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How A VCU Alumni is Fighting Food Insecurity in Richmond

By SHSJC Student Deja Hobbs, written for JAC 310, Prof. Lynn Waltz

A 23-year-old woman has added something new to Richmond, a city of rich history and culture: a community refrigerator.

The refrigerator is hard to miss in Union Hill on the corner of Venable and North 21st Street. Drivers slow to a stop and turn their heads to look at the eye-catching brightly painted refrigerator.

The large refrigerator, with “Free Food” written in large letters, is hard to miss.

Food Insecurity

The inside is just as colorful as the outside. It is stocked with fruits, eggs, milk, and more.

The concept is simple. A list of acceptable items to donate hangs on the outside of the refrigerator. Anyone who desires is able to stock the fridge with these items. On the other hand, anyone in need can simply open its doors, and take whatever they need.

“It’s been stocking itself. Without people donating it wouldn’t be sustainable,” said Taylor Scott who founded RVA Community Refrigerators in October of 2020.

Scott plans to expand her mission of combating food insecurity by increasing the number of refrigerators throughout the city.

Food Insecurity

The program also promotes local artists by inviting them to paint the refrigerators. Each one will be painted by a different Richmond based artist.

The refrigerator in Union Hill was painted by Ayanna Love.

The refrigerator officially went up on January 30. In the few weeks since, the community has been constantly contributing and keeping it afloat.

Scott moved to Richmond almost five years ago to study forensic science at VCU, and has resided in the city ever since.

Now she hopes to help those who call Richmond home, but are struggling to obtain food.

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America, as of 2018, there were over 35,000 food insecure people in Richmond alone.

Her idea for the community refrigerator is rooted in her decision to take control of her own health. A vegan, she now grows enough fresh fruits and vegetables at her home that she shares some with friends.

Also, as a New Orleans native who experienced Hurricane Katrina, she witnessed first-hand people helping one another in a desperate time of need.

The concept of community refrigerators – also known as “”Freedges” – was first established in Germany in 2014 by the volunteer-run organization Food Sharing. The concept has since spread all across the world.

When doing research before starting in Richmond, Scott discovered Virginia had no registered public refrigerators, so in October of 2020 she took the first step and created the Instagram page @rvacommunityfridges.

She spent the next three months gathering support and working out logistics, including finding someone to host the fridge. Finally, she found Pomona Plants, a retail and coffee shop whose owners wanted to help her bring her vision to fruition.

“Sure, why not,” said Pomona Plants owners Melissa and Frayser Micou when Taylor Scott asked them to host the first fridge outside of their shop.

They were excited about hosting the fridge, especially after seeing how enthused Scott was.

Next, Scott turned to social media to spread the word and raise money using the @rvacommunityfridges Instagram page, GoFundMe, Zoom informational meetings, and volunteer signup information.

Twelve people attended the first community meeting. Within three months, the fridge was up and a team of over forty-five volunteers was on board.

In a matter of hours from the posting of an image of the fridge, the Instagram page went from hundreds to thousands of followers.

“It literally just started to take off one day. It’s way bigger than me,” Scott said.

She recognized the impact she was having on the day the fridge went up.

Scott recalls stocking the fridge on January 30, its official first day, and a family inquiring about its concept. Shortly after, a man passed and took an apple.

Since then, countless people across the Metro Richmond area have donated supplies, volunteered, and spread the word.

Alexis Mitchell, a member of VCU’s Eta Theta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., donated to the fridge on behalf of her sorority as well as VCU’s Delta Upsilon Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

“I’ve built bonds with the community & its people so it felt good to give back to those in need, especially during the pandemic.,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was able to donate about 25 non-perishable items as well as buy enough groceries using money from both Chapters to completely restock the fridge.

Donation sites and items continue to expand. RVA Community Fridges has partnered with VCU’s Ram Pantry and various local businesses to continue giving back to the community. Donations now include hygiene products and non-perishable goods.

Most recently, RVA Community Fridges partnered with Intergalactic Tacos on Hull St. The second fridge opened officially on March 2.

Scott’s dream is expanding to include sheds or even small markets stocked with clothing, food, and hygiene products.

She is overwhelmed by the support and encouraged that she has touched so many lives.

“I am just glad to be able to offer it,” said Scott.

Check out @rvacommunityfridges on Instagram or visit the fridge at 2025 Venable St.