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Community fridge helps put fresh food on the table for struggling Calgarians

Click to play video 'Calgary community fridge offers fresh options' Calgary community fridge offers fresh options
WATCH: A new community fridge pilot project in Calgary is helping put fresh food on the table for many struggling to make ends meet. As Tomasia DaSilva reports, it comes at a crucial economic time – Aug 19, 2020

A new and unique neighbourhood pantry — complete with a working fridge — is up and running in the Calgary community of Crescent Heights.

Founders say it allows Calgarians to donate or pick up fresh produce and other perishable items — something not usually available at community pantries.

“Perishable foods are harder to come by,” project co-founder Alice Lam said. “We really want to make sure we can have access to fresh foods year round.”

The Calgary Community Fridge pilot project was sparked by similar projects across North America.

“Basically a bunch of friends got together,” Lam said. “We were seeing other fridges pop up in Toronto and New York and we wanted to bring it to Calgary.”

Calgary community fridge serves up fresh food
Calgary community fridge serves up fresh food. Global News

The group started a fundraising campaign, which quickly took off.

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“In two days we were able to raise over $15,000.”

But they didn’t have to tap into all of that money at the start. Most of what they needed, including the construction material, was all donated.

Lam said that has helped them help more Calgarians in need.

“During COVID(-19) a lot of people’s incomes are stretched. This is just another way, especially for the families that are strapped for cash, to have access to just a little bit more.”

Read more: Calgary Food Bank closes temporarily to shore up COVID-19 procedures

Filling the need

Many Calgarians have struggled to put food on the table in the last few years, and the pandemic has only made things worse.

The Calgary Food Bank told Global News demand is up — by the thousands.

CEO James McAra said since the start of March the food bank has served 64,000 clients, many of them new.

At the peak of the pandemic it saw a 27 per cent increase in the number of new clients, and while that has now settled to between eight and 10 per cent, it’s still a lot of mouths to feed.

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McAra said he expected demand to ramp up again once government benefits run out and students head back to the classroom.

Read more: Calgary Cares: Veterans Association Food Bank sees unprecedented need; businesses step up to help

Neighbours helping neighbours

Matt Lemon is one of several neighbours who has been filling the fridge.

“We’ve got a herb garden in our backyard that’s way more than we can handle,” he said.

Lemon knows times are tough, and everyone can use a hand, and he’s more than happy for it to be his.

“There are vulnerable people in the community,” he said.

“Some people need some help so something small that we can do, some stuff that we have lying around the house to help some people out, why not?”

Calgary community fridge serves up fresh food
Calgary community fridge serves up fresh food. Global Calgary

Neighbour Katie Hopkins couldn’t agree more. She also said the pantry/fridge has had an added benefit.

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“This is a great way for the community to connect and it’s a nice way to help those who need it.”

Lam said while the fridge is in Crescent Heights, it is open to anyone in Calgary.

“There’s no judgement, there’s no questions asked,” she added. “Whoever needs it — can take it.”

The group is working on setting up a second fridge in the city, hopefully in the next month.