Point of View: Filling the community fridge

Elks Lodge, Safeway, Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, volunteers and private donors, among others, make the Free Fridge Project possible

The idea of a Food Preservation Project was originally presented to the Homer Community Food Pantry through the Homer Drawdown Committee in early 2023.

Laura McBride spearheaded the project along with a small group of women who would meet at Grace Ridge Brewing to discuss specifics. After getting backing from HCFP and The United Methodist Church, the Homer Community Free Fridge began to take form.

A used refrigerator was donated and from there things began to flourish. Rules for donating to the fridge were: date item was made, list of ingredients, put in only what you would eat, take out only what you need. It is protected by the Good Samaritan Law and efforts like these are springing up throughout the country.

Homer’s Elks Lodge #2127 initially donated a check for $500 to be used towards the free fridge. In August, they contacted HCFP to let us know that they had secured a grant for $8,000 towards the project. Their stipulation was that they be responsible for preparing the meals and buying the food and supplies. We welcomed that with open arms!

Becky Mizel and Tom Gregoire embraced the opportunity and by November had provided more than 850 proportions of prepped food, mainly on weekends. They also provided the pantry kitchen crew with foods to prep their meals weekly and provided containers. Once they undertook this project they were amazed at how many people were in need in Homer.

At the end of January they presented the two main cooks, Jean Auvenshire and Wendall Cummings, with a $546 food card to complete the last of their funding through the grant.

The way the free fridge functions is that a small crew of volunteers meets in the Methodist Church kitchen on Mondays and Thursdays from 12-4 p.m. to prep the meals for the fridge. They prepare dinners, sandwiches, soups, casseroles, desserts, etc. to last for three days. On Thursday they repeat the process, enough food for three days. On weekends Wendall continues to add prepped meals to the fridge.

Safeway has also been a huge supporter of the Free Fridge Project by providing deli foods and fruit and salads, which are greatly appreciated! Safeway also runs a program of Donating to the Hungry at checkout and the Homer Community Food Pantry receives those donations in the form of Safeway food cards. It takes another crew of volunteers to pick up these donations, along with Kordell Jones, our coordinator. The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has also been wonderful in providing supplies at a very reduced price.

Prepping the meals is a huge project. Food that is not utilized on Mondays during the pantry open community hours and will not last another week, is then used towards prepping meals. For example any baguettes or breads are turned into delicious bread pudding each week, bagels are turned into mini pizzas, veggies are turned into soups, etc.

We have two gals that come in to sanitize containers, recycle and do dishes. Some of our cooks prep soups, meats and casseroles at home and bring in for distribution.

Containers are a huge expenditure! We do recycle plastic 32-ounce and smaller containers with lids. Please, no larger or clam shell containers as we don’t have a use for them. We are now purchasing containers that can be heated up in a microwave or stove and are compostable. We ask that whenever possible that folks bring those containers back. We are using saran wrap in lieu of baggies as it’s cheaper. We work hard to keep our expenditures down.

We estimate that approximately 250 meals are prepped for the fridge weekly along with another 100-plus items from Safeway. The fridge is filled and empties daily!

Lastly, we want to thank Andy Armstrong and a few private donors for donating a brand new, two-door refrigerator and Air Land Transport through Anthony Roberts for their delivery of this generous gift. Andy said he’s always amazed at the number of folks that come down from the high school, families that stop to get food, and people on foot and on bikes that show up. The need is overwhelmingly out there!

Our plan is to have this new refrigerator up and running this spring. We are waiting on the completion of an enclosed, insulated area on our new outdoor shed to house the unit. Andy said his family utilized the food pantry growing up and he just wanted to give back!

We welcome any organizations, restaurants, churches or families to donate to the free fridge and/or the Community Food Pantry through providing meals or a monetary donation. HCFP encourages folks to donate protein of any kind, as we are always short of that and any other foods they would like.

We are located at 770 East End Road in the United Methodist Church, by the high school. We are open 9 am.-4 p.m. on Mondays and 12-4 p.m. on Thursdays.

For donations you can contact our coordinator at 907-235- 1968 or by email at homerfoodpantry@gmail.com.

Let us know if you’d like to be included on our monthly newsletter as well! Our Community Free Fridge is open 24/7. We clean it out Mondays and Thursdays as we make more meals, but open at 4 p.m. on those days. Folks are always eagerly waiting outside for it to be filled.

Becky Mizel summed it up nicely, “Homer doesn’t have a soup kitchen, but in lieu of that we have a Community Free Fridge.”

Deb Schmidt is a board member and volunteer with the Homer Food Pantry.