From New York City to Austin, fridges adorned with custom paintings and the words ‘Free Food,’ have been popping up on streets and in neighborhoods.
The Free Fridges Project was created in February by the New York City activist group, ‘In Our Hearts.’ The project places community fridges in various areas which are then stocked with food by locals for locals, who are free to take what they need.
Kyandra Noble, UT alumna and founder of the ATX Free Fridge Project, said she reached out to ‘In Our Hearts’ through social media, eager to learn how she could start a local branch in Austin.
Noble said Austin’s fridges, located at Nixta Taqueria with another opening soon at the Unit C art gallery, are especially helpful for those facing food and financial insecurity during COVID-19.
“Being a part of it is great,” Noble said. “I also lost my job because of COVID-19, so I could be in a position where I need the fridge as well. I want it to be open to anyone and for no one to feel judged.”
A study by Feeding America showed Texas as one of the top ten states to face food insecurity in the United States due to COVID-19. Food insecurity rates in the state were at 15.0% in 2018 and are expected to increase to 20.2% at the end of 2020.
Alongside the ATX Free Fridge Project, UT Outpost and UT Microfarm are also working to combat food insecurity in Austin.
For students facing food insecurity, UT Outpost is a food pantry where students taking at least one UT credit course can access free food when needed. Prior to COVID-19, they coordinated pop-up shops, but they have since converted to an online delivery system on their website.
“Food insecurity doesn't care if there’s a pandemic going on,” UT Outpost coordinator William Ross said. “So (it’s): how do we meet our students’ (needs) and give them support during these incredibly trying times.”
Ross said they coordinated with UT Housing and Dining for food, RecSports for transportation vehicles in the Austin area and monetary donations from outsiders in order to continue providing resources to students.
“This pandemic is another example of our community coming together, whether it's Texas as a whole or microcommunities,” Ross said. “It's impressive and awe-inspiring, and I'm thankful to be part of the experience.”
UT Microfarm grows produce that is donated to organizations like UTOutpost. In April, the group donated produce to the Central Texas Food Bank, and they currently are posting resources for students on their Instagram.
Dessie Tien, neuroscience and plan II junior, said she volunteered with UT Microfarm her freshman year and helped donate produce to UT Outpost.
“It’s fulfilling because we know who’s getting the produce, and it’s going directly to our community,” Tien said. “It could be going to people that we have classes with, and it’s a really neat thought to know that you can grow plants and nourishment for your fellow students.”