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Free and Fresh Fridge

by Vidhya Jagannathan, ALA Spectrum YALSA Scholar 2021/2022 on June 2, 2022

At the 2022 PLA Conference, teen system coordinator, Darcy Coover and associate director for community engagement, Kathleen Montgomery of the Charleston County (SC) Public Library (CCPL) gave a presentation titled Free and Fresh Fridge about providing a fresh food access hub for the rural community of Charleston County. The title and the content caught my attention because I am currently involved in establishing a community garden at North Cobb (GA) Regional Library, where I work as the makerspace coordinator. With topics like growing food, test kitchen, and donating produce to the community, Free and Fresh Fridge seemed like a presentation from which I could garner valuable takeaways to use in my own endeavors. 

Coover and Montgomery began their presentation with demographic information pertaining to Charleston County. Significant facts were that 9.6% of people in Charleston County experienced food insecurity and several areas in the county were considered to be food deserts. If a person lives more than ½ to one mile away from a grocery store and does not have access to transportation, they are considered to be living in a food desert. One of the goals of CCPL’s 2021-2024 Strategic Plan is to, “Empower individuals with the knowledge to make healthy food choices.” 

To achieve their healthy food goal, their first step was to create robust partnerships with the Charleston County School District and the Lowcountry Food Bank (LFB). Through this collaboration, CCPL served 11,500 meals to 2,850 children and youth in 2020, and 4000 after-school snacks in 2021. In addition to serving healthy meals and snacks, CCPL embarked on a new initiative with the LFB using their Charlie Cart to provide food programming to library patrons. Working in unison, LFB and CCPL trained staff in three branches to use the Charlie Cart and provided food handler safety certification. Ingredients for the food programming were provided by CCPL and the Charleston Friends of the Library Funding; cleaning supplies and paper products were provided by the LFB. In addition to cooked meals, snacks, and food programs, LFB also provided fresh produce for the libraries to host drive through and walk-up giveaways at the library. Participants received fresh apples, potatoes, onions, grapes and carrots in reusable grocery bags. The bags also had flyers which advertised upcoming giveaways and food programs. 

With several sound and successful food programs, CCPL’s next undertaking was the Free and Fresh Fridge which would house fresh fruits and vegetables in a fridge located in a discreet part of the library from which patrons could help themselves. In January 2021, CCPL received a grant from Roper St Francis Community Investment Grant and in March 2021, placed their first fridge in St Paul’s Hollywood branch library. Within six months, two more fridges were launched at the John L. Dart and Otranto branches. The three fridges gave out an average of 700 lbs of food in a week. Like any food and garden program, it took the collaborative efforts of several local nonprofit organizations to keep the fridge stocked with produce. In addition, St Paul’s Hollywood branch also had a community garden and produce from the garden was used to supplement the stock in the fridges.

My fledgling adventure with a community garden at my library is just getting started. The presenters of Free and Fresh Fridge mentioned getting inspiration from a 2019 ALA Annual Conference presentation. I too hope I can present successfully in a future conference and cite the Free and Fresh Fridge at PLA 2022 as my own source of inspiration.

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