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How outdoor community fridges are changing life for those facing hard times

Toronto

“I don’t have to go beg,” said senior who uses local community refrigerators because she has difficulty affording food.

Patricia Reid, an 80-year-old living on a fixed income, tears up when she talks about the community fridge she visits. ‘You have eased my life, that’s what they’ve done. And I couldn’t imagine somebody being so kind.'(Nick Purdon/CBC)

You might have spotted a refrigerator, painted with bright colours, out on a public sidewalk near where you live. If so, you’ve stumbled upon a growing international food-sharing initiative known as “the community fridge.”

The idea behind the fridges that have cropped all across Canada, especially since the pandemic began, is as simple as the motto painted onto their doors: “Take what you need — leave what you can.”

The refrigerators offer free food to anyone who needs it, and are stocked by anyone who wants to donate.

There are eight community fridge locations spread across downtown Toronto. CBC’s nightly newscast spent some time at several fridges and spoke to people who use them, as well as people who keep them filled.

Bernice Sampson

Bernice Sampson, 60, is happy that the local community fridge in her Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale is so well stocked. ‘Oh, it’s wonderful,’ she said. ‘I feel proud of Parkdale.'(Nick Purdon/CBC )

“I just come to see what I can get. Something to eat for supper,” Bernice Sampson said. “Or if I get some toothpaste and toothbrush, I’m good to go.”

Sampson frequents the community fridge in the downtown Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale almost every day. She says it has become part of her routine.

On the day CBC News spoke with Sampson, she was able to grab a couple of onions and a box of breaded shrimp from the fridge.

“They’re going to go in my stomach when I get home,” she said with a laugh.

“It’s awesome that someone wants to give back something to the community,” Sampson continued. “It feels good to know that people are doing that for the community — not only for me, but for the kids, for the old ones, for people that don’t have nothing.”

Diane Hanson, 73

Diane Hanson comes to the fridges in Parkdale, accompanied by her son, in the hope of finding donations of fresh, healthy food:

Kathryn Arab, 31

Kathryn Arab is a front-line nurse who lives a few doors down from a community fridge in Toronto. ‘I think a lot of people are struggling,’ she said. ‘I’m just trying to help out others any way I can.'(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Kathryn Arab lives near one of Toronto’s community fridges and she stocks it whenever she can.

“I just drop off whatever I had that I wasn’t using And it all gets taken, like, within five minutes,” she said.

For Arab, helping comes naturally. She’s a front-line nurse and has worked through the pandemic. She also cares deeply about the Toronto community of Parkdale where she lives — one of the poorer neighbourhoods in the city.

“I know these people. I see them on the streets. I see them struggling. I see them begging, sleeping on the sidewalk,” she said. “And they’re my family. They’re my brothers and sisters. They’re my friends. Why wouldn’t I want to help them if I could?”

Many of the community refrigerators in Toronto have been decorated by the volunteers who maintain and supply them.(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Jake Silva

Along with his father, Jake Silva runs The Iceman, an ice-making business that serves restaurants in Toronto. The family business has been in the same neighbourhood for 40 years.

Silva helped set up a community fridge outside his business as a way of giving back.

Patricia Reid

Patricia Reid holds the items she took from her community fridge. ‘It’s just a godsend,’ she said.(Nick Purdon/CBC)

Patricia Reid says she only recently found out about Toronto’s community fridges. Now she visits them often.

“I got a tomato, I got spinach. I could make a salad. They’re expensive,” she said on a recent trip, smiling.

Reid is 80 and lives on a fixed income. She explains that the community fridge helps her because she needs to save money to pay for her dental surgery.

“I have to pay $4,000 for my tooth implants. And I’ll give up food for that, because teeth are really important in health,” she said. “I have to give my food money away to that.”

Reid says she doesn’t know much about who is behind the community fridges, but she wants them to know that the initiative has made a difference in her life.

“You have eased my life, that’s what they’ve done. And I couldn’t imagine somebody being so kind. I get really worked up about that,” she said with tears in her eyes.

“It’s given to me, so I don’t have to go beg. I don’t want to beg.”

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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