If you spot a yellow refrigerator on the sidewalk outside Restoration Church on the 6400 block of Rising Sun Avenue, feel free to help yourself to what’s inside. Or better yet, feel free to drop something off.
The sunflower-colored appliance is the latest in Mama Tee’s Community Fridge Project, which has installed seven-and-counting community fridges across the city. The goal is to provide fresh produce to people living in “food deserts” such as Lawncrest.
“There’s definitely food insecurity around here,” said AJ Smith, pastor at Restoration Church, referencing frequent food giveaways that take place in the area.
Michelle Nelson, aka Mama Tee herself, kickstarted the project just a couple of months ago.
Much of the food is donated from programs such as the Share Food Program, which donated 40 pallets of food to stock the fridges. The goal is to have community members drop off fresh produce that can be picked up by others in need.
“People want to know to help. A lot of people just don’t know how to give,” Nelson said.
Fruits and vegetables are preferred items for drop off over items that have expiration dates. Volunteers from the church will monitor the fridge to keep it clean.
More than 257,000 people in Philadelphia suffered from food insecurity in 2018, according to Feeding America, or more than 16 percent. The rates of food insecurity are expected to have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide, over a million people are food insecure.
When Lawncrest resident Lindsey Schuler heard about the program, she thought it would be a perfect fit for the church.
“I see so much food waste, especially with our community garden,” she said. She said food from the garden could easily be brought to the fridge.
Smith and Schuler said others raised concerns about the fridge getting broken into or vandalized, but Schuler said the community deserves more credit.
“When you have something to take pride in then you’ll see people rise up to the task,” she said. “I think this is a good first step.”
Corporate sponsor Rescue Task Force helped bring the fridge to the area.
The fridge is contracted to stay in front of the church for three months, though Smith said he would be open to keeping it indefinitely.
This is the eighth fridge set up citywide and the first in Northeast Philly. Two more are coming to Germantown and South Philly soon.
Mama Tee is a clothing store driven by minority women creators. The store donates some of its revenue to organizations fighting inequality and injustice each month. ••