Midtown Free Fridge project opens on campus

Rupkatha Banerjee (left) and Grace Swift (right) pose in front of the Midtown Free Fridge. // Photo courtesy of Logan Dorrill

The Midtown Free Fridge, a grassroots initiative led by the SGA Community Relations Committee, is now open to members of the Midtown Atlanta community. The fridge, which is located on the Grace House back porch on 182 5th St. NW, came to be through the efforts of Tech students seeking to address food insecurity in the community.

When coming into her role as the SGA Vice President of External Affairs, Grace Swift, third year EIA, wanted to shift the focus of her position more towards mutual aid projects in order to help students engage with the Atlanta community in a more meaningful way.

“Typically in the past the position has just been bringing people to Ponce and bringing people to Krog Street Market and those types of things are great, but when I took on this role I really wanted to make it more like a mutual aid organization and do more tangible work in a way with the Atlanta community that we don’t necessarily glorify all the time. So I thought that a food insecurity project would be a really great way to get involved with that” said Swift.

The Midtown Free Fridge project took a lot of inspiration and guidance from Free99 Fridge, another similar mutual aid project that serves multiple areas of Atlanta including West End, East Atlanta Village and Clarkston. “We talked to Free99 Fridge and they were saying that Tech Parkway and North Ave were good locations because there is a lot of need around there. So we started locations because there is a lot of need around there. So we started looking at what restaurants were around there, because typically hosts in the past have been local restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and places like that” said Swift.

Swift, with the help of Rupkatha Banerjee, fourth year MATH & ECON major and SGA Community Relations Committee Chair, reached out to over thirty potential host sites with varying levels of success. “Some were worried about bringing homelessness to their restaurant. That was kind of discouraging because we’re just trying to feed people. This project was founded in this belief that everybody deserves access to free and fresh food, so it’s sad to see some restaurants that have tons of food waste after every day not wanting to embrace that” said Swift.

The project eventually turned its sights towards the Grace House back porch as the host of the first Midtown Free Fridge. Grace House had already housed a casual food pantry at their location that stocked non-perishables and menstrual products for the Tech community, so the partnership between the two was a clear match.

The goal of the fridge is for community members to freely take and give food from the shelves and in turn remove some of the stigma associated with accessing resources when you need them. “We talked to STAR services and Campus Kitchen and they were both really excited about it. Steve Fazenbaker [Director of Tech’s STAR program] was saying that a lot of Georgia Tech students are food insecure, but don’t go through STAR and places like that because of stigma around it,” said Swift.

“With those organizations you have to fill out a bunch of forms and prove that your need is there. The whole point of the fridge is you don’t need to be below the poverty line to access free food. Like maybe you don’t have a chance to get to the grocery store that week and you want fresh fruit or something and then can get it from the fridge. It’s for everybody, that’s the whole deal. You give when you have extra and then take when you need it.”

Banerjee, who works on promoting information about the Midtown Free Fridge on Instagram, hopes to see buy-in from the Tech community to keep the fridge stocked and in good shape for those that need it. “Initiatives like that are entirely driven by the community for the community, so it takes a heavy involvement to ensure that it’s being stocked” said Banerjee.

“There is a need and also a desire to engage meaningfully with the community and we’re providing a platform to do it. It’s very sobering and humbling when you see a problem like this actually in front of you and it’s very easy at Tech especially to stay trapped in the bubble and not really be exposed to these issues of Atlanta at all. But when you’re able to actually visualize these things in your near vicinity, it provides a much clearer perspective of the kinds of problems that we’re dealing with.”

The main motivation behind the project revolves around addressing food insecurity in Midtown Atlanta in a meaningful way. “Tackling poverty and homelessness and these major economic problems in Atlanta can seem very daunting, but we can play a very pivotal role by just letting our community members know that we have resources and we’re willing to connect with them in that way. Access to free fresh food is such a fundamental human right and it’s not being fulfilled” said Banerjee.

Banerjee also noted how the need for food resources is in Atlanta and highlighted her own experiences with the Free99 fridges. “I saw the Free99 fridges and I connected in person with how heavy the need is. When you go to stock those fridges, people literally shop out of your hands because there’s so many people that are in need of meals in that area. Atlanta heavily criminalizes homelessness and wants to ensure that people who need housing and food resources are robbed of access to them.”

The Midtown Free Fridge team has plans to establish more fridges in the Midtown network within the next few months, as well as ideas to expand their outreach with community packaging events. Swift hopes that students will feel comfortable to take freely from the fridge and help maintain the project for years to come.

“My message to the Tech community is that I want this to be a space where everybody feels welcome. I want it to be a space where everybody feels like they can go freely and not feel embarrassed about it. I just want it to be another resource on campus for students.”

The fridge is open to everyone, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Those interested in learning more about the Midtown Free Fridge can follow the project on Instagram (@midtownfreefridge) or email [email protected] for more information on how to get involved.