Community fridges open in Des Moines Public Libraries to feed hungry

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The Des Moines Public Library opened two new communal refrigerators just in time for the holiday season. According to library staff, food quickly flew off the shelves.

“Most of the refrigerated items were gone in three days,” said Nicky Hayter, manager of the Franklin Avenue Library. Opened a community refrigerator on the day.

Since the store opened, community members have worked together to stock the shelves with everything from eggs and meat to yogurt, cheese, and fresh fruit and vegetables, Hayter said. Des Moines Public Library Director Sue Woody said the need has been affected by a “food lockdown” caused by a dispute between the Iowa Food Bank and the Des Moines Area Religious Council’s pantry network. .

“Being this free and open public space positions us in an interesting way that it can be a place for people to come.People already come to the library for a variety of reasons. is another service we can provide,” she said.

more:Is The Food Bank of Iowa’s exclusive deal with Kum & Go starving Des Moines’ pantry?

The idea to start a community refrigerator in the library began with an email Hayter received from an officer of Eat Greater Des Moines, a local nonprofit focused on eliminating food waste in metropolitan areas. After initial talks, Hayter applied for her ChangeX grant from Microsoft and soon had the funds to buy a refrigerator and her first groceries. She said the refrigerator helps the library do what it can.

more:Our Des Moines: Why buy when you can borrow from the Library of Things?

“Fixing food insecurity has never been our mission,” said Hayter. “We’re just part of it. We have relatively anonymous spaces in our buildings where people can come and get what they need without us intervening.”

According to a post on the ChangeX fundraising site in late December, the library refrigerator at the east entrance of 5000 Franklin Avenue has been opened more than 80 times since it opened, with food left on the shelf for more than 24 hours. rarely. The need for this service for our community is very high. ”

Community refrigerators provide food for those in need

The Des Moines Public Library is not the only public agency that organizes community refrigerators. Monica Ouchalski, founder of Urban Sweet Tooth Farms and Community Refrigerator in his River Bend neighborhood, has helped install 30 of his community refrigerators across Iowa, 18 of which are Located in libraries, hotels, and apartment complexes in Polk County.

from 2020Since transforming a small park in Des Moines into Sweet Tooth Farm, Monika Owczarski has faced food shortages in River Bend.

She says refrigerators, like those at River Bend at 1618 6th Ave. in Home Co.’s parking lot, provide emergency assistance to families who are often left out of traditional ways of getting food to meet their needs. said.

“I see working parents and they’re still poor. And they don’t qualify for food stamps, they can’t go to food banks, but they still can’t support their families.

Community refrigerators, like those at the Franklin Library, don’t require visitors to check in or prove they need access to the refrigerator supplies. Aubrey Alvarez, director of Eat Greater Des Moines, said his six refrigerators in Iowa are now using Raspberry pi devices to track usage. The Raspberry pi device is a small switchboard programmed to indicate open/close frequency.

Across the state of Iowa, refrigerators are opened about 15 times a day. The most-used refrigerator is located at Community Youth Concepts at 1446 Martin Luther King Drive in Des Moines and is opened about 25 times a day, according to data provided by Alvarez.

Leaders working to fill the gaps that contribute to food insecurity have debated the importance of proving “need”, but many are skeptical about free, like community refrigerators. It claims to reduce the stigma around food assistance and reach families who may find it difficult by providing an accessible space in. crack.

“It’s a really dynamic and easy way to close that gap,” says Owczarski. “I don’t believe community refrigerators are the solution. Some days feel like bandaging an amputated leg. But we innovate when people are still hungry. And if we don’t feel like trying new things, what will happen to us?

2021 controversy changed community refrigerator system for the better, leaders say

Despite good intentions, communal refrigerators are a controversial topic in metropolitan areas. In 2021, operators of multiple communal refrigerators in residents’ gardens faced thousands of dollars in fines for violating city zoning ordinances.

Since then, refrigerator organizers have prioritized “co-locating” with community partners such as libraries and nonprofits, who can work to maintain them, says Eat Greater Des Moines. says Alvarez. Alvarez says this is “actually a more effective solution for everyone” and helps organizers put refrigerators where they’re most needed, while at the same time giving them the right amount of space to make them successful. It also helps secure community infrastructure, he says.

“We’re not forcing a refrigerator on anyone. The only way to keep it is for the community to actually own it. And that’s really exciting,” she said. I got

The Food Bank of Iowa does not carry community refrigerators. “Because they don’t follow the same regulations and distribution standards that we have to follow,” Annette Hacker, a spokesperson for the organization, wrote in an email to his Des Moines register.

But Hacker says refrigerators play a key role in feeding people and reducing food waste.

“Community Refrigerator is a well-intentioned, grassroots initiative,” she wrote. “… Community Refrigerators have become popular in the region, filling a gap for those who need extra food during this difficult time.”

For more information on the Des Moines Libraries Community Fridges, visit

Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact her at [email protected] or on her Twitter. @francescablock3.

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