Los Angeles community members are showing their support for one another through a community-based group called Los Angeles Community Fridges, or LACF, that provides free access to food and essential items in L.A. neighborhoods. The fridge network has 15 locations around the greater Los Angeles area.
The network’s Instagram, @lacommunityfridges, which shared its first post on July 3, already has more than 21,000 followers. Through posts and the various sources in their Linktree (a tool used on Instagram to allow for more than one link in a bio), community members of different Los Angeles neighborhoods can find information on how to access fridges or volunteer for LACF.
According to the L.A. Times, LACF was inspired by groups like In Our Hearts, an activist group that started implementing community fridges throughout New York City. As fridges were established around Los Angeles, the LACF network grew their online following, which inspired locals in L.A. 's neighboring cities to start fridges of their own.
One of these locals was Brody Rodriguez, who started the Hawthorne community fridge on Aug. 24.
“[LACF] popped up on my personal feed on Instagram. I realized that there was not a community fridge in my area, in the South Bay region of Los Angeles,” said Rodriguez “That created an incentive and motivation to pursue efforts to install a community fridge in my hometown.”
LACF accepts food donations at the fridge locations throughout the community from individuals, organizations or restaurants. They also accept certain non-food donations, like hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment.
Community fridges are hosted by local residences or businesses, such as Little Amsterdam Coffee, which runs the Lil Mid City Fridge inside of its shop. The shop’s owner, Joshua Mock, noticed that once the fridge was set up, the local community had a positive and generous reaction.
“People just started stocking it with food and different things every day. They bring cold water, sanitation products. I mean, you’d be surprised,” said Joshua Mock. “They bring anything that you could think a person would need or use.”
Certain areas within Los Angeles are considered food deserts. Mock expressed the importance of having access to sources like the fridges to the surrounding communities.
“People can utilize it in any way so it’s very important that someone lends a hand,” Mock said. Times are hard, but they’re even harder right now."
The network currently uses social media and Slack to share the locations of their fridges, as well as updates on where restocks are needed and which items are running low in each fridge. Tending to the fridges has become another aspect of many volunteers' daily routines.
“I visit [the community fridge] everyday to clean it, to see if anything needs to be stocked again,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a daily lifestyle now, to make sure the fridge is properly cleaned and properly maintained.”
The group, which does not designate one person as a founder or individual leader, operates completely as a mutual aid network, meaning that the project is meant to be a reciprocal exchange. According to their mission statement, they are working to “strengthen communities & redistribute existing resources by providing tools and frameworks to ensure people-supported, ongoing, equal access to healthy food.”
According to this same page, “[t]he way we work is simple: we provide a scalable, repeatable framework to get refrigerators up and running for the communities that want them, so that they may work autonomously to support the needs at hand.” The network does not accept monetary donations, as they are not a charity or non-profit organization.
The mutual aid aspect of the network’s system allows the community to work horizontally, with anyone being able to stock the fridge and take food as personally needed. Various artists also painted some of the fridges, contributing their own strengths and abilities to the network.
Los Angeles-based artist Mary Harris painted the Lil Mid City fridge, but as a member of the neighborhood community there, she also stocks and uses the fridge herself.
When the fridge was first displayed in the coffee shop, owner Joshua Mock specifically asked Harris to paint the fridge in exchange for a monetary donation.
“That fridge in particular has helped a lot of artists be able to eat,” Harris said. “I would say that it has impacted the community in a positive way.”
Elleven Vargas, a student at Parsons School of Design, painted the East Hollywood fridge and utilized the opportunity to help her community through her passion for art. Vargas found out about the opportunity through a friend’s social media post asking for people of color to paint fridges.
“Using my art in a way to connect with people in a time where connection is just not possible in the physical world, I think that’s beautiful,” she said. “If I can play the smallest, smallest part of just painting the fridge, then that’s good. I want to do more. I want to do more of that.”
Vargas drives past the fridge, which is three minutes away from her house, every day to check on it, and encourages her own family to donate to it as much as possible.
“Nobody knows the face behind the fridge painting, and that’s totally fine. I’m just painting the fridge, [and] a lot of people at LA Community Fridges have done so much more,” Vargas said. “I’m just happy to even be a part of it, even in the smallest way of doing something that I do and love, and incorporating my passion into it is already a lot.”
Despite the major efforts being put in by volunteers around Los Angeles, the community fridges were not met without opposition. Four days after the establishment of the Hawthorne community fridge, Rodriguez received a phone call from an enforcement officer telling him that the fridge needed to be removed within an hour. Minutes later, he received another phone call from a private caller ID that told him to disregard everything that was said.
“It’s just crazy that communities and local governments will be opposed to this kind of idea. This is helping the city,” Rodriguez said.
Three fridges, each located in Highland Park, Compton and Long Beach, were forced to shut down due to city government interference.
Yet the project continues to expand throughout the city.
“This is just an overall beautiful project because it inspires people to get a community fridge in their hometown,” said Rodriguez. “People do their own part during the pandemic. People want to help, but they just don’t know how to. This creates opportunities for people to help out in any way they can.”