Suburban Unity Alliance with support from Byline Bank has partnered with the Oak Park Public Library to bring another public refrigerator to the community. The newest Unity Fridge location, unveiled on Sept. 10, provides free access to fresh food and snacks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The unit is nestled next to the book drop at the Main Library, 834 Lake St, Oak Park.
Anthony Clark, Suburban Unity Alliance founder and Community Fridge champion, joined library and community leaders for a small ceremony to officially open the fridge. The eastern-facing glass front refrigerator is shielded from the elements by the library portico. A wood frame, crafted by Garrett Kern, further protects the fridge from weather related damage and provides storage for shelf stable food items.
“Democrat, Republican, man, woman, they, old, young—it doesn’t matter,” said Clark to the small crowd outside the library. “No one should go hungry.”
The library fridge is a relocation of the unit formerly housed at Carnival Grocery store on Oak Park Avenue. All parties involved with the relocation agreed that the Main Library was a more natural fit for a public refrigerator because of the community focus of libraries in general.
“The function of libraries is changing,” said Juanta Griffin, Oak Park Public Library’s multicultural learning coordinator, “They are serving as social service organizations more than ever before.”
Both Griffin and Clark noted the critical role libraries play in the lives of those facing homelessness and housing insecurity as well as those utilizing computers and internet to search for jobs. The organizers envision the library fridge having an array of grab-and-go healthy snack options for children who may not benefit from an afterschool program or may be food insecure at home. Having fresh food available right outside for people who need it most is in line with library staff goal of being among the first to be aware of a community’s emerging needs.
“I’ve always had the library in mind for a fridge, but I needed proof of concept before I approached them,” said Clark who launched the grassroots program a year ago. “Partnering with the main branch makes the most sense. It feels like perfect synergy.”
Carnival Grocery, 824 S. Oak Park Ave., continues to support the effort through an account intended to benefit the five community refrigerators. Shoppers can add a monetary donation in any amount to their grocery bill and the funds will be used to stock the Unity Fridges located in Oak Park, Maywood and East Garfield Park.
Unity Fridges promote a “take what you need, leave what you can” philosophy. Differing from a charity, the community fridges operate as a mutual aid system where members of the community work together to support the needs of people living in the community. Like the others, the library fridge will be stocked and maintained by volunteers. Community members can offer monetary and food donations, volunteer to stock and clean the refrigerator, or assist in picking up food donations. Those in need of food for any reason can take what they need without fear of judgment.
Where to find a Unity Fridge
East Garfield Park:
Good Hope Free Will Baptist Church 525 S. California Ave., Chicago
The Hampton House, 804 S. 17th Ave., Maywood
- Main Library Oak Park, 834 Lake St., Oak Park
- EAUM Church Parking Lot (Grey Shed), 405 S. Euclid Ave., Oak Park
- Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 607 Harvard St., Oak Park