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Photo: Health Partners Plans
Photo: Health Partners Plans

Philly’s community fridges get a funding boost as food insecurity persists

Health Partners Foundation will donate $20,000 to provide 20 community fridges to organizations throughout the city.

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In July, a collection of “Friendly Fridges” popped up around New York City, created by artists and community activists to provide free food for residents struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic.

In August, the wave caught on quickly in Philadelphia when small business owner Michelle Nelson set up the “Mama-Tee Community Fridge” at the intersection of Seventh Street and Girard Avenue in Philly’s Ludlow neighborhood.

Following this installment, three more fridges popped up in different locations: The People’s Fridge on 52nd Street in West Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Community Fridge in South Philly, and the Germantown Community Fridge.

Now, Health Partners Foundation (HPF), a community initiative of Health Partners Plans, announced its partnership with Mama-Tee and their Community Fridge Project to further address food insecurity in the community. HPF will donate $20,000 to Mama-Tee to provide 20 community fridges to organizations throughout the city.

The fridges will be placed inside senior residential facilities and other organizations to combat chronic food insecurity. Community members can take what they need from the fridges, which are stocked daily with fruits and vegetables from donors, including local restaurants, farms, and food brands. Once fully installed, these fridges will be able to feed up to 900 people daily.

Al DÍA recently spoke to Staci Scott, the president, and executive director of HPF, to learn more about these issues and why they decided to partner with the Mama-Tee team.

Finding Mama-Tee:

Scott was first made aware of Mama-Tee through a news report and was instantly intrigued by the beautiful yellow refrigerators.

“Mama-Tee’s idea is so simple that it’s brilliant,” said Scott.

One of the primary tenets of the Health Partners Foundation is addressing food insecurity. Through the initiative, Dr. Michelle Nelson gives access to free fruits and vegetables to those that need it most.

In the news report, Scott saw of Mama-Tee, she shouted out her Instagram handle.

 “So I sent her a message, and she replied. The rest is history,” said Scott.

Philadelphia’s Food Insecurity:

The reality for many people living in Philadelphia is that they do not always have access to enough food for a healthy life. Food insecurity can be temporary or long-term, and some of its factors include unreliable incomes, higher costs of living, and limited access to traditional grocery stores.

“Unfortunately, many families need to choose between buying food or paying bills, which has recently been exacerbated by health and economic issues during the pandemic. But, food insecurity was at a crisis point in the Philadelphia area well before the coronavirus pandemic knocked many Pennsylvanians out of work,” Scott explained.

She also emphasized that food insecurity looks different from neighborhood to neighborhood. A recent CHOP study demonstrated that 10% of children screened in Philadelphia were food insecure, compared to 4% in surrounding suburbs.

“The study also found that more than 40% of food-insecure families lived more than half a mile away from a food pantry and did not have a car to get there, showing just how important access to fresh food really is,” said Scott.

The impact of grassroots, community-led approaches:

Scott believes that addressing food insecurity varies by community needs, geography, and neighborhood capacity. But, successful community-led food security programs need to share certain characteristics.

A successful program needs to have nutritious and culturally-appropriate food available, maintain the recipients' dignity, support local, regional, family-scale and sustainable farmers and businesses, promote equitable access to resources, promote good health, and meet the food needs of everyone, especially those with low incomes.

The future fight:

Currently, COVID-19 continues to limit what HPF is able to do within the community, but their work is far from over.

“We focus and continue to focus so deeply on the social determinants of health and improving access for community members to things like quality food and adequate housing.” 

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