© 2022 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WEDH · WEDN · WEDW · WEDY · WNPR
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet Fridgeport, a community fridge helping neighbors feed neighbors

Community Fridge Bridgeport Aida Rivera
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Aida Rivera (above) rolls through a BJ’s in Fairfield on June 1, 2022, with food donated from the store to the community refrigerator she operates outside the Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries chapel in Bridgeport.

When Aida Rivera loads her car with food donations, it’s like a game of Tetris. In the parking lot of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Rivera tried to fit four superstore-sized shopping carts full of food into her midsize SUV.

“I put the meat on the bottom because it’s [in] sturdier boxes than the cakes,” Rivera said, running between the carts and her trunk in flip-flops, carrying bulk-sized boxes of frozen meat. She fits five sheet cakes, half a dozen pies, over 20 boxes of muffins and around 30 bags of rolls in her car — close to $1,000 in donations from BJ’s.

All this food is going to Fridgeport, a community fridge in Bridgeport. Rivera has worked out this stacking technique during her many trips to pick up food donations. She volunteers for the fridge over 40 hours a week.

Community Fridge Bridgeport Aida Rivera
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Outside a BJ’s in Fairfield, Aida Rivera (above) packs her car with food donated by the store to the community refrigerator she operates outside the Bridgeport chapel of Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries.

Food prices have risen 10% in the U.S. in the last year, making groceries even harder to afford for low-income people. In Connecticut, 12% of residents don’t have access to adequate nutrition. Fridgeport is one of half a dozen community fridges run through mutual aid that have popped in the state in the last few years to help meet that need.

In the small front yard of Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries, there’s an orange and tan shed filled with shelves and two large refrigerators. The fridges are open 24 hours, seven days a week, and all the food is free.

Donations come from individuals, restaurants and grocery stores. Rivera first heard of the community fridge concept early in 2021. She connected with Reggy St. Fortcolin, a community organizer who’s helped start up fridges in New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury. In May 2021, Fridgeport opened.

“Here, you take what you want, leave what you can,” St. Fortcolin said.

The first fridge in the state opened just prior to the pandemic. St. Fortcolin said that after the murder of George Floyd, mutual aid work, like the fridges, became more defined. It differs greatly, he said, from charity or government assistance.

Community Fridge Bridgeport Aida Rivera
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
A donated cake rests in a box of food items collected by Aida Rivera for the community refrigerator operated at Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries.

“Food banks, they see whatever your condition is: Do you have one kid, or two kids, or three kids or four kids? You are one entity, and you got one bread, one soup, one salad.” At the fridge, he said, there are no limits or questions asked or barriers like paperwork.

Rivera wished she had access to something like this when she was a young, single mother.

“I was the one eating out of pantries. When people look down on you, and you don't want to go back, it's embarrassing,” she said.

She estimates that 1,000 people visit every week, based on the number of notifications she gets on her phone from the smart doorbell posted outside the fridge. Rivera sometimes sees people pick up food in the middle of the night, which she thinks is because they feel ashamed to come during the day.

“Here, it’s not about that,” she said. “It’s about giving a helping hand up.”

Community Fridge Bridgeport Aida Rivera
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Aida Rivera (left) and Maria Iacobucci carry donated food to be sorted, stored and distributed through the community fridge operated at Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries in Bridgeport.

Many people who land just above the cutoff for state benefits experience food emergencies. Close to half the households in Bridgeport struggle to afford their basic needs of housing, food and transportation, according to data from United for ALICE. This includes households that aren’t technically considered in poverty — 23% of Bridgeport residents fall into that category.

“Poverty in America is a structural problem, and asking individuals to mutually assist each other isn’t really how you solve that poverty,” said Nathan Fiala, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut who studies food insecurity in low-income populations.

Fiala thinks the fridge is an indicator that existing systems aren’t working. According to the USDA, 21% of low-income people who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program don’t use it in Connecticut.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity here to think about how to redesign policy in Connecticut around support for low-income households,” Fiala said. He’d like to see politicians take food insecurity more seriously. Services like affordable housing, mental health care and even universal basic income would help, he said.

Back at the fridge, Scarleth Janelle shows up with her two sons. Rivera surprises the boys with a box of cookies and gives Janelle a hug.

“It helps a lot. Because it’s a lot of people that don’t get food stamps, don’t get help from the state,” Janelle said. She comes here often for herself, but also to take food for those who can’t come by.

“I come get [food] for me and to help other people,” she said.

She takes a frozen turkey and on her walk home, she calls friends to let them know there are a few more.

But the good news, Rivera said, traveled fast.

“We just picked up 30 turkeys, and there’s four left in there.”

Find a community fridge near you with this list compiled by CT Public.

Community Fridge Bridgeport Aida Rivera
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Bare shelves line the walls of the community refrigerator operated by Aida Rivera outside the Bridgeport chapel of Kingdom Builders Impact Ministries. As food prices rise with inflation, the needs and requirements of community refrigerators are also rising.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content