Looking to give back? Chicago’s bright- colored refrigerators are a good place to start

Innovative efforts to help those in need are worth supporting, and volunteers are always needed.

SHARE Looking to give back? Chicago’s bright- colored refrigerators are a good place to start
Risa and Eric Von Haynes started the Love Fridge back in 2020 to help people during the pandemic. The mutual aid organization’s motto is “Take what you need, leave what you can.”

Risa and Eric Von Haynes started the Love Fridge back in 2020 to help people during the pandemic. The mutual aid organization’s motto is “Take what you need, leave what you can.”

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

On the 6300 block of South Morgan Street, Chicagoans of all walks of life can find and depend on the colorful Englewood Love Fridge. The South Side community refrigerator is placed inside an inviting boxed structure that has the words “Free Food” painted in bright pink letters at the top.

There are 26 refrigerators like this available throughout Chicago (most that are accessible 24/7), thanks to Eric and Risa Von Haynes’ mutual aid organization Love Fridge, which has the motto of “Take what you need, leave what you can.” But this specific fridge in Englewood has something special to cheer about — it is the first to be “off-grid” and powered exclusively by solar panels.

That not only makes it more sustainable but more accessible around the clock since solar-powered refrigerators don’t depend on constant human care.

Innovations like Love Fridge, and those who “think big” about the needs of underserved communities, are worth applauding as we enter the annual season of giving.

And as other nonprofit food organizations have said this year, supplying food for these neighborhoods is not the main concern. What these organizations need is volunteers.

Editorial

Editorial

“We’re just trying to get those resources out there,” Eric Von Haynes said. “It’s kind of ridiculous there’s so much waste. If people just take like an hour a week, you can help get some resources out here.”

Lots of people are looking for ways to give back out of their own abundance. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated food advocates, the options are endless in Chicago.

Providing an hour out of your week, or even your month, can go a long way. And if you don’t have time but do have money to spare, donating to the solar-powered refrigerator movement is a safe bet you are investing in something good in your community.

Opinion Newsletter

Love Fridge was started at the height of the pandemic in 2020, as an initiative to provide free and fresh food for Chicagoans who don’t have enough to eat, a situation in which an estimated one in five Chicagoans find themselves.

Over the two years since the start of the pandemic, food insecurity rates have gone up and down but have consistently been above levels not seen before March 2020.

Locally, the Greater Chicago Food Depository distributed about 40.3 million meals for the first half of the 2022 fiscal year, an increase of 37% compared with the same time frame in 2019. About 29% of Black households face a greater risk of hunger in Chicago, while Latino households’ food insecurity rate is at 24%, and the need for food increases in households with children, according to the Food Depository.

And even with the eviction moratorium, food assistance programs and other measures, an October 2021 analysis by the research and advocacy group United for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) found that — no surprise here — low-income households fared significantly worse financially, physically and emotionally throughout the pandemic, compared with middle- and high-income households.

The need for food assistance is evident to the Von Hayneses, who say that some sites are often emptied just 20 minutes after being stocked. Generous food pantries, stores and restaurants provide ample supply — but again, volunteers are needed.

The refrigerators that rely on electricity, rather than solar power as in Englewood, are connected to people’s homes and businesses. Love Fridge reimburses the hosts for the electricity, but finding enough people willing to oversee the fridge can be difficult.

Using solar panels could solve that problem, but the first solar installation cost $16,000, (provided through grant funding).

If you are looking to join the effort, visit thelovefridge.com

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