Fridge in Oak Park at 4200 4th Ave. (Kieu Anh Nguyen Le)

On December 23, 2020, a bright orange fridge filled with food could be seen on a sidewalk of 4th Ave. in Oak Park. The words “take what you need, leave what you can” are painted in vibrant pink on the front. This is one of many community fridges set up by Sacramento Community Fridges (SCF), a local organization dedicated to eliminating food waste and food insecurity.

Founders, Jo Bulaong and Maggie Vinzant, created this organization in October 2020 to meet the need for community resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are being forced to choose between rent and groceries. It doesn’t seem right for people to have to choose between two basic human rights,” Bulaong said. 

They were inspired by successful community fridge programs in New York and Oakland and knew Sacramento needed a system of its own. 

These fridges depend on community donations and a partnership with the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. The program allows community members to depend on each other especially in times of need. SCF characterizes their work as “mutual aid, not charity.”

Community members can bring their excess food to these locations or take as much food as they need.

“We think that charity prioritizes the ‘haves’ giving to the ‘have-nots,’ but in reality, mutual aid is all about the community coming together and the community taking care of each other” Bulaong said. 

A resident of Oak Park muses “I have been here for 54 years — the same block. I have watched everything come and go but this — I have never seen this in my life. Never would I have dreamed that it would be used by so many people including me. It’s a blessing. It really is.”

(Kieu Anh Nguyen Lee)

Mini fridge in Midtown at 1322 F St. (Kieu Anh Nguyen Le)

Sanitation is a major concern, especially during a pandemic, and SCF is committed to providing safe resources. “We have regular volunteers who check [the fridges] two, three times a day,” Bulaong explained. The volunteers sanitize the handles and the inside of the fridges and move older items to the front. SCF also makes sure to keep hand sanitizers at all locations. 

The biggest hurdle facing SCF and other community fridge organizations are city code officers. On November 10, SCF announced the removal of their 25th St. fridge due to a citation issued by the Sacramento Code Enforcement.

The citation labeled the fridge as junk after a neighbor complained about the installation. SCF is now making sure to carefully canvas future locations and alert the residents as to minimize surprises. A new fridge installation is currently underway in South Sacramento. 

“I think the most rewarding thing that we’ve learned is just how powerful the community is,” Bulaong concludes. “It’s amazing how much power we have when we unite and when we share resources and when we all learn from each other.”