Take what you need, leave what you can: The Love Fridge celebrates one year of helping Chicago communities

By Rachel Patel, Staff Reporter

The Love Fridge gives Chicago residents in under-resourced communities access to perishable goods through fridges set up throughout the city, such as this one at 2825 W. Chicago Ave. in Humboldt Park, that are accessible 24/7. Valentina Pucarelli

Offering stigma-free food to neighborhoods in need, The Love Fridge Chicago is a mutual aid group that strives to help the residents of under-resourced communities. With the mission of providing food security and reducing food waste, their brightly colored fridges across Chicago give hope to the many people who face hunger and uncertainty over where their next meal may come from — especially during the pandemic.

With TLFC celebrating its one-year anniversary July 7, lead food distribution organizer Risa Haynes said the organization has come a long way from where it was last July.

“In the beginning it was just trying to find people who would buy into this idea of hosting and supporting a refrigerator on the street — some people were really like, ‘What?’ and some folks got it and understood right away,” Haynes said. “The very first fridge we put down is the ‘Love Shack’ on California and 21st.”

Lisa Armstrong, visual communications lead and volunteer at TLFC, said during one year of working there she has designed flyers, graphics, the TLFC website and social media posts using her graphic design background. She also helped organize the sign-up system for food distribution and fridge management.

Armstrong also teaches digital communication classes at Loyola as an adjunct faculty member.

“A big part of what I do is explaining what the leverage is about, where you can find fridges, how you can get involved, helping to get calls out for when we need help with fridge management or letting people know what’s going on,” Armstrong said.

TLFC’s Instagram shares photos of the fridges set up around the city, as well as graphics featuring new announcements, ways to get involved and what the team is working on, such as the opening of their newest fridge in Humboldt Park at 2712 W. Division St.

Aside from new fridge openings, TLFC recently partnered with the South Loop Farmer’s Market, allowing visitors to buy two items and have one of them donated to TLFC and distributed around Chicago.

The fridges are open to the public 24/7. Anyone can take the food inside, and anyone can add food to the fridge.

Haynes said the best way for those interested in volunteering with TLFC is to sign up on their website and learn about the different types of roles available. The site also serves as a resource to those interested in finding fridges near them, as well as for people who are interested in getting their community fridge on the site designated as a “Love Fridge.”

“The requirements for us are that it needs to be 24 hours; some people don’t want their fridges to be 24/7 so that disqualifies them from being a Love Fridge, but it certainly still qualifies them to be a community fridge,” Haynes said. “We add them to our website so folks can say, ‘Well that’s a fridge near me, and this is a fridge I can access.'”

TLFC’s future plans include holding an event with City Farm, one of Chicago’s oldest sustainable urban farms, and hosting Loud Bodies, a local dance troupe, on July 16. The event is dedicated to food sovereignty and raising awareness about food scarcity, where visitors can donate nonperishable food items for the fridges. On July 18, they plan to hold a celebration honoring their one-year anniversary and welcoming anyone to join.

Haynes said the most rewarding outcome from working with TLFC is the reach it is able to have across the nation in inspiring others to start their own fridges, as well as the community it has brought together in Chicago.

“The most rewarding part has been building community with people,” Haynes said. “It feels great to put food in fridges, and it feels wonderful to have people driving by while I’m carrying a box roll down their window and say, ‘Thank you, you’re doing a great job!’ All of that is absolutely super fulfilling, wonderful and beautiful.”