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Hunger Fighter Interview: East Falls Community Fridge


Deanna Marshall, like other Philadelphia fridge coordinators, established her community fridge to help her neighbors in East Falls who are fighting hunger. The former school teacher connected with other fridges to learn how she could help fight hunger!


What inspired the East Falls Community Fridge?

I used to be a public school teacher, I’m currently a public health researcher, I’ve kind of pivotated, but still work in the school space, adolescent health and well being. I taught in very under resourced schools, students who were housing or food insecure throughout the year. When I moved to East Falls and German area, my husband and I got into helping out with the Germantown Fridge. We weren’t formally volunteering, but we would drop off as frequently as we could and were both very passionate about getting food to people as quickly and easily as possible. So that there is no stigma with it, so it feels like neighbors helping neighbors. So we got really into the idea of fridges over the summer as they started popping up we thought, we could use one in every neighborhood in Philadelphia, so let’s start with our neighborhood.

What steps did you take to establish the East Falls Community Fridge?

We knew there was a need. I started to follow the different fridges around Philly and tried to read as many resources as possible. There’s quite a few great online resources from community fridges and mutual aid groups that run fridges in cities all across North America. I tried to do as much research as possible, I did check in with the folks who run the other fridges to ask if they could point me to any other resources. They were really helpful and stuff, I kind of dove in and did my own research. I think they get a lot of questions about how to start a fridge from people who are curious, so I didn’t want to take up too much of their time. The biggest first steps are finding a fridge and finding a host, someplace that you can plug it in. We were lucky enough to find some businesses around East Falls that I thought would be a good fit, in terms of location and the type of work that they do. We partnered with Bolt and Bind which is a plant gift store and cafe right in the center of East Falls and they do a lot of good work in terms of community oriented, social justice oriented work. They are really thoughtful and passionate people, and we started to work together on this, how could this come about? What pieces need to be in place to put a fridge in front of a commercial business? It’s a little different because some of the other ones are at schools, outside of non-profit or churches. Working with a commercial business, we had to figure out how to get everything in place so that it worked for them and it worked for us without compromising either of our intended missions with the project.


Did you find Vault and Vine or did they find you? 

I reached out to them. They’re a really central business in East Falls. There are alot of businesses in East Falls, and a very small amount of space, there’s tones of stuff around here, but I knew that they have similar values that the fridge is looking for. I also frequented the business for my own shopping needs. We were lucky that it worked out on the first try, they were really eager to jump in and let us do what we needed to do with our space, which was great and very generous.


What has been the community’s response to the fridge?

Its been great so far so. During the planning phases of this, I put out feelers seeing who would be interested in working on this project with me. It really needs a community group to run a fridge it can’t just be one person. I didn’t want it to be just one person. I didn’t want it to just be me and it also can’t be just one person. Immediately there was such a huge response, over a hundred people joined the Facebook group. There’s hundreds of people following on Instagram and we had 30 volunteers sign-up within the first week. We’ve only been open a-week. Volunteers can sign up to do wuce daily checks and all of our volunteer slots for the entire month are filled. People have been bringing food like crazy and putting out flyers all over the place. It’s been really soul affirming. I knew I liked my neighbors and that everyone here were good people and trying to help others in the community, it was just really amazing to watch how many people jumped in and were like “I can make a pantry. I can make a sign. I can paint the fridge. I can pick-up food from this bakery after work”. There’s just so many people jumping into help it’s just been really cool to see and something that I think in these dark times is hard to see stuff like that and I think its been beautiful to watch.


How does it feel to have the communities support ? 

I don’t know the words exactly, but its  like a breath of fresh air. I am passionate about this work and I was willing to wrangle all my friends who I knew in the neighborhood to do it. I would have been able to scrape together enough people to do some volunteer shifts, I could’ve checked on the fridge once a day, unless I was out of town, whatever needed to be done to get this moving. There’s such a lightness to feel like oh wow, all of these people who I do not know have just jumped in and are volunteering for this fridge every week and are trying to see what they can do. There’s this feeling of lightness about how willing and eager everyone is to participate and to give back to their community in a way that is very, very communal. Sharing food with neighbors is something that we think about when we think about neighborhoods, but that’s not happened in our current times. The way the world is kind of setup people don’t go over asking for a stick of butter anymore. This is an amazing thing that feels really new and also very rooted and old, traditional neighborhood communal values and it’s been really amazing to watch.


What are the food sources for the Fridge? 

Right now we have mostly been filling the fridge with things that people in the neighborhood bring to donate. We’ve also had local businesses like Le Booths Bakery has donated some bread and some of the other local restaurants have sent food to the fridge that was unused at the end of the day. We want to reduce food waste as a part of this as well, that’s something I’m very passionate about. There’s so much food already that we don’t have to go out and buy more food, we can just reallocate where it is, but with that understanding sometimes we’ll have to purchase food with donated dollars to fill the fridge. We want to set up a community around the fridge where there’s always something in there so people don’t show up and have nothing there because then, maybe they won’t come back next time. When they’re looking for something to help feed their family or help make a recipe that they didn’t have enough for, whatever reason someone comes to the fridge for I don’t want them to be turned away because there’s not anything in there. It’s gonna be kind of a balance of: how do we use what’s already in the community, what is otherwise going to go to waste and also how do we keep it stocked with fresh beautiful food. 


Are there any plans to open another fridge location? 

We don’t have that in the works yet. I think we may at some point, but East Falls is really small. Compared to some of the other neighborhoods, I do loop walk along the border of East Falls and it's only about 2-4 miles. We’re definitely interested if there’s a need putting fridges up or even working with neighboring communities, Germantown is just across the road, Nicetown/Tioga is so close and other North West, North Philly neighborhoods on either side of us Manayunk on the other side. I think we’ll see what the need is and where the need is most so we can put another one in. I would love to have a fridge everywhere, because I think everyone deserves to have fresh food always, no questions asked, no dollars need to be exchanged. We’ll just have to see where the need is. If one is sufficient for this community then I’m more than happy to help those who live in other parts of town build up their fridges if there is more need. We’ll just have to see. 


What should people know about hunger and food insecurity in Philadelphia? 

I think most of us know that hunger is a huge issue. Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the United States and so many families struggle with food insecurity. I think there are also a lot of groups that aren’t seen as food insecure, but they are. Here in East Falls we have Thomas Jefferson’s [University] campus, we have Drexel’s medical school, we have alot of students from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and from Temple and Penn, who live in East Falls because its such a center point. There are alot of student who live around here, its estimated that about 40% of undergrad students at 4-year institutions are food insecure. Thats a population that I don’t think people visualize as food insecure, but it hits in a lot more communities than we imagine. Its much more of an issue, than you can see from the outside. Theres so many families that may not have no food, but are really stretching every dollar and every bag of rice to feed their family. I think that it is a solvable problem people deserve food and we can get theme food, we just need to acknowledge that food insecurity exists in our city and these are our neighbors.