Atlanta entrepreneur and activist Latisha Springer launched the grassroots mutual aid organization Free99Fridge this summer to help combat food insecurity in some of the most vulnerable populations living within the city’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Access to healthy food is a growing problem in America, especially in recent months as more people find themselves suddenly unemployed due to the ongoing health crisis.
Springer, who is Black, spent a portion of her spring and summer protesting against police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S. Standing in the hot Georgia sun several hours a day in metro Atlanta’s northern suburbs, Springer says she withstood weeks of racial slurs and other indignities from passersby during the protests. The idea behind the Atlanta community fridge project was born in part from enduring these experiences at protests, and from a need to do more and actively participate in changing the system.
“I’ve been protesting for months out in Alpharetta, and I was just consumed by that. One day I decided that standing out on the corner being called a n——r for five hours a day wasn’t really helping my community,” Springer says of founding Free99Fridge. “I needed to do something else to actually make an impact in my community, which is in incredible pain right now. I didn’t feel like me being out there holding a sign was really making a difference. I’m doing a community fridge, dammit!”
A community fridge is all about neighbors helping neighbors and providing access to fresh produce, non-perishable food, and personal hygiene items to every member of the community, regardless of need, and at no cost. The fridge is maintained, managed, and stocked by neighborhood volunteers, local farmers, and businesses within the community. It’s the very definition of mutual aid — a voluntary, self-supported collective of people organizing and working together to change conditions within their own community, while also meeting the needs of its members when the current systems in place cannot.
After months of following the progress of other free community fridge projects in cities like New York and Austin, Springer decided it was time for Atlanta to have its own. She discontinued her protesting efforts in July, put together a slide deck explaining how a community fridge works, launched the Instagram account Free99Fridge, and started pitching the mutual aid initiative to local businesses.
Springer now has seven community fridge locations in the works around Atlanta, including two refrigerators at Best End Brewing in West End and one refrigerator each at Hodgepodge Coffeehouse in East Atlanta, Joystick Gamebar in Old Fourth Ward, ParkGrounds coffee shop in Reynoldstown, neighborhood pub Poor Hendrix in East Lake, Kirkwood United Church of Christ, and Lost-N-Found Thrift Store near Lavista Park.
Best End Brewing in the southwest Atlanta neighborhood of West End was the first business on board with Free99Fridge. The brewpub at the Lee and White development along the Westside Beltline trail will house two community fridges, set to launch in the parking lot on Friday, August 28. The bright yellow refrigerators are housed in a large wooden shed in order to shelter the food pantry from the elements. The shed comes with shelving for canned goods and household items. Murals are painted on the sides of the structure by local artists who have volunteered their time and talents to organization.
Neighboring restaurant Boxcar will stock one fridge for the opening, while Roti Rolls food truck plans to stock the second fridge with mac and cheese, pickled vegetables, local produce, roti bread, smoked chicken wings and ice cream sandwiches made with Atlanta-based Honeysuckle Gelato.
A launch party at Best End Brewing for the community fridges kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday evening. People are encouraged to stop by for a beer and to help stock the pantry and refrigerators with additional food and household and personal hygiene products.
“Best End has been an amazing host and gave us a really big space to build the shelters. To eliminate as much waste as possible, we use scrap wood and other secondhand materials to construct the shelters,” Springer explains. “All of the fridges are donated by people upgrading their kitchens or getting rid of a fridge in their garage. We don’t want to have to purchase a refrigerator.”
She expects the community fridge at Hodgepodge Coffeehouse to open in the next couple of weeks.
Springer is currently creating a website for Free99Fridge to go live in September. The website will allow people to donate money, sign up to volunteer to haul away, clean, or paint refrigerators, construct shelters and food pantries, and pick up food and goods from local farms and businesses. Springer also plans to launch a GoFundMe soon to provide the organization and its efforts with a much-needed injection of start-up cash and to assist in opening more free community fridges throughout Atlanta.
For now, people can donate to Free99Fridge via Venmo or CashApp. Those looking to volunteer should fill out the form linked to the Free99Fridge Instagram account. Local artists who wish to create murals for the shelters or local businesses interested in sponsoring space for a community fridge in a neighborhood should email Springer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The free fridge is a logical solution to redistribute goods and resources in communities. There’s no reason for anyone to be going hungry when we have so much abundance, and there’s no need for our neighbors to be going hungry,” says Springer. “People have to rally together. No one’s coming to save us. If we don’t do it, it’s not going to happen. People just shouldn’t have to choose between keeping their lights on and feeding their family.”
Click here for fridge locations around Atlanta, to sign up to volunteer, contribute financially, contribute food to a fridge, or learn more about sponsoring a community fridge.