Alex Scribner/VPM News

Alex Scribner/VPM News

By Teresa Younger and Stephanie Younger •

The community fridge is a concept and a place where communities are given access to share and collect food. In August, we had a conversation with Taylor Scott, about mutual aid, how she brought the community fridge to Richmond, Virginia and founded RVA Community Fridges in 2020.

Can you share your story with us and how it contributes to your reasons for bringing the community fridge to Richmond?

I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and happened to go through Katrina when I was in middle school. I went to private schools and independent schools and was fortunate enough to evacuate for Katrina and come back to my same home. Although it was flooded, we were able to rebuild and go back to the same exact middle school. I stayed there until I graduated from eighth grade and then went to high school. I graduated high school and came here to Richmond for college in 2016. And I happened to graduate from VCU in 2019 in December right before the pandemic.

For decades, Black people have been organizing anti-hunger efforts, free breakfast programs, and food justice campaigns that gave us an understanding about the politics of food, which unite the community come and meet an immediate practical need. How did you get the idea for RVA Community Fridges?

During the pandemic, I just happened to start growing my own food at my apartment because I wanted to get more in touch with myself, and the food that I ate, and where food comes from because, like you said, it’s just a deep-seated root in Black people and our culture. Having food, learning where it comes from and how to get it to our people, you know? So, when I saw the first harvest of my hydroponic garden in my apartment, which yielded 30 tomatoes.

[Taylor pauses to show us her hydroponic garden]

I literally got all those tomatoes, and I tried to give some to my friends, and they were not trying to eat the tomatoes. I happened to speak to one of my friends in California, who was a volunteer at a community garden out there, and when she was just like, “bring it to your local community fridge,” I said, “I don’t think I’ve seen a community fridge in Richmond.” Anyway, it kind of dawned onto me. I’ve seen that we have a decent size community fridge network in New Orleans when I’ve visited.

I was like, “Let me go buy those fridges.” And I saw there were 12 fridges in New Orleans, and l visited two. I thought a place that’s so progressive of the place where I grew up, and they are still feeling the repercussions of Katrina. So, we’re just slowly working towards a community for Richmond. I thought, “Wow, there definitely has to be a way to get this food to people,” especially since there’s so many food deserts and food apartheid in the state. So being able to communicate and partner with local community members, farmers, gardeners, anyone in the local community who cooks there just wants to cook then getting food to people for free. I said, “We definitely can make that happen.” So, I asked my friends on social media if anyone would be interested in a community fridge, and had maybe 20 people say they were interested in. I was like, “that’s right.” Honestly, we’ve been going ever since. We put our first fridge up on the 28th of January of this year, and we will put another one up on the 20th of this month [August 2021].

How does RVA Community Fridges differ from organizations that address food insecurity?

People feel like they’re being monitored or told what they can and cannot do. It’s never that way with RVA Community Fridges. Anyone can take what they need, as much as they need, and whenever they need it. There are no questions asked; we won’t ever tell you that you can’t take that much or that whatever you’re doing is wrong. For example, if you took eight items or took the whole box–I mean, you might need the whole thing. You might have so many people at home. Who am I to tell you that’s wrong? So, we try not to police, or do anything like that. I feel that really has opened the community up to feel like it’s not only our fridge, but their fridge as well, which it is. I feel like it brings that sense of ownership and brings the community together.

How do you determine the impact of mutual aid versus looking to the state to address food insecurity?

We’re figuring out what we can do with the community, and I think is a lot easier when you have the community involved, instead of reaching out to people that aren’t necessarily talking to the community or, seeing where things are in need, and what things people would appreciate. We don’t want to be a savior in a sense; we’re just like, “We got food, let’s give it to the people.” We don’t want to waste food, we want people to eat, regardless of how they get it. We want you to be able to get some food.

What is your goal for this year? What’s next for RVA Community Fridges?

I have, as a goal for this year, to establish 12 fridges, so at least a fridge for every month of the year. And then I think after this year, the biggest goal is really going to be to sustain and maintain those 12 fridges. It’s going really well right now. We had a funding goal for this year so we can put up all 12 fridges. And I think, we’re on track to reach that goal and to get all 12 up. I think that’s great, but by the time we hit 12, those funds are going to be gone. So we’re looking for partnerships with community gardeners, community farmers, chefs, people who provide food and excess and get their leftovers and things that they don’t really necessarily need to provide for the fridges. The fridges are constantly being used. We want to consistently fill them. It’s kind of just finding the best way to keep it maintained as sustainable is our top goal for 2021.

We’re fixing our website, adding a Patreon page people can subscribe to, with recurring donations so that we were a little bit less worried about funds. And then also establishing later down the line, a place where we can have a hub essentially for mutual aids in Richmond. I know that’s something that other mutual aid leaders in the city have talked to me about as well as finding a place specifically for the fridges where we can have our own space to get donations, received donations, maybe even prepped meals at that same location and then provide it for the fridge which is a big part of the plan I have. We want to get information out to people and to be a hub as well as a mutual aid. If we can’t provide it for you, we want to be able to put someone in contact with you to be able to provide what you need. We really want to partner with a lot of other community people, members, groups, organizations, just so we can all share each other’s information. This morning, there was so many people subscribed and reached out and follow them from that live, and I was like, “Oh, that’s so awesome.”

Teresa Younger is an educator who enjoys history, writing, gardening, and loves being a part of a vibrant community. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UVA and her Master’s degree in education from USC, and has been living in Virginia since 2003 with her family. Stephanie Younger is a 19-year-old based in Richmond, Virginia, whose work centers the intersections Black feminism and womanism have with prison and police abolition.