by Len Lear
Mt. Airy resident Jane Ellis, who is in is her third year as a fourth-grade teacher at Greene Street Friends School in Germantown, is passionate about her day job. “I love kids and teaching,” she said in a recent interview. “Nothing is better than seeing light in the eyes of kids who are getting excited about learning.”
But Jane is also passionate about growing her own deck garden and volunteering after school for those in need. So last summer, when she happened to read on the internet about a community refrigerator in Brooklyn which anyone can put food into or take food out of, 24/7, with no questions asked and no payment needed, Jane was moved to action.
So she pitched the idea about starting their own community refrigerator to the administrators at Greene Street Friends School, who jumped right on board with it. Before long, Jane and her husband donated their own refrigerator to the project, and lots of volunteers moved it from a temporary home behind Greene Street Friends School at 20 W. Armat St. to its accessible spot out front and set up an outdoor electrical outlet. The refrigerator doors were removed to fit it through the school’s doorways, and volunteers reassembled the fridge on the sidewalk. It is housed in a shed that was painted by area residents.
“The idea itself is simple: just put a fridge outside, put free food in it, and let whoever you want to take from it,” Ellis said to a reporter. “But once you actually start planning it, there’s a lot of logistics. We’ve just been chipping away at it one by one, one task at a time.
“We’ve gotten grocery stores, bakeries and neighborhood residents preparing meals that they put in the fridge. I have met so many people; this is a really great community builder. I hope this stays even after Covid is over.”
Ellis completed her Bachelor’s degree at Villanova University and earned her Master’s in Education from St. Joseph’s University in May of 2018. From January, 2014, Jane worked as a reading intervention teacher for the Mastery Charter Shoemaker campus. She discovered her passion for education while teaching kindergarteners at a local church during her summer before college. Having no previous outreach experience, she looked to other community fridges for guidance.
“I just feel like an organizer sometimes. It’s really the community’s vision, talents and skills that are turning the fridge into what it is. I think it’s a really beautiful thing … it’s for the community, run by the community,” she said.
According to Germantowninfohub.org, Ellis’ fridge has joined a list of mutual aid programs in Germantown: GREAT’s Mutual Aid, Germantown Supply Hub and several food cupboards across the community. Since the pandemic began, the U.S. has seen an increase in community fridges. But the concept has been popular overseas for years. By 2014, for example, there were more than 350 community fridges in Germany.
According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, even before the pandemic, more than 35 million Americans, including many who had full-time minimum wage jobs, struggled with hunger, including more than 10 million children. Because of the pandemic, that number is now about 18 million children, approximately one in every four, according to the latest government statistics.
In Philadelphia many other community activists and groups, in addition to Jane Ellis and her volunteers, have established free community refrigerators. Some of their locations are: 1229 S. 6th St.; 1901 S. 9th St.; 511 S. 52nd St.; 635 W. Girard Ave.; 2400 Coral St. (Kensington) and 915 Spring Garden St. Their motto is “Take what you want; leave what you can.”
According to thecitypulse.com, 80 billion pounds of food are thrown away every year in the U.S. That’s an average of $1,600 per family. The foods that community refrigerators most want are fresh produce, non-perishables like cans and pasta, bread, unopened dairy products, eggs, condiments (and grocery bags). Expired foods and raw meat should not be left. In other words, food that the donors would not eat themselves should not be left.
For updated information on the fridge, follow @germantownfridge on Instagram. To make monetary donations, search for @germantownfridge on Venmo or Cash App.