Student-led community fridge provides accessible food

Photo of a stocked fridge with various food items including a variety of vegetables and bags of trail mix. On the closed fridge door marker scripted words read “Free Food!!” and “Take what you need.”

Photo of a stocked fridge with various food items including a variety of vegetables and bags of trail mix. On the closed fridge door marker scripted words read “Free Food!!” and “Take what you need.”
When it’s safe to reopen, the USC Community Health Involvement Project fridge look to continue running the fridge and add a health site nearby. (Photo courtesy of Addie Kapsner)

Instead of taking a step back during this virtual semester, the student-led USC Community Health Involvement Project stepped up to meet the needs of the Los Angeles community when members realized that the coronavirus pandemic heightened food insecurity for many L.A. residents. 

The students opened a community fridge in Chinatown in early October to provide free and accessible food to members of the L.A. community. The community fridge is a part of Los Angeles Community Fridges, a network of 17 decentralized, independent refrigerators that provide food to communities in the L.A area.

While the community fridge is run by the USC Community Health Involvement Project, there are many community members and organizations that contribute to its success. Several restaurants in the L.A. area have agreed to donate food regularly to the fridge.

With the support and donations from restaurants and community members, the community fridge has remained fully stocked every day since it opened in early October, President of the Community Health Involvement Project Addie Kapsner said. Although the food in the community fridge is usually gone within one to two days, it is restocked nearly every day by different community volunteers.

“There’s a lot of food being donated and we are pleasantly surprised,” Kapsner said. “I was expecting to have to go between our donations to stores to get stuff to refill the fridge, but we really haven’t needed to do that much. The community is very involved, which is nice.”

Burgerlords, a vegan burger restaurant in Chinatown, plans to donate excess food to the community fridge at the end of each week. 

“We want to help however we can because of what’s going on right now and reduce the waste we’re putting out,” said Burgerlords operation manager Jessica Mata. “We’d rather know that someone is able to utilize the things we can’t, especially right now. The community needs to work together so we can get through this.” 

The Community Health Involvement Project welcomes USC students to help in restocking and maintaining the community fridge. ProjectQ founder Madin Lopez said anyone can donate to the fridge by bringing food to ProjectQ Monday through Thursday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and placing the goods in the fridge. They accept donations of fresh produce, canned goods, nonperishable items, frozen meats, eggs, bread, milk, bottled water and non-alcoholic drinks.

Kapsner said the greatest challenge the organization faced in opening the community fridge was finding the right area to host the fridge. When choosing a location, they prioritized businesses owned by Black people and people of color.

Ultimately, the Community Health Involvement Project decided to place its community fridge at ProjectQ, a nonprofit in Chinatown that provides a safe space for LGBTQIA+ homeless youth.

“I’m very thankful,” said ProjectQ Executive Director Madin Lopez. “This is one of the coolest things we’ve been able to do through COVID because it is furthering our mission of helping folks with food, but at the same time it has a really low contact ration. It’s direct service with low contact.”

While most community members have supported the fridge, Lopez said businesses located near ProjectQ were unhappy with the influx of people experiencing homelessness in the neighborhood. Ultimately, those businesses called local authorities, forcing ProjectQ to move the fridge inside its facilities and making it less accessible, Lopez said. 

“That’s been the hardest thing,” Lopez said, “recognizing that there are systems in place specifically to keep us from having access to the things that we need.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Community Health Involvement Project ran several health sites to provide services such as blood pressure, blood glucose and body mass index screenings to underserved communities in L.A., but cannot operate them for the time being. 

When it’s safe to reopen, the Community Health Involvement Project plans to continue running the health sites and the community fridge. In the future, the organization hopes to start a health site near the community fridge so that people can easily access both health care and food at one location.

“We do still want to keep the fridge up and running,” Kapsner said. “And possibly add other fridges because there used to be two near USC, but one of them recently closed down.”

If students would like to get involved with the community fridge they can reach out to uscchip@gmail.com or DM their instagram page @USCChip.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the community fridge is located in Koreatown. It can be found in Chinatown. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.