By Sharon Kelly | CNA Media Team
Near Fernhill Park, at the border of Cully and Concordia neighborhoods, Portland’s mutual aid movement blossoms.
A donated refrigerator, an old cabinet and an outlet in a lamp post have been transformed into an ultra-local, 24-hour, no-questions-asked, neighborhood food pantry for anybody in need of the ingredients for a meal.
“We were looking for ways to contribute in a time when there were a lot of different fronts that needed people to fight for climate justice, social justice, racial justice, and especially culminating with the impacts of the coronavirus,” said Ruth Rodgers.
The Cully resident and PDX Free Fridge host added, “We knew we weren’t people who had a lot of money to contribute or time to volunteer. So, when we saw on Instagram that PDX Free Fridge was looking for hosts and volunteers, we jumped on it.”
Ruth and her husband Sean were busy adapting their northeast Portland business, a small independent gym, to the ever-changing climate of COVID-19.
They were also supporting their two children with distance-learning at home, but their concern for their community was growing.
PDX Free Fridge organizers had seen free community fridges working in New York City and many other major cities since the pandemic hit. They thought it could work here too.
Their call for support was met with a resounding response from Portlanders like Ruth, and now a network of 15-plus mini-food pantries spread from Beaverton to Troutdale. Each is hosted and maintained by local volunteers.
Backyard chicken eggs, cheeses, milk, bags of freshly harvested basil, salad greens, frozen organic chicken, individually-packed prepared meals, canned goods, masks, hand-sanitizer and other essentials. Those are just some examples of what you might find in the Simpson Court free fridge on any given day.
Organizers network with local farmers, grocery workers and food bank groups for donations of healthy, fresh food items. Volunteers visit the fridges every day or two to clean, sanitize, restock and snap pictures to post on Instagram. Those are tagged @pdxfreefridge to let followers know what’s in each fridge that day.
“It creates a sense of solidarity every time somebody opens the fridge and it’s stocked,” Ruth said. “When someone comes to drop something off, they feel that they can be part of something that’s bigger than themselves.
“We get a front row seat to mutual aid and how beautiful it is.”
Sharon Kelly uses her outreach and coordination skills to support trees, farmers, small businesses, and engage people to create more healthy, equitable, sustainable communities. She’s best known locally as market manager for Cully and Woodlawn farmers markets and as web manager for Trees for Life Oregon. Contact her at NaturalFarmerPDX@gmail.com.