Community fridges pop up in Toronto neighbourhoods during COVID-19 pandemic

Neighbourhood program operates on principle of 'take what you need and leave what you can'

community fridges old's cool
Old's Cool General Store in East York is one of the newest locations to host a community fridge.  ETHAN ANDERSON/TORONTO OBSERVER

Day after day, volunteers have been cleaning and restocking outdoor fridges at locations all over Toronto. They contain fresh produce and meals provided by the community, for the community.

With food insecurity on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, an organization called Community Fridges Toronto stepped in to help address the problem. It operates on the principle “take what you need and leave what you can.”

This community-run initiative offers free food to people in the neighbourhood through the placement of communal fridges outside frequented stores.

“We have so many neighbours who have different needs,” said Zahra Dhanani, co-owner of Old’s Cool. “I know it could make a huge difference in the community so, of course, why wouldn’t we do it?”

community fridges
The community fridge outside of Old’s Cool General Store

Dhanani describes her store as a “social justice community retail hub.” The storefront is now home to a community fridge and a small pantry full of non-refrigerated food items that sit just to the left of its entrance. She’s known in her community as someone who connects with those around her through activism, so having a community fridge outside of her store made sense. It’s just another one of the ways that she can reach out to her neighbourhood and the people around her.

“People are so immediately invested,” said Dhanani said. “Almost all of them go well from the get-go.”

Community Fridges Toronto was founded by photographer Jalil Bokhari and chef and restaurant owner Julian Bentivegna. The friends started up the initiative in this city near the start of the pandemic with the help of small business owners and other community members.

Fridges are restocked and cleaned daily by organizers. Anyone can leave food that they no longer need at any time, so long as it isn’t expired or hazardous.

Like the slogan says, some people may take food from a fridge, while others may simply leave what they can. These fridges help reduce the likelihood of wasting food while providing for those who may need a little more than they can afford.

community fridges
Old’s Cool community fridge, open

The fridges can be found in several locations around Toronto, including 269 Dunn Ave., 1132 College St. W., 870 Dundas St. W., 782 Adelaide St. W., 348 Pape Ave., and of course, in front of Old’s Cool General Store at 250 Westlake Ave.

The project isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however, as the City of Toronto has to look into the potential negative health implications of having outdoor fridges where anyone and everyone can go to share food. This is especially true in the midst of a global pandemic.

One community fridge in Parkdale was shut down last November due to sanitation and public safety issues. The fridge eventually had to be moved in order to avoid fines. It’s now at 269 Dunn Ave.

The City of Toronto deemed the Parkdale fridge abandoned, so a bylaw became an issue because it was seen as a safety concern “in a place accessible to children … to prevent any person from being trapped inside the appliance.”

If you have ideas on how to improve the Community Fridges Toronto project, or just want to share your experience, you can fill out this Google form.

Read more from the Toronto Observer:

About this article

Posted: Apr 26 2021 3:50 pm
Filed under: Community