Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Evanston Community Fridges faces financial struggle, seeks donations to sustain free food access

Evanston+Community+Fridges+is+a+mutual+aid+network+that+provides+access+to+free+food+to+residents+throughout+Evanston.+
Daily file photo by Saul Pink
Evanston Community Fridges is a mutual aid network that provides access to free food to residents throughout Evanston.

On street corners and sidewalks across the city, passersby might notice colorful fridges, stocked with food for anyone who might need it. 

But the group that manages these fridges is experiencing a financial plateau, and they are seeking donations to get out of it. 

Evanston Community Fridges is a mutual aid network that provides access to free food to residents throughout Evanston. Participants can take and leave food in any of the fridges, which are open 24 hours a day, every day of the week. 

“Our policy is very much ‘leave what can, take what you need,’ you know, so we support and encourage every community member to help themselves to whatever they need in the fridge,” said Kelsey Bednar, co-manager of Sunrise Fridge on 320 Madison St. 

The organization operates four public fridges — Sunrise Fridge, Soul Fridge on 1601 Payne St., Freedom Fridge on 619 West Howard St. and CNE/OG Fridge on 1335 Dodge Ave. — located in different corners of the city and stocked with food donations.

Financial support for Evanston Community Fridges comes entirely from community members. While that gives the program little restriction on funding and independence from grant-giving entities, it poses a challenge when funds are low — the only way to get more funds would be to solicit more donations from the community. 

Anna Grant-Bolton, one of the lead outreach organizers for Evanston Community Fridges, described their financial situation as “cyclical.” The program saw low donations in the summer. But despite bouncing back, Grant-Bolton said they’re currently in another financial slump. 

“We’re kind of at the end of our most recent cycle,” Grant-Bolton said. “I guess we’re at the point where very soon we’re gonna have to solicit funds from the community or directly through a fundraising push.”

Funding goes toward a variety of projects, including fridge repairs, installation of new fridges and the artwork that decorates each fridge. 

Bednar has been a co-manager of Sunrise Fridge for the last several months. In that time, the group has had to buy a new fridge, build a new shelter around it and pay artists to beautify it. She said undertakings like these carry a high price tag, and the donations they receive are expended quickly. 

However, the primary use of funding is for their grocery shopping reimbursement program, which is one of the most crucial ways each fridge remains stocked. Under the reimbursement program, community members can shop for groceries, put the groceries they bought into one of the fridges and get reimbursed for their costs.

If the group cannot get enough funding, then they might have to pause the grocery shopping reimbursement program, which they did during the summer. Grant-Bolton hopes to plan an online fundraiser to raise money for the organization, aiming to rise out of their current slump. 

Cook County has been undergoing a food insecurity crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Feeding America estimated 785,890 people in Cook County were food insecure. Residents of color were affected by this crisis the most.

“Households in the Chicago Metro area, especially those with children, continue to experience higher rates of food insecurity than during pre-pandemic times. Food insecurity rates are even higher among households of color,” the Greater Chicago Food Depository wrote in their Spring 2022 status report.

In Evanston’s 5th Ward, more than 94% of residents lived further than a half-mile from a large grocery store in 2022. 

Bednar emphasized the need for more donations as the weather starts getting colder, such as non-perishable food, freezer products, toiletries, toothpaste and deodorant. 

“People need food more than ever all across the community,” Bednar said. “We’re really hoping to bring some awareness to our fridges for people who might not know about them.”

Email: [email protected]

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