Ziana Pearson-Muller painted Evanston Fight for Black Lives' community fridge. The sign above the fridge describes the momentum for replacing it after it was destroyed in a traffic accident over the weekend. (Submitted photo)

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Partnering with Evanston Fight for Black Lives, Childcare Network of Evanston, 1335 Dodge Ave., was set to be the first organization in Evanston to host a community refrigerator, with a ceremonial “plug-in” this week.

Evanston’s community fridge – a communal pantry where people can give and take as they need – is modeled after Chicago’s The Love Fridge, said Maia Robinson of Evanston Fight for Black Lives, who organized the project. The group met with the Chicago group, thelovefridge.com, and “they gave us a lot of information for a framework,” she said.

The community fridge in front of Childcare Network of Evanston was smashed, but the shelter, which has shelves to accommodate staples that do not need refrigeration, is intact. (Photo from Childcare Network of Evanston)

It took a while to find a host, Ms. Robinson said. Evanston Fight for Black Lives reached out to organizations and businesses in West Evanston such as Y.O.U. and the Gibbs-Morrison Community Center. The Moran Center for Youth Advocacy had to turn them down because the landlord would not allow it, she said.

When they approached Childcare Network about hosting the fridge, “I fell in love with the project,” said CNE Executive Director Carol Teske. The enthusiasm was catching. Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse donated a refrigerator. Jeff Ayoub, who owns the property, made sure there was sufficient electricity – installing a new electric outlet on the north side of the building, which seemed the optimal place for the community fridge.

The fridge itself had been in place for several months, and the plan was to officially open it on March 22.

“Evanston Township High School alum Ziana Pearson-Muller had just finished painting the refrigerator and the shelter that would hold canned goods; a platform to support it was laid in the front of the office building and the refrigerator was going to be moved to the platform on March 22 for the ribbon cutting,” Ms. Teske said.  

Bright pink swaths, drawings of food, and the words “Free Food 4 All” and “Comida Gratis” adorned the white refrigerator.

A traffic accident over the weekend stalled the plans, albeit temporarily. At about 12:30 a.m. on March 21, neighbors heard a loud crash when a pickup truck crashed through the fence, demolishing the refrigerator and its contents.

CNE staff set out to pick up the pieces. On March 21, they cleaned up the food and fridge wreckage, and by March 22, Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse had promised to donate another refrigerator. The shelter itself is intact but in need of repainting.

Since the accident, “Everything has been happening really fast,” Ms. Robinson said. “CNE has been really awesome.”

While this would have been – and still may be – Evanston’s first community fridge, the Chicago-born Love Fridge organization, already has 22. Its website describes its purpose: “The Love Fridge is a Chicago mutual aid group grounded in food, working to place community refrigerators across the city. We are powered by kindness, generosity, love, and the belief that being able to feed yourself is a right, not a privilege. Our goal is to nourish our communities while combating food scarcity and food waste and working with other like-minded community partners.”

Similarly but more succinctly, Evanston Fight for Black Lives said its community fridge is “meant to provide food to those who want it, no questions asked.”

With a new fridge on the way from Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse and momentum to repair the damage, it is expected the new fridge will soon be open for a community give-and-take of this basic need – or right.