On Aug. 1, Covenant Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ont., opened an all-access fridge and pantry in front of a ministry building adjacent to the church. It was meant to provide fresh food for people in their community, but the connections growing between neighbors are what the church’s pastor of community, Janet Ryzebol, is cherishing most.
“So many people from our congregation are having conversations with people in our neighborhood—whether they are volunteers or whether they are just dropping off food and meeting neighbors in the parking lot who are also dropping off or picking up," Ryzebol said. "I only have story after story that people from our congregation are sharing with me and others on the Fridge Team.”
The team first sparked the idea in May when a woman attending a prayer meeting talked about community fridge ministries. Ryzebol and two outreach members looked into it and learned that community fridges are popping up all around the world. With the Niagara region relying heavily on tourism, many people lost employment due to closures connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. Could their neighbors use free fresh food? They decided it was worth the experiment to try. “The idea caught the imagination of the prayer group, the outreach team, the neighborhood, and the congregation,” Ryzebol said.
From there they consulted with the local food bank, the public health department, the church's insurance company, and an organization running a community fridge on the other side of town. After numerous conversations, they developed guidelines, gathered volunteers, printed and delivered flyers to the community, and purchased a used fridge and cabinet.
Wanting to prioritize access to food that the food bank doesn't readily offer, Covenant receives financial donations for the ministry, and two volunteers use these funds to purchase high-turnover items—especially dairy and fresh produce—when they are on sale.
Visitors to the fridge are encouraged to “take what you need and donate what you can.” A sign on the clear glass doors lists accepted goods—everything from fruit and vegetables to baby food and formula.
The fridge and an accompanying pantry, for shelf-stable and personal care items, are open all day every day. Volunteers monitor them daily for inventory, to maintain temperatures, and to keep the spaces clean. Ryzebol said the current turnaround time for most food items is two hours. “Already it’s become apparent there’s a huge need in our community for additional food,” she said.
The team is preparing to move the fridge and pantry inside for the winter. They are renovating a room at the back of the ministry building where a separate entrance, window, and security cameras will allow the community fridge to remain easily accessible and safe.