The fate of a community fridge program is in jeopardy due to a 64-year-old law and city zoning codes.
“The City of Fort Worth is looking to place restrictions on us that would make the fridge [essentially] inaccessible to the folks who need it,” said the Funkytown Fridge team in a recent Instagram post.
The 1956 law is intended to protect children from becoming locked inside refrigerators, and city codes limit where the large storage boxes can be placed.
Code Compliance does not “want to shut it down,” said Kendra Richardson, founder of Funkytown Fridges. “Because of the law, they say they have to do their jobs,”
A spokesperson for the city said in an email that the “basic issue is that [Funkytown Fridges], a very well-intended project, is currently in violation of a State of Texas Health and Safety Code law as well as a zoning issue in Fort Worth.”
The cited local code governs “accessory uses” on nonresidential lots. The city spokesperson did not comment on how the zoning code impacts the location of the three Funkytown Fridges, which are located on private property with the approval of the property owners. The spokesperson also cited a state law that restricts where refrigerators can be placed.
When asked whether the state law applies to the Funkytown Fridges refrigerators — none of which feature a latch that can close to make it unopenable from the inside — the representative did not comment.
The Funkytown Fridges have not been shut down, and, as of the date of this reporting, no citations have been issued by the city. Richardson believes that the sort of changes discussed by Code Compliance officials would defeat the purpose of the fridge.
“They told us one of our options was to move the fridge, which limits access,” she said. “They also said to put a lock on the fridge, which would make it inaccessible. They also said to only have it open when we know people are there and lock it when volunteers leave, but we’ve had them out there for so long and people are so used to them, that’s not going to work.”
While taking photographs of one refrigerator in Fort Worth, one Weekly reporter witnessed two families use it — something that may not be possible if the refrigerators had been locked or moved inside the building.
“We’re still in negotiations to figure out what our next steps would be,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s personal experience led to her forming such a program that can provide to impoverished families in areas lacking access to healthy foods. She grew up in the Stop Six neighborhood and remembers the struggles of finding sources of healthy food.
“There are a lot of Black and brown neighborhoods that suffer from food apartheid,” she said, referring to public policy decisions that shape where and how nutritious food is sold in Fort Worth. “There hasn’t been a grocery store in Stop Six since I was a kid.”
In mid-2020, she saw an Instagram post about community fridges in New Orleans and Houston. The concept started this past February in New York City and has spread across the United States. Community fridges, also known as “friendly fridges” or “community solidarity fridges” offer free food to area residents — no questions asked.
Through a refrigerator donation, Richardson was able to place Fort Worth’s first community fridge at 3144 Bryan Ave. on the South Side, which is stocked through community donations. The program has now grown to three refrigerators in total across Fort Worth.
“These fridges do so much more than feed undernourished communities and deserts,” said Courtney Duran, a volunteer with Funkytown Fridges. “They’re feeding souls showing Fort Worth that we care.”
An estimated 280,000 Fort Worthians live in a food desert (defined by living one mile or more from a full-service grocery store), according to the Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB), and nearly 14% of Tarrant County residents are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to food or resources to buy food, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit that works to address hunger in the United States.
A 2019 article by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that food insecurity leads to “adverse social, physical, and psychological outcomes.” Using data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the NIH found that, between 2001 and 2016, Black and Latinx households were at least twice as likely to experience food insecurity than non-Hispanic white households.
“There is growing recognition in the health sciences, particularly public health, that discrimination and structural racism are key contributors to inequity in health behaviors and outcomes,” the article concluded.
Richardson believes community fridges are “a good way to prevent injustices and wasted food. This fridge gives people in those neighborhoods free access to healthy foods. We have communities that experience high rates of diabetes, infant mortality, and other problems. We want to ease their burdens.”
The idea is to make the fridges self-sustaining, and to that end, Richardson asked potential donors to contribute fresh produce, which continues to be in short supply, by dropping off the foodstuffs directly or leaving food items in one of several Funkytown Fridges boxes. Gifted (212 Carroll St.) and Indigo Yoga Studio (5111 Pershing Ave.) currently have donation boxes. Richardson hopes that every underserved community will eventually keep and maintain community fridges.
“It’s a new concept,” she said. “We are telling these communities that we see them. Many of [the volunteers behind the project] are from these neighborhoods. The whole point is to break down capitalism and give people their power back by letting them know there is a way to find your power to spark a revolution. This is just the gateway. Hopefully, we can raise the consciousness of other people. We are building more community and more love.”