressed a need for extra help. “Being that I’m not religious myself, I have always celebrated the holidays by getting groups I’m involved with to adopt families,” Rogers says. Their end goal is to adopt five to eight families, and each family will provide them with a wishlist. “The plan is to utilize donations and the Instagram community we’ve accumulated to provide these families with some extra resources.”
How to Get Involved
In addition to food donations, the Detroit Community Fridge also relies on monetary donations through Venmo @detroit-communityfridge and help from volunteers. Volunteering at the fridge involves restocking and organizing, picking up any trash or litter, and ensuring that no products in the fridge have expired. A volunteer form can be found on the Instagram page.