As of May 2021, Jayme Bradshaw, a resident of Eugene, was living under Washington-Jefferson Street in the Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene. She lived in a tent, located on the easternmost side of the park strip, directly across from a free community refrigerator.
A short walk from Washington-Jefferson Park, the refrigerator was easily accessible to Bradshaw and other surrounding residents. The refrigerator, painted an orange-pink tint with multicolored rainbow scribbles, had “free food” and “comida gratis” painted in big white letters on the front. Inside, the refrigerator contained perishables and other free necessities.
Bradshaw is still currently affected by food insecurity. While she mainly uses food stamps to pay for food, Bradshaw has also used the free community refrigerator in front of her camp once or twice a week to grab things like hot dogs, pizza, and salads. . But now the refrigerator is gone.
Bradshaw has nerve damage so it is important for her to be close to food supplies. Other free meal programs, like the FOOD For Lane County Dining Hall, which is about half a mile from Bradshaw Camp, can be difficult for her to access.
âWalking long distances is not a thing for me,â says Bradshaw. âIf I don’t have my bike, I can’t go anywhere. “
According to the Oregon Food Bank, there were approximately 66,750 food insecure people in Lane County as of 2020. Eugene Community Fridge, a new organization in Eugene, provides access to perishable, ready meals and fresh produce from the neighborhood refrigerators available around Eugene.
Unlike other free neighborhood dining venues in Eugene, the organization’s refrigerators can hold frozen and other perishable foods. Refrigerators allow food insecure people to access a wider selection of fresh and healthy options. Other donations, such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, and lightly used clothing, are also accepted by Eugene Community Fridge.
Before Eugene Community Fridge, there weren’t any well-known places in Eugene where individuals could access fresh and frozen food around the clock without asking questions.
To keep its refrigerators stocked with food, Eugene Community Fridge relies entirely on donations. Burrito Brigade, another local self-help organization with a similar mission of feeding the hungry, helps Eugene Community Fridge by providing food donations for the refrigerators.
Burrito Brigade receives much of its food through its Waste to Taste program, working with local grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants and farms that give it imperfect food.
The Lane County website says the county throws out 91 million pounds of food waste each year. But thanks to the Waste to Taste program, food is sent to pantries around Eugene rather than to landfills. Eugene Community Fridge volunteers visit the Burrito Brigade to collect food from Waste to Taste five days a week.
In addition to food donations from Burrito Brigade’s Waste to Taste program, Eugene Community Fridge also relies on resources donated and stored by individual community members.
Eugene resident Maya Ormsten stores Eugene Community Fridge refrigerators at least once a week. Ormsten says she is just doing her part for the community.
âFood is a human right, and I think it’s important to understand that there is so much food waste out there,â Ormsten said. “Being able to redistribute food that would normally be wasted and provide it to people who have limited access to food – it’s just important to be part of this process.”
Eugene Community Fridge installed its first refrigerator in September 2020 on West 4th Avenue and Washington Street, right across from where Bradshaw would live a few months later.
In October 2020, the organization installed a second refrigerator just outside the Janet-Smith House, a student co-op for graduate students and non-traditional undergraduates, at the busy intersection of 18th Avenue and from Alder Street.
KW Lau, who lives at the Janet-Smith House, says the decision to house the refrigerator was unanimous agreement among residents and is an easy way to give back to the community.
Lau says she hopes the refrigerator will be of use to college students. Located in the middle of a college town, Lau says, many of their neighbors are students and many are food insecure.
According to the University of Oregon’s Food Security Task Force, 36% of all enrolled students experience some level of food insecurity.
To address food insecurity among UO students, the University of Oregon’s Student Sustainability Center is hosting Produce Drop at the Erb Memorial Union Amphitheater on campus, where students can select fruits and vegetables. take away free of charge. According to the Student Sustainability Center’s website page on Food Safety, Produce Drops takes place every Tuesday from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. A student’s household income must be equal to or less than double the federal poverty level to be eligible for the Produce Drop.
The OU also houses a pantry. According to the Student Food Pantry Facebook page, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. during college periods at college, students can get canned, non-perishable food for free. To use the pantry, students must have their university ID card.
Unlike the UO Produce Drop and Student Food Pantry, the free refrigerator outside the Janet-Smith House is open and accessible 24 hours a day, every day, including holidays. Lau says there is also no need to show ID or proof of need, which could be a barrier people face with other resources.
âThe refrigerator is a less intimidating idea to access,â says Lau. âI hope we can contact the students here who need food and can get it discreetly. “
Eugene Community Fridge relies on volunteers like Lau and the Janet-Smith House to accommodate the refrigerators. The refrigerator needs easy access to a sidewalk and an electrical outlet, but Eugene Community Fridge does not require any maintenance or upkeep from its hosts.
One of the organization’s biggest challenges, according to Eugene Community Fridge, is finding hosts for the refrigerators. Homeowners and businesses are often reluctant to house refrigerators for fear of straying, vandalism, and destruction of property.
In April 2021, Eugene Community Fridge announced on his Instagram page that he would be removing the free community fridge next to Bradshaw’s Camp at the corner of West 4th Avenue and Washington Street. According to Eugene Community Fridge, the refrigerator host could no longer accommodate it due to complaints from neighbors about garbage and noise due to heavy foot traffic in and around the refrigerator location.
Days before the refrigerator near her camp was taken down, Bradshaw said she didn’t know it was removed and that his absence would have a significant impact on how she and others in her camp accessed the food.
âSo many people here, they don’t have an income,â Bradshaw says. “I’m one of them, but I get food stamps. So if it weren’t for this stuff, they might not be eating.”
The refrigerator near the Bradshaw camp was taken down in May 2021, a month after Instagram’s announcement. Since then, Eugene Community Fridge has not found a new host to accommodate the fridge.
The organization contacted many businesses and churches near Washington-Jefferson Park, but failed to recruit a new host. Eugene Community Fridge is concerned that the stigma surrounding homeless people may contribute to the apprehension of harboring a refrigerator.
âWhat we really need is to educate people about the importance of this type of resource,â said a volunteer from Eugene Community Fridge, who asked to remain anonymous. “If you show love for people, compassion and come forward for people, we would see more mutual respect between housed and non-housed.”
In the absence of a free refrigerator near Washington-Jefferson Park, according to Eugene Community Fridge, volunteers still show up for Bradshaw and other food insecure people to distribute food on foot five days a week. , from Monday to Friday.
As Eugene Community Fridge continues to search for a new host, the organization says walking food distribution is vital to preventing food waste and connecting food insecure people to fresh, healthy food.
âWhen you don’t have food here, it’s good that someone cares to provide it,â says Bradshaw.
Going forward, Eugene Community Fridge plans to install more free fridges around Eugene and Springfield. With a refrigerator for each neighborhood, the organization hopes more people will be encouraged to donate and remove refrigerators, preventing more food waste from entering landfills and ensuring more insecure people food have access to fresh and healthy food.