Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Take what you need, give what you can: Students organize free refrigerator in West Campus

Carla Garcia Leija

UT students are establishing a free refrigerator in West Campus as a way to fight food insecurity.

Food insecurity is no stranger to University students — 37.7%, of UT students experience some form of food insecurity, according to the Fall 2021 National College Health Assessment. This is above the national average, which was 12.8% in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The free fridge will be an all-access, grassroots initiative, with no barriers to accessing food. People, including non-UT students, can give and take food — ranging from produce to homemade dishes — as they please.  The fridge is projected to be ready for use by March 23.

Maya Crane started fundraising for a refrigerator in West Campus last May. She called West Campus a “food desert,” claiming many students have to go out of their way to commute to a grocery store or a free fridge location.

Aside from convenience stores, the most commonly used grocery stores within a 20-minute walk are the Target on Guadalupe and 21st St. and the Wheatville Co-op, further up Guadalupe.   

“I realized there’s a lot of people in West Campus that have kitchens, but no cars,” said Crane, a government and Mexican American Latina/o studies sophomore. “There’s a lot of people who … don’t have time to drive 15 minutes (or) get on the bus for an hour both ways (to go to the grocery store).” 

Crane partnered with ATX Free Fridge Collective, an organization that combats food insecurity throughout Austin via free fridges. Crane reached out for donations to raise the estimated $4,000 needed to start the free fridge. While the fridge and its construction are funded by the Collective, the electricity will be supported by Pearl Street Co-op.

Mari Herold Benavidez, a Pearl Street Co-op resident, said she brought the initiative to the Co-op directors and the board members of College Houses, the company running the co-ops. After receiving approval, the house voted to approve the proposal. She said many residents showed interest in the fridge and have been eager to contribute to the project.

“Because we have a large labor force here at Pearl Street, we will be one of the main (groups) helping with the volunteering aspect of this and helping with the maintenance aspect of this,” government sophomore Herold Benavidez said. “As a host, we are the ones providing the electricity for the free fridge, so we’re in charge of making sure the cost is covered there, and keeping the fridge powered, safe and protected.”

However, Co-op residents are not the only people who will help with the fridge’s logistics. Student and non-student volunteers will help with maintenance and support of the fridge. 

“It’s a fridge in a very communal space,” Herold Benavidez said. “(We will) have people who can come to the fridge regularly, to check out, throw out any old food, clean out the fridge a little bit, keep it nice and clean, so that way community members are able to use it and to enjoy the space.”

Nitza Cuevas, one of the Collective’s core organizers, said the ethos of the Collective is not to be a charitable organization, but rather a mutual aid service for diverse communities.

“It is all about solidarity,” Cuevas said. “The community (supports) itself, and our neighbors support one another without any sort of need to look elsewhere. We know what we need.” 

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About the Contributor
Carla Garcia Leija, Design Editor & Senior Digital Designer
Carla Garcia Leija is The Daily Texan's Design Editor and Senior Digital Designer. She has also designed for The Texas Tribune, Texas Performing Arts, McCombs School of Business, and Festival Beach Food Forest.