Food News

Denver Community Fridges Is Looking for More Volunteers to Help Feed the Community

There are currently five fridges operating throughout the city.
There are currently five fridges operating throughout the city. Molly Martin
Denver Community Fridges (DCF) organizers believe “there is enough food out there for everyone,” says volunteer coordinator Taylor Stack. But it takes a lot of coordination to redistribute the pounds of food that would otherwise go to waste.

Since DCF started installing outdoor refrigerators filled with donated food items, beverages and dry goods in December 2020, the mutual aid organization has been working to build its network of volunteers. These days, there are about seventy individuals enrolled in its volunteer system, but organizers are searching for more — especially during weekday hours.

“I want to get to a place where we are able to distribute to the fridges multiple times during the day,” Stack says. “There’s a need for it. When we drop off food at a fridge, a lot of it will be gone within a few hours.”

Stack has been involved in food-justice organizing since 2013. During her time as a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, she became more aware of how hard it can be to increase food access in disenfranchised neighborhoods. She started volunteering at a Temple-affiliated food co-op called the Rad Dish Co-op Cafe, which serves affordable, locally sourced vegetarian meals.

It took her a few years after moving to Denver in 2018 to find another outlet similar to the groups she had worked with in Philadelphia, but she was immediately drawn to the DCF mission when she heard about it in 2020.
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Around seventy people currently volunteer for DCF, cleaning fridges and distributing food.
Denver Community Fridges
DCF was created in response to a rise in food insecurity during the pandemic. Eli Zain, Jacob McWilliams and Florence Blackwell of the University of Colorado Denver's Women and Gender Center spearheaded the mutual aid project to help neighbors, especially those experiencing homelessness. In addition to feeding people, the organization aimed to demonstrate how community-led organizations can assist community members outside of existing systems.

For the first six months, the primary team members were the only ones cleaning and stocking DCF’s three fridges, but the project expanded quickly. “At one point, we had ten fridges,” Stack notes. “We were doing anything and everything to just run the project.”

Volunteer scheduling occurred through Google spreadsheets and personal correspondence with primary organizers. During much of the rest of 2021, Stack estimates, they had around thirty listed volunteers, though closer to ten were actively working. Last January, when she took on the position of volunteer coordinator, she fine-tuned a web system that now lets volunteers schedule their own shifts after they complete an hour-long orientation. DCF currently has around 120 listed volunteers and seventy actively assisting.

At the same time, DCF has been focusing on addressing certain issues that have sometimes interfered with smooth operations. They’ve begun partnering with organizations that have experience in helping people who are experiencing mental health crises such as Heart and Hand Center and Front Range Behavior Associates, both in Five Points.

In doing so, they hope to avoid fridge closures like the recent one at Mutiny Information Cafe, where owner Jim Norris became concerned about the violent way some patrons would treat the fridge and its products after witnessing food being thrown on the ground and wasted.
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Community fridges can be stocked with fresh produce, beverages and ready-made meals.
Claire Duncombe
South Broadway is “a really heavily populated area,” Stack explains, adding that DCF hopes to open another fridge in the area soon. Currently, the organization runs five fridges spread across the city, with plans to open two more, one in Globeville and another in Capitol Hill.

There are several ways to volunteer for DCF, but the main two roles that organizers try to fill on a daily basis are point-person shifts and food distribution shifts. Point people volunteer by checking and cleaning fridges — wiping down all doors, making sure the food is unopened and fresh, and ensuring that the fridge is plugged in and cool. “We’d like our fridges to get checked on and cleaned at least a couple times a week,” Stack says. “Ideally, every day.”

Food distribution involves picking up donated food from partner organizations such as food banks, grocery stores and restaurants, then stocking community fridges or taking products to the DCF distribution hub. While it has volunteers that fulfill this role during evening hours and on weekends, the group is still searching for more volunteers with weekday daytime availability — a prime time for picking up donations from food banks and a block of time when the fridges are often emptied out.

“We need to mobilize folks to get that food out there,” Stack says. “It’s one of those things, once you start volunteering with us, and if you have the availability to do it, as someone who loves food, it’s a lot of fun.”

“We put full cakes out last week,” she continues. “I thought, ‘Oh, wow, this was going to go into the trash, and I get to eat it, and I get to give it to someone else as well?’ It’s a really rewarding and amazing project.”

To learn more about Denver Community Fridges and to sign up for volunteer opportunities, visit denvercommunityfridges.com.
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Claire Duncombe is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers the environment, agriculture, food, music, the arts and other subjects.
Contact: Claire Duncombe