Giving Compass' Take:
- Community fridges not only increase food access but help curb food waste that would eventually contribute to climate pollution.
- How can donors help strengthen or support community fridge programs and highlight their dual purposes?
- Learn more about food waste solutions.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Dan Zauderer and his in-laws had eaten plenty of pizza one evening in early October, and they still had seven slices left. What to do? “Well, we could just chuck it,” Zauderer thought. Instead, he and his fiancée wrapped the slices in plastic wrap, slapped labels on them with the date, and walked the leftovers a little more than a block down the road to a refrigerator standing along 92nd Avenue in New York City’s Upper East Side.
That fridge is one among many “community fridges” across the country that volunteers stock with free food — prepared meals, leftovers, and you name it. Zauderer had helped set a network up in New York City during the pandemic as a way to reduce waste and fight hunger. The idea came about when he was a middle school teacher looking to provide short-term help to students whose families couldn’t afford food. He stationed the first fridge in the Bronx in September 2020. That one, the Mott Haven Fridge, was hugely popular, and it motivated Zauderer to expand. Since then, he has helped plug in seven more fridges in the Bronx and Manhattan, including the one where he dropped off his leftover pizza.
“It just blossomed into way more than I ever could have expected,” said Zauderer, who now works full-time at Grassroots Grocery, a food-distribution nonprofit he co-founded in New York.
It’s not just Zauderer’s project that has blossomed. Community fridges first cropped up a decade ago in a few isolated spots around the globe, then spread across the United States right after the pandemic started in 2020, when supply chains were crumbling, food prices were rising, and families across the country were struggling to find meals. At the time, the fridges were viewed as a creative response to an urgent need. But when the pandemic subsided, it became clear that the refrigerators — sometimes called freedges, friendly fridges, and love fridges — were more than a fad. Today, nonprofits and mutual aid groups are overseeing hundreds of fridges that bolster access to food in cities from Miami to Anchorage, Alaska.
The fridges also embody a straightforward solution to climate change. Each year, tens of billions of pounds of food, more than a third of what’s produced in the U.S., get tossed into trash bins. Most of those scraps end up in landfills, where they decompose and release methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas. The sheer quantity of the country’s combined waste makes it a major source of climate pollution: Food waste accounts for as much as 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And more food is being thrown out than ever.
Read the full article about community fridges by Max Graham at Grist.