A new mutual aid endeavor launched in Bridgeport with the mission to feed everyone through solidarity, not charity.
by Mairead McElroy
On May 1st, Bridgeport Democratic Socialists of America and Bridgeport Mutual Aid, with the help of other local organizations and individuals in Bridgeport, Connecticut, launched their first Free Food Fridge, under the name Fridgeport. The first fridge can be found at 219 James Street in Bridgeport and is hosted by Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries. Free Food Fridges, or Community Fridges, have been popping up all over cities and towns, many being created during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the idea of free food fridges has been around for a few years now, many organizers have been starting to use them as a way to get free resources to people in their community. What they have found is that food, and other resources, are constantly being wasted because they are not reaching people who will take them while many people remain in need of those same items. Free food fridges help minimize the issues of waste and hunger while creating the beginnings of a trustworthy community resource network.
Fridgeport is based on the principle of solidarity, not charity. This means communal sharing of resources, no questions asked. The motivations behind modern charity organizations often amplify power dynamics in a harmful way. Some create an image of a helpless and voiceless group of people, and lead to the recipients being disempowered and misrepresented. This often happens when an organization does not authentically engage with a community they are attempting to serve and develops a savior complex, where the solutions being presented by those most impacted are ignored. In true solidarity, solutions presented by community members must be taken into consideration when planning and taking action. A one time donation to a charity isn’t a sustainable solution, and there’s a good chance that the organization might still turn the most marginalized groups of people away like drug users, LGBTQ+, and mentally ill people. Free food fridges are a form of mutual aid, which means a community provides and distributes resources to the people that need them. It is run by community members for community members, like Reggy, a lead organizer in the fridge set up. When asked about how the fridges help build community, Reggy explained:
“The fridge helps us create community by providing a space for conversation built on a shared struggle. At the end of the day, Bridgeport has tens of thousands of people who are living in what is effectively a food apartheid city – a few fridges won’t save us. What can save us is having a space where shared experiences become shared forces of change. Fridges are just fridges, anyone can do it. Capitalism makes us reliant on fragmented systems but Fridgeport is just fridges taken care of by people. Community starts when we come together for fridge openings, food drops, and make connections within our neighborhoods. It evolves as the connections are made and we build from them. Different classes still connect over the same issues and the fridges make a space to foster those conversations and people work together to find a solution,”
Free Food Fridges are not only supposed to provide food, but specifically good healthy food. The United States is full of food deserts, or spaces that do not have affordable and local nutritious food options. While neighborhoods have access to snack food and fast food options, the lack of healthy and filling food results in a myriad of health issues for working class people residing in these food deserts. The cycle will continue for generations in affected areas, unless more innovative solutions start being implemented. Fridgeport works to connect local organizations like Bridgeport Mutual Aid who help address the lack of healthy food in other ways, like building at-home gardens for families and residents of Bridgeport. Organizers also coordinate with local farmers and community gardeners who transport locally grown and raised food into the fridges, including Homefront Farmers and Hungry Reaper Farms.
While providing healthy food is important, Fridgeport needs anything it can get to meet the demand being seen since the fridge opened. In a 2016 survey done by the Bridgeport Department of Health and Social Services, it was discovered that 50% of Bridgeport residents are food insecure. While there is not a lot of current data, many people assume these numbers could have only gotten worse since the start of the pandemic. On a couple of Saturdays in May Fridgeport volunteers helped pick up and deliver over a metric ton of food from Farmers to Families to the James Street Fridge, which would take between a few hours and a day at most to be claimed by people in need of food. Food Rescue CT and Bridgeport Mutual Aid also contribute very frequent drop offs to help maintain that there is always some food in the fridge.
Many of the founding members of Fridgeport acknowledge that a fridge won’t fix all the problems of Bridgeport. They know they can’t stop at just giving away food. When asked about challenges that have arisen since the fridges opened, Reggy said, “a big challenge is the conversations around mutual aid. A lot of people are worried about people taking too much, but with mutual aid too much is not possible. One loaf of bread might not be enough for everyone, and it’s not up to anyone to determine what is the right amount of support for another person. Would you ask a firefighter if they used too much water to put out a fire?” Organizers say this is a band aid, and ideally these fridges would not need to exist. But for now, they help solve immediate needs and will hopefully help foster future initiatives in Bridgeport.
In this world there is enough food, space, and resources for everyone in the world to live comfortably. But because of capitalism, and the need to make a profit for capitalist systems to work, we constantly see good food being thrown away to keep demand high as our friends and neighbors go hungry. Even though we live in a post-scarcity world, where we know everyone could be taken care of, we still see all around the world lifesaving resources being withheld from communities in need. We are creating the world we want to see, one that cares about people over everything else, a world where every member of our community should feel welcomed, heard, and cared for by others. Fridgeport is hoping to see more locations open soon.