The soft launch of Longmont Community Fridges is complete, and the initiative is set to expand, Longmont Food Rescue Executive Director Naomi Curland said Tuesday.
The organization partnered with the nonprofit Uproot Colorado to launch the initiative in the fall. Organizers began with two donated fridges, which now sit — filled with free food — at Agape Safe Haven, 10656 Park Ridge Ave., and Longmont United Hospital, at 950 Mountain View Ave.
“We have found that the fridges are being used very regularly,” Curland said. “We’ve spread the word among our current reach of clients, and people have found out about them.”
Volunteers check the fridges weekly for cleanliness and expired food, she explained.
“We do find, you know, a fridge will be very well stocked one day, and one or two days later, has already been opened with people accessing it, so it’s great to know the food’s making it out into the community,” Curland said. “And we’ll also come by and find new food in there sometimes.”
Anyone can help themselves to food from the fridges — anonymously, Curland said. Her organization believes in removing any barriers to food access.
“So not taking paperwork — removing that stigma about taking food services,” she explained. “We want it to be easy for folks to get food when they need it, and the fridges can be public resources, open 24/7 and 365 … you don’t have to be at a food bank at a certain hour — oftentimes during business times when they might be working.”
Community members are encouraged to buy an extra bag of produce when they’re at the grocery store, and stop by one of the fridges on their way home to make a donation.
Since 2020, Longmont Food Rescue has increased its services in an effort to help community members in need, Curland said. The nonprofit organization collects produce that grocery stores plan to throw away. Farms also donate their local surplus food to the nonprofit.
The fallout from the pandemic — coupled with a soaring cost of living amid inflation — has driven more people to seek help, she explained.
“What we actually found, is between 2021 and 2022, there was a 15% increase in people seeking our services,” Curland said. “So what this is showing, is the effects of the pandemic are going to be long-reaching … and so looking for free, healthy food access has increased.”
The organization has doubled its bicycle deliveries of produce, and works with homeless outreach, mental health and residential programs to bring the produce to those in need.
Some of Longmont Food Rescue’s recipients are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, she said.
“People are just trying to get back on their feet after whatever losses they might have incurred during lockdown in the pandemic,” Curland said. “There’s things like childcare costs, and utility rates going up, and food costs and rent. And you put all of that together, and people are making really difficult decisions for themselves and their families about what bills to pay that month.”
Longmont Community Fridges is seeking donations of fridges and produce to expand to different local neighborhoods — all fresh produce is welcome, Curland said. Community members who add food to the fridges are encouraged to reorganize them and toss out anything that is rotten or expired. Packaged food products must be unopened, with expiration labels, and no home-prepared meals are permitted.
The colorful fridges, which say ‘free food’ in English and Spanish, were sanded by volunteers, designed by artists with the Firehouse Art Center and painted by players on the Longmont High School football team. Each fridge site has a dry storage cabinet as well.
“We really were trying to make this a true community project,” Curland said. “There’s a shared sense of pride and ownership of these fridges.”