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Neighbourhood group to open community fridge in Guelph

A community fridge will be launched at the Onward Willow Community Centre on Saturday. Road to Zero Waste / Supplied

In an effort to tackle food insecurity in Guelph, a local group is opening a free community fridge for residents who can’t afford fresh groceries.

The Onward Willow Neighbourhood Group is teaming up with a Toronto-based organization called Road to Zero Waste to launch the project on Saturday.

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Instead of heading for the landfill, surplus food that is still edible and has been donated by restaurants and grocers will be repackaged and placed in the refrigerator by volunteers.

The fridge will be located inside the Onward Willow Community Centre at 15 Willow Rd.

“The fridge is accessible to anybody experiencing food insecurity,” said Susie Stauffer, a neighbourhood support worker with Onward Willow.

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The fridge will be accessible during the community centre’s business hours.

Onward Willow is part of the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and already offers several supports to families such as clothing, free computer access and employment services.

Stauffer said Guelph is no stranger to food insecurity as the community centre sees a significant response to the programs it already has in place.

“[We] have up to 100 people a month accessing emergency food hampers,” she said, noting that the hampers last about two to three days.

Providing fresh food has been a challenge, but the new partnership aims to bridge that gap.

Road to Zero Waste has already launched community fridges in Toronto’s Parkdale and Rexdale neighbourhoods.

Along with Guelph, organizers hope to soon open community fridges in Mississauga and Hamilton.

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The program was launched in 2018 by Laylo Atakhodjaeva as a way to share food surplus with those who couldn’t afford groceries.

“I decided to use the model that European countries had by establishing community fridges in low-income areas where there is a big need for food,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

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She pointed out that several restaurants, grocers, caterers and other food providers throw away perfectly edible food that ends up in the landfill.

“All that decomposed waste creates methane gas, and that’s one of the reasons why global warming is speeding up,” she said.

Most of the food in Guelph’s fridge will initially come from businesses in the Greater Toronto Area that have partnered with Atakhodjaeva, such as Longo’s and Starbucks, but the hope is to eventually work with local businesses.

Residents are also allowed to donate certain food to the fridge, but there will be a sign outlining the rules on what can and cannot be left inside.

For example, donations of cooked food and raw meat are not allowed, but packaged food and produce will be accepted.

The fridge also won’t accept donations that were just purchased from a store.

“It defeats the purpose of the community fridge,” Atakhodjaeva said. “We’re working with the food that’s already there — there’s more than enough to feed all of Africa with just Ontario’s waste.”

Volunteers will maintain the fridge and remove any items that should not be in there.

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Atakhodjaeva said that so far, the response to the community fridges in Toronto has been positive.

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“We only hear very nice feedback,” she said.

“It makes us so happy. What we’re doing helps the environment, and it helps people.”