Her apartment overflowing with tomatoes, Taylor Scott was on the hunt for a community fridge so she could share the bounty of her home hydroponic farm with neighbors in need.
The concept of community fridges — publicly accessible appliances stocked with fresh food for people facing hunger and hard times — was not new to the New Orleans native, but hard as she looked, she couldn’t find any in Richmond.
That’s when Scott decided to create her own.
Her hope was to establish the first fridge in November 2019 as a birthday present to herself, but the search for a suitable site delayed the launch until January 2020. Although the first fridge location has since changed hands from Pomona to Fat Rabbit Cakes, the community fridge lives on.
In the 2.5 years since Scott began working with business owners, farms, and community members to set up, stock, and expand her network of free fridges, the number of RVA Community Fridges has quickly grown to 10, with two more planned later this year.
“Ever since the grand stocking of our first fridge, the community has been so helpful and on board,” says Scott. “We opened our website a month ago, which shows pictures, info on the fridges, and all of our locations, including one in Petersburg. Since then we’ve gotten suggestions for locations in Carytown, Midlothian, North Side and South Side — honestly, all over town.”
Although all RVA Community Fridges share the same mission, each one is differently decorated. After a friend volunteered to paint the first fridge, a new local artist has adopted each new appliance to add some flair to the free food and make each site feel special.
“Painting the fridges became a thing to beautify the community with a little art piece,” Scott says. “As long as the artists leave space for our guidelines on the front and a big ‘FREE FOOD’ written on the fridge, other than that, they can go crazy with their imagination.”
Whenever RVA Community Fridges approaches a business owner to install one of their appliances, they offer to pay a portion of their electric bill. So far, not a single location has taken Scott up on her offer. The impact on their electric bills is negligible. Where Scott and her volunteers prove their worth is in the careful cleaning and stocking of the fridges.
“The hosts can be as involved or uninvolved as they want,” explains Scott. “The volunteers and the community are the front line of maintaining these fridges. There are a lot of ways for folks to get involved and give back, whether you work at a restaurant or just want to cook a meal. We are always looking for more volunteers.”
The fridges get a consistent supply of fresh fruits and vegetables from two local farms, Shine and Sylvanaqua, as well as the Fonticello Food Forest. Goatocado donates both fresh produce and cooked foods. Any surplus loaves from Europa Crust always end up at a free fridge. Dozens of other local businesses donate their unsold excess at the end of the day.
To facilitate that, RVA Community Fridges even has labels to put on packaging so folks can know what’s inside without having to open everything. Even home chefs can get in on the action by cooking meals to be distributed through Scott’s free fridges.
With over 150 volunteers doing everything from stickers and branding to food pickup and distribution, Scott couldn’t serve so many communities without their assistance. Although her work takes enough time to be a full-time job, Scott has never gotten a cent for all her efforts.
“It’s something I know I should really get on if I want to make this sustainable, but I don’t even know where to begin,” she says. “All this work is for the community, and I’m just overjoyed to be a part of it. For now, getting some vegetables from the fridge is payment enough.”
This past year, Scott has focused on fundraising to expand her network of free fridges to meet the demand. She would also like to see partnerships between RVA Community Fridges and local food banks so that she can serve and supply more people. “We have a plan to serve the community as all out as we can,” she adds. “But now we need the money to back it up.”
Beyond the two fridges to be debuted later this year, RVA Community Fridges is planning “an ode to food justice” mural downtown, according to Scott. She received the proposed artwork a few days ago and is now just trying to solidify a location. “I want it to be a story in multiple parts and [to] also put a fridge there,” she notes.
Whether her food justice efforts become a full-time career or remain a passion project, Scott is just happy she can leverage her degree in emergency preparedness to serve her neighbors in need.
“I definitely have always had a passion for food sovereignty and wanting people to know where their food came from,” she explains. “That’s how I started growing my own food in my house. I wanted to merge my love for disaster preparedness and food security.”