Updated October 26, 2020 - 10:25 am
The idea behind the Las Vegas Town Fridge is simple — give people a place where they can donate or get food and other items at any time, day or night.
The Las Vegas version, just north of downtown at 1010 N. Main St., is painted blue with fruit in yellow and the words “take what you need, leave what you can.” There’s also a shelf area for nonperishable food and other items of need like toilet paper.
John Chou, who has a background in food justice advocacy and has volunteered at Three Square food bank, saw town fridges pop up in other cities and thought it could help in Las Vegas, which has long had a large population suffering with food insecurity.
“When we put the idea on social media, I was overwhelmed by the support for the idea,” Chou said. “It was apparent the fridge would be easy to come by. The hardest part was having a host location.”
That’s where United Movement Organized Kindness came in.
The nonprofit organization provided the location and the power to the refrigerator, which was donated by a volunteer.
The refrigerator was originally placed on a public sidewalk, which caused the city to shut it down for a short time because it violated city code.
But it’s back in action now, after UMOC made a “divot” in its fence and moved it onto its property, UMOC founder and CEO Peter Politis said.
Politis said the response on UMOC’s Facebook and Instagram pages was mixed at first, with some people “being naysayers,” but he’s been pleased with the number of people who have posted asking how they can help.
“It’s been awesome to see people (donating),” Politis said. “We’ve seen a lot of cars come by and put stuff in there. Being where we are and having a lot of homeless in the area, it’s constantly being checked for contents.”
When Chou was researching the idea, he reached out to the health district and city Councilman Brian Knudsen for the specific parameters. Since the project is officially a nonprofit entity, it doesn’t fall under the purview of the USDA or the health district.
Location choice obvious
Where the Las Vegas Town Fridge ended up is no coincidence. Through Chou’s work with Three Square, he saw numbers showing where the greatest need throughout the valley resides by ZIP code. He hopes others will pick up on the idea and form their own town fridges throughout the valley, particularly in other high-need areas.
“When I went at this project, I had a pretty clear goal of putting it downtown,” Chou said. “My own experiences and the map put out by Three Square showed 25 percent insecurity, and that has only risen because of the pandemic.”
Politis said he was amused when the Las Vegas Town Fridge opened to see curious people who would look in the Town Fridge just to see if there was anything in it.
Neither he nor Chou could put a number to how many people or families the Las Vegas Town Fridge will help, particularly because it relies almost solely on donations from the community.
But Chou said he doesn’t expect those who need food to have any problems finding it there.
“A lot of my philosophy is that if people have the opportunity to help, they will,” Chou said. “It doesn’t take that much to try and make a difference in the community. Whether that medium is housing, food or other goods, whatever cause you feel close to, everything is doable. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science.”