On a sunny Saturday morning, a ribbon cutting ceremony held March 13 officially opened a community refrigerator and pantry outside of Carnival Grocery, 824 South Oak Park Ave., Oak Park.
“Oak Park is a community with large homes and beautiful architecture,” said Anthony Clark, event organizer and a current candidate for village trustee. “But it doesn’t matter how big your house if is there is nothing in the fridge. Food insecurity is a pandemic that impacts across demographics.”
Clark, Chibuike Enyia and Juanta Griffin, Represent Oak Park candidates for the village board, joined Arthur Paris, Carnival Grocery owner, and representatives from the Oak Park Chamber of Commerce to unveil the refrigerator nestled against the grocery store’s exterior. Onlookers included community activists, non-profit staff members, small business owners, journalists, and interested residents.
“It is a privilege to partner with the Oak Park community fridge and offer our customers an opportunity to be part a solution, “said Paris. “We are looking forward to giving our shoppers an option to give back in a tangible and immediate way, and that is something very special and unique.”
The fridge promotes a “take what you need, leave what you can” philosophy. Differing from a charity, the “love fridge” is designed to operate as a mutual aid system where members of the community work together to support the needs of people living in the community. The public refrigerator, with a clear glass door, roof and walls protecting it, is powered by Carnival Grocery and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will be stocked and maintained by volunteers.
Community members can support the cooperative effort through monetary and food donations, volunteering to stock and clean the refrigerator, or driving to pick up food donations. Those in need of food for any reason can take what they need without fear of the stigma often associated with food insecurity.
“The pandemic highlighted how precarious food security is for too many,” said Michele Zurakowski, executive director of Beyond Hunger in Oak Park. “Our community has rallied throughout the pandemic in such creative ways. We are grateful for the voices and actions like the community fridge that see pockets of hunger and find innovative ways to meet the need where it is.”
A website dedicated to the community refrigerator details how to volunteer as a fridge manager, what items can and cannot be stocked inside, and how those in need should utilize the fridge. Plans are already in the works for additional community refrigerators in Oak Park and Maywood.
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“The reaction to the fridge has been beautiful,” said Clark. “There are educational elements to the project. Oak Park residents may not recognize there is need within the community, but there is food insecurity here. This fridge is available to homeowners, renters and the housing insecure to be used without fear of judgment.”Visit opfridge.com for more information.