A little over four years ago, a previously unhoused man in Saint-Henri came up with an idea to give back to his community. Seeing that there were few resources available in the east of Montreal to individuals in precarious financial situations, he decided to start a community fridge to ensure access to healthy food and reduce food waste. The idea behind the initiative is straightforward: Stationed in a public space, the community refrigerator encourages neighbourhood residents to contribute food.
The fridge has since blossomed into Le Frigo Communautaire Saint-Henri, a community initiative fuelled by donations and loyal volunteers who organize the fridge and prepare food.
“When I moved back to Montreal three years ago, I found out about the fridge and would bring food almost everyday,” Claude Chevalot, the manager of Le Frigo Communautaire, said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “We managed to raise money and made meals during Christmas. It went on like this for a while [until] the fridge broke down. We couldn’t put a new one in the same spot [anymore] since the landlord did not want us to.”
The original fridge was located in Fattal, a cluster of commercial loft buildings populated primarily by low-income individuals. Many residents in the area relied on the community fridge for food. After it broke down, it took Chevalot six months to find a suitable location for its replacement; the new fridge is not far from the original one, located behind Friperie Sidneys at 5165 rue Notre Dame Ouest.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity—with unemployment and poverty rates skyrocketing, healthy groceries have become unaffordable to many. Thankfully, Le Frigo Communautaire is receiving a consistent flow of donations, which has helped the initiative remain up and running throughout the pandemic.
“Restaurants and food services were closing, so I would often wake up to find boxes of food on every step of my staircase,” Chevalot said. “We would rush to get everything to the fridge [.…] We made more and more partnerships with local merchants.”
As many people regularly frequent the fridge, most of the supplies are quick to run out and some residents cannot arrive in time to access their share. To address the demand, Chevalot puts together weekly food baskets for people in the community upon request.
With the help of five dedicated volunteers, the project quickly gathered momentum. As Le Frigo Communautaire hopes to prepare more food baskets for families in need, their biggest challenge is finding storage space.
“We are not a registered charity, which means that we cannot give tax income receipts,” Chevalot said. “The best thing that could happen to us is to have a sponsor who could allow us to have a large storage space. We [also] need volunteers with cars able to carry heavy boxes to help us pick up donations.”
Community refrigerators have been popping up across Canada in response to increasing rates of food insecurity and food waste. Given how the pandemic has aggravated issues of financial precarity, seeing people come together to support their neighbours through difficult times is what makes initiatives like Le Frigo Communautaire so fruitful. Community-led efforts like these put resources directly into the hands of those in need. Mutual aid initiatives like the Community Cooks Co-operative are based on similar principles of community support.
“Right now […] we make gigantic food baskets for over 35 families,” Chevalot said. “Many times people who receive these baskets write to us to tell us that they feel loved and cared for, because we take the time to know them. We will put some surprises for the kids and […] prepare meals to give parents a break.”
If you are looking to get involved with Le Frigo Communautaire, you can donate via Interac using the email address [email protected], bring food to the fridge, or make food donations for the food baskets.