Pop-up fridges helping to feed Philadelphia community: 'Take what you need, leave what you don't'

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Community fridges are popping up all over Philadelphia, and there's one goal in mind: help feed those in need.

It's an idea arguably as bright as they are themselves. The brilliant yellow fridges, like the one outside Triple Bottom Brewing in Philadelphia's Spring Garden section, have been turning heads for about two weeks now.

"People are most likely to just come and look at it and maybe grab some water, maybe grab a tomato and just keep on their way," said Sola Onitiri, the general manager of the brewery.

Outside the fact that they're outside and full of fresh produce, it's the bold text written on them that's really been generating buzz: "free food" and "take what you need, leave what you don't."

"I usually don't stop by places to ask about stuff, this seemed really cool," said area resident Erica Voigt.

Needless to say, even behind masks, you can hear the joy these messages bring.

"I want to see all these yellow refrigerators, like all over corners," said Brenda Whitehead who stopped by to inspect the fridge.

The person behind it all is Michelle Nelson, founder of Mama-Tee, an online clothing and brand that also aims to fight against racial inequality.

The community fridge initiative is her way of tackling vastly growing food insecurity during the pandemic. By her count, one in five Philadelphians are in need of fresh food.

"There's definitely food out there and we're here to rescue it," Nelson said.

Using skills learned from similar community fridge projects in other major cities, Nelson has been able to convince local restaurants, farmers and vendors to donate.

She has also had major support from partnering businesses that allow her to plug the fridges in.

"We saw her idea and were like, 'put that yellow fridge in front of our door, let's do it!,'" Onitiri said.

The fridges are stocked and cleaned daily. COVID-19 precautions are also taken by team members or volunteers that handle the food.

Nelson's goal is to have 20 of these fridges up and running by year's end. Two others are up and running already, one near Franny Lou's Porch in Kensington, and the other by the Ambassador restaurant on W. Girard Avenue.

So far, the response, as you can imagine, has been good.

"Well, there's definitely joy, because we are overwhelmed, inundated with emails of well wishes and support," Nelson said.
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