For nearly a year, the Homer Community Fridge has been providing free meals to people in need, thanks to community food donations and volunteer efforts.
Established last summer, 25 to 50 meals were initially available through the fridge. Today that number has increased to up to 150 meals a day, thanks to an increase in food donations by businesses, individuals, restaurants, caterers and grocery stores, as well as volunteers who donate their time to preparing meals and restocking the fridge on a daily basis.
With a demand for food, fridge coordinator Laura McBride encourages people to take only the food they need for the day from the fridge, and to check it again the next day if they need more food.
“The goal is to serve as many members of the community as possible,” McBride shared. “What’s beautiful about this project is that it didn’t cost anything. We only run on food donations.”
Currently under the umbrella of the Homer Food Pantry, the fridge is open for service or donation 24/7 outside the Homer United Methodist Church. The only time it is closed is on food pantry distribution day, which is Monday. At that time, volunteers, clean, sanitize and refill the fridge.
A longtime food pantry volunteer coordinator and board member, McBride created the Homer fridge project after she noted the increase in local food insecurity.
“When I started on the board in 2020, the food pantry served about 75 families and today, it is closer to 150 families,” McBride shared. “There are a lot of hungry people in this town.”
Her personal interest through the food pantry was all the leftovers they were unable to deal with because they had no kitchen. McBride envisioned the fridge as an easy way to connect those in need of food with those with food to share.
Working, raising a daughter, and going to college, McBride is committed to building bridges between those who have and those who need, so much so that she recently resigned as pantry coordinator in order to focus her efforts solely on developing the fridge. Alongside a team of four to 10 volunteers who gather in the Homer United Methodist Church kitchen twice a week for four hours at a time, donated food is sorted, meals are prepared, and the fridge is filled.
Initially modeled after an Anchorage Community Fridge program, the local project began with the donation of a fridge by community member Emily Sloth and has grown from there.
“People are constantly thanking us for providing free food so they’re able to eat and to take meals to their families,” McBride said. “Sometimes one person is distributing meals to four or five different families. It works as intended and people are overwhelmingly grateful.”
Food donations come in from grocery stores that donate unsalable deli food and prepared food, as well as from restaurants and caterers who donate leftovers. Volunteers take these leftovers and turn them into meals. One short-term goal for the project is to reach more individuals who have access to food — B&B’s, hotels, and people hosting weddings, parties, or other gatherings, individuals moving out of town, or those cleaning homes after someone has passed away — to let them know there is a place to donate good quality leftover food.
“The goal is that instead of throwing food away, let’s take what can be reused and share it with those who need it,” McBride said. “Many donate to the food pantry and we’d like them to know that they can designate some of their donation directly to the fridge. We serve the same people as the food pantry, but the fridge is accessible 24 hours a day. This fridge is a portal for food to be shared from wherever it is not needed to where it is needed.”
Community members can donate directly to the fridge. McBride simply asks that the date the food was made and ingredients are noted on the outside of the packaging. Volunteers do their best to monitor the fridge every day to make sure those things are clear and to remove any items that are questionable.
Wanting to keep the fridge community-friendly, the group stays away from regulations. The fridge works on the honor system of trusting that people will take only what they need in any given day.
“This food we’re collecting is all food that would have been trashed, but happens to be given a second life here,” she said. “We ask people to only put in the fridge what they would eat and we want people to take what they need for today, knowing that we will put more food in tomorrow.”
At the heart of all their efforts, the volunteers love to feed people.
Luanne Webber moved to Homer last summer. Previously involved in the food pantry in her hometown in Maine, she and a friend made jam from leftover fruit that was donated, sold the jam at markets and fairs and through these sales, raised more than $8,000 for their local food pantry.
Raised with food insecurity, Webber knows what it is like to wonder where a next meal will come from. Her father was a truck driver and often, the family ate banana sandwiches or shakes made from left over cases of bananas.
“This affected me when I was young and now, feeding people is my ministry,” Webber shared. “No one should go hungry.”
For McBride the fridge is about feeding bodies as well as spirits.
“Homer is a unique and remarkable community,” she said. “I’ve never before lived in a place where people are so conscientious of their neighbors and the fridge is one example of how open our hearts are to one another. The fridge belongs to Homer. It’s for the people, by the people.”
For more information on donating food and volunteering to prepare meals or on the board, contact McBride at 907-299-9569. Anyone who would like to learn how to distribute, portion, or package their food donations can stop by Monday and Thursday, noon to 4 p.m. to receive instructions, and recycled containers and labels are also available. The Community Fridge is open for service or donation 24/7 outside Homer United Methodist Church.