Nikaela Lange knows food scarcity is a local challenge. She’s hoping the solution is local too.
Lange is part of a small group working to build a community fridge in Saskatoon’s Riversdale area, so people can quickly pick up the food they need but otherwise can’t afford.
“Saskatoon struggles a lot with food insecurity,” she said.
“We noticed that there was a real need in the community of course during the pandemic and even before the pandemic.”
Lange said she began volunteering in the sector a few months ago. The experience made her realize how unaffordable, and unobtainable, food can be.
The group is modelling their idea on similar projects in Calgary, Toronto and a newly-opened fridge in Regina. They want to build a small shelter and pantry around a fridge and stock it with food.
“It’s supposed to be accessible 24 hours a day, so people can just come, stop by, take what they need, they can also drop stuff off as they need,” Lange said.
She said her group is reaching out to local businesses to find a place to host the fridge and take on the cost of providing electricity.
They’re also searching for restaurants and counting on local residents to donate food.
The Regina Community Fridge only opened in the middle of December, but founder Danielle Froh said the first weeks have been exceedingly busy – and gut-wrenching.
“When you have little kids coming up to the fridge for some food and moms with strollers and people coming that haven’t had anything to eat in a few days, it does really break your heart,” she said over Zoom.
It’s at 3037 Dewdney Avenue, behind the Regina Family pharmacy.
Froh told Global News a local construction firm built the shelter and restaurants and Regina residents supply food. The cafés and bakeries drop off unsold bread and sandwiches and people donate an extra bag of milk or fruit.
She said she and the team of volunteers fill the fridge two or three times a day and it’s usually empty 30 minutes later. Sometimes the food doesn’t even make it into the fridge because someone is waiting at the fridge.
Deborah Hamp, the Saskatoon Food Bank director of operations, said many people take a full fridge for granted while many others in the city struggle to get enough food.
“Open the fridge and there’s milk or there’s fruit or vegetables. That’s just not the reality for thousands of people in Saskatoon,” she over Zoom.
Last year the food bank gave out almost 231,000 emergency food hampers and provided more than 67,000 lbs (or 30,500 kgs) of food to other community-based agencies for their own programs, according to its annual report.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, not created, great societal inequities. Hunger is linked to poverty, she said, and a solution must be too.
“We really need to look at things like a living wage, we need to make sure that people have dignified support that are keeping with inflation.”
“People don’t have enough money in their pockets,” she said.
She also told Global News the food bank is happy to support to the incipient fridge, saying “if it’s going to be something that works for people and puts food into people’s homes, I think that’s great.”
Lange stressed the project is designed to work alongside other programs in the city.
“Although there are really good resources in the community, such as the food bank, people are still sort of falling through the cracks, people are still hungry, people are still cold,” she said.
Lange is hoping to have the fridge operating in the spring.