Editor’s note: This story is the first in a three-part series on Evanston Community Fridges and the people behind the mutual aid effort.
A year and a half ago, Evanston’s first community refrigerator popped up outside the Childcare Network of Evanston. But on the March 2021 weekend that the fridge was ready to be plugged in, a vehicle rammed it in an accident, destroying the appliance.
It was a major setback for Maggie Quinn and Maia Robinson’s journey to place a refrigerator in a public location for all to use – but the tragedy actually gave their effort a boost online.
Quinn and Robinson’s social media circles, as well as those who followed Evanston Fight for Black Lives, where Robinson also posted updates, rallied. The fridge “did really gain a lot more awareness and attention after the crash,” Robinson said.
Modeled after The Love Fridge in Chicago, the Evanston Community Fridges place refrigerators outside city establishments in an effort to fight waste and feed people who are hungry. Neighbors and businesses with leftovers, like restaurants, fill the fridges with produce, dairy, meat and packaged meals, and anyone in need can stop by and take something.
Soon after the first fridge, a core team formed: Quinn and Robinson; two site managers per fridge, who check the fridges regularly to make sure they’re clean and follow food safety guidelines; and two outreach coordinators.
Numerous people have been involved in making the project a reality. Artists decorated the fridges, people built shelters, business owners offered to host fridges, Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse donated fridges and Evanston residents created a Facebook group to give real-time updates on the fridges’ needs.
But the last few months have marked a time of transition for the group. Several members of the original team have stepped back.
So far the fridges have not only continued running, the operations have expanded. The team rolled out a new website at the end of May and launched an initiative in August that was developed by co-outreach coordinators Anna Grant-Bolton and Noa Polish: Community members can drop off food at the city’s fridges, send a picture of their receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and get reimbursed through a donation site on Open Collective, a fundraising platform for grassroots groups.
More fridges should be coming, and Evanston Community Fridges has begun a partnership with the Evanston Nouveau Rotary Club. Members will donate food, coordinate restaurant donations, clean out the fridge and set up an anonymous donation request form.
The mutual aid effort built by Quinn, Robinson and a small group of community members is moving to a new chapter, without the day-to-day involvement of its founders. The next few months may show how well Evanston’s fridges are set for the future.
Coming next in this series: How Maggie Quinn and Maia Robinson launched Evanston Community Fridges. Read part two here.