NORTH ADAMS — “I need a place to chill!”
The cartoonish graphic of a refrigerator floating around social media with a pun-filled message holds an even cooler mission: To help a group of North Adams residents who are looking for a home for a free community fridge — a public fridge stocked with donations that anyone could come take at any time.
The goal is to fight food insecurity and food waste, said Ciarra Fragale, who is organizing the project with her friends Isabel Twanmo and Sarah DeFusco.
As food insecurity has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, similar projects have popped up in other cities around the country, including in Massachusetts. A community fridge project in Albany, N.Y., recently was featured in Time magazine. There are fridges in Shelburne Falls, Northampton, Worcester, and several in and around Boston.
Here’s how it works: An organizer would visit the fridge daily, the North Adams group said, and they would stock, maintain and clean it. The fridge would offer quality food approved by the organizers.
“I wouldn’t put it in the fridge if I wouldn’t eat it,” Fragale said.
They plan to start with fresh produce, and might expand to donated food from residents. The group said it has spoken to farms, which have agreed to donate food.
The group already has a fridge, and now it is looking for someone to host it.
“We just need 3 feet of space and an outlet,” Fragale said. The organizers would pay the electric bill and plan to take donations to put toward those costs.
In North Adams, Twanmo said, “I think people really do see a need for this fridge.”
In 2019, about 10 percent of Berkshire County was food insecure — that is, defined as not always having enough food for a healthy lifestyle — according to the nonprofit hunger relief organization Feeding America. Across the state, the organization estimates that 8.2 percent of people are food insecure. Those figures, the most recent available, are from before the pandemic started.
Darlene Ellis is kitchen manager at the Berkshire Food Project, a nonprofit that provides meals downtown that is not involved in the fridge project. At the onset of the pandemic, Ellis said, she saw a rising need for food.
“Our demand hasn’t changed since March 15, 2020,” she said. The group has served 46,661 meals since Jan. 1.
A fridge could be more useful in neighborhoods outside downtown, she said, because it can be challenging for some to get downtown without transportation.
“I feel there is a need,” she said.