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New community fridge at Newmarket library aims to take bite out of food insecurity

Newmarket Food Pantry, partners, community to provide freely accessible food at any time of day through project that aims to be in place next month
A community fridge in Burnaby, British Columbia.

A new community fridge planned for Newmarket Public Library could take a bite out of local food insecurity.

The Newmarket Food Pantry and other community partners plan to build and fill a fridge for anyone to use, no questions asked. The fridge would offer a variety of donated food that anyone could take. 

Newmarket Food Pantry executive director Adrian Bain said the location in a public space should help reduce the stigma of food insecurity.

“It will offer our clients dignity, choice and greater flexibility,” Bain said, “and redistribute perfectly good food that will otherwise go to waste, and bring our community together to combat the growing problem with hunger.”

The program will draw donations from businesses, individuals, local community gardens and the food pantry itself, with an outpouring of support already in place, Bain said. The model has been used in other communities, with Bain citing Innisfil’s community fridge initiative.

The target completion date is Family Day weekend, which starts Feb. 19, but Bain said that is not a hard deadline. 

Council members spoke in support of the idea at today's meeting. 

“This is a timely effort,” Mayor John Taylor said. “That I think, regardless of COVID, is going to support the community and will be welcomed by many.”

But councillors did raise several questions, including concerns about vandalism. Bain said security cameras are a possibility, but vandalism has been less of an issue as time has gone by for other community fridges. 

Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh said it is a reality that should not discourage the project.

“We always do have concerns about some sort of vandalism, some sort of mischief,” Vegh said. “But we also have vandals, for instance, on our street bollards … It’s almost like shoplifting. It’s just something you have to take into consideration.”

Bain also said they would post information on and around the fridge to highlight what can be donated, such as discouraging raw food. Food bank staff would check the fridge daily to remove any improper items.

Sir William Mulock Secondary School’s wood shop class will also contribute to the construction, Bain said. 

The first fridge will be a pilot, and Bain said more fridges are already in the works at other locations.

But Vegh and Taylor suggested making the unit mobile as a precaution, in case the location does not work out. Taylor said upcoming construction at the nearby clock tower could lead to congestion and pose an issue.

“You’d have to go to great expense to install it, and even greater expense to move it,” Vegh said. “Just make sure it’s as mobile as possible and not treated as a permanent structure. Congratulations to everybody involved.”

Bain said the project will not completely solve food insecurity, but it will still help people.

“The benefits for our community far outweigh the drawbacks. Our committee is extremely confident our community will step up and embrace this project with open arms,” he said.