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Richardson saw an opportunity to help – with a community fridge.
Richardson launched FunkyTown Fridge in September of 2020 with the purpose of feeding the community and giving neighborhood families access to healthy food, making it the first and only community fridge in Fort Worth at the time.
“We place refrigerators and pantries in food apartheid neighborhoods around Fort Worth, and then allow them to be accessible and open 24/7,” Richardson said. “So, it’s free food, community-based on a give what you can, take what you need basis.”
Let’s explore how has Richardson’s FunkyTown Fridge met a nutritious need in Fort Worth, and how a community fridge work in your town!
Origins of a Community Fridge for Fort Worth
Richardson grew up in Stop Six, a historically African American neighborhood in the diverse city of Fort Worth, Texas (35.3% Latino and 18.8% African American).
Her family had no easy access to a grocery store.
This is a common problem in communities of color. Latino neighborhoods, for example, lack grocery stores and farmers markets but have an abundance of fast food and corner store options, according to a Salud America! research review.
“There’s still no grocery stores and still no access to food [in Stop Six], and I just turned 30 last week. So that’s a long time to go without a resource, you need to leave to survive,” Richardson said.
Seeing systemic health inequities, like the lack of local access to a grocery store, in her community led her to serve as an advocate of change at a young age.
“Since I was 12, I’ve been marching and fighting and protesting,” Richardson said. “I needed to find a practical and logical way to empower people and help them find their own way to the resources they need to improve their own quality of life.”
But how could she improve healthy food access in her neighborhood?
A community fridge offers free food and household supplies to people who have limited access to fresh groceries.
She wanted to establish a community fridge for Fort Worth.
Crafting the FunkyTown Fridge for Fort Worth
Richardson researched how to get started.
Then she worked through a long list of logistics: find a fridge to store the food; figure out what kind of foods they accept to put in the fridge; search for a building or location to place the fridge; figure out a maintenance and restocking plan; finding an artist to give the fridge a unique feel; and more.
“I started contacting people who I feel like had the resources I need to hurry up and get it started,” Richardson said. “And doing all the research which took about which took about two or three months just to thoroughly go through and make sure all my I’s are dotted and my T’s are crossed.”
While Richardson began working on the first fridge location, she had a bigger vision of establishing multiple across Fort Worth area codes where the need was greater.
Since then, Richardson created an organization, FunkyTown Fridge, which has helped establish 4 Fort Worth fridge locations stocked by Richardson and volunteers.
The community fridge’s name takes inspiration from one of the many nicknames given to the city of Fort Worth to describe the area’s music scene.
The fridges are open 24/7. They accept donations of food like fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, peanut butter, and more to stock in the fridges.
“We try to encourage people to bring healthier foods, fruits and veggies, especially in the refrigerator, especially during the summer to try to keep people hydrated,” Richardson said. “Water, especially during the summer and you know, frozen fruits and frozen veggies, it operates like a regular refrigerator.”
While the community helps maintain the fridge, Richardson and volunteers also ensure that things run smoothly.
“We do a deep clean twice a week is my goal for every fridge. And so, the more people sign up to volunteer the more I try to get people out there,” Richardson said.
FunkyTown Fridge Is Making a Difference in the Community
Richardson cares about developing relationships and trust within the community.
Through her work and dedication with implementing fridges, she has been able to do just that.
“When I pull up in my car, they automatically know like, I’m coming to fill the fridge and I’m coming to put food and they know my car, they know me,” Richardson said.
People have told her how helpful the food has been.
“They talk and we have a few conversations, and they’ll tell me how they’re using the fridge and how they’re utilizing it, not just for themselves but for each other,” Richardson said.
Richardson spoke of how rewarding her relationship is with community members.
“It’s fulfilling to know that [the fridges are] there, that people trust them enough to go and eat there,” Richardson said. “When I’m in these neighborhoods, these people feel comfortable enough to talk to me or get to know me and actually be intentional and purposeful about the relationships that I build with these people.”
Richardson further highlighted the importance of working and coming together with others for the benefit of everyone.
“That’s the point for us, to establish each other as community members and as people who are all in it together trying to survive,” she said. “There’s no hierarchy and no one person has better or gives more. It’s just all of us coming together, people helping people.”
How FunkyTown Fridge Deals with Challenges
While Richardson’s fridges are popular, success hasn’t always been easy.
There are several factors and moving parts that go into the organization of the fridges to keep them going. With little help, it can be even more difficult.
“Trying to get it all together and get people on one accord and where they need to be and things happen fast,” Richardson said. “So, there’s not always time to sit down and thoroughly explain what’s going on, but just give you a task and tell you where to go what to do.”
Richardson shared that donations and resources are scarcer now than when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“People have really died down on mutual aid. People are not donating as much. It’s like it’s over for everybody else except for the people that need it,” Richardson said.
City rule-keepers also raised concerns about the fridges, but Richardson didn’t back down.
“Code compliance came through at one point. And said that they didn’t like really the accessibility piece because of some law from the 50s,” she said.
Despite these concerns, the fridges remain in service for the community.
“They’re not offering the resources to help and they’re not going to shut it down. Then we’re going to continue to operate the way we are,” Richardson said.
Feeding the Future with FunkyTown Fridge
Not only is Richardson continuing to fight for the four open community fridges, she also is working to set up two more within the community.
“I wanted a network of fridges in these, like, I wanted multiple ones in these neighborhoods,” she said. “And once I do that, then I’ll be done because the goal has been met.”
Richardson also takes her responsibility to the community seriously.
“I have to make sure that every neighborhood that I’m serving is properly being served in a loving and helpful way and not just, us just going throwing food in the fridge and leaving it there,” Richardson said. “There’s also an education piece and there’s also a relationship building pillar, and there’s also safety involved in so we want to make sure that we can hit every corner as much as we can.”
Through her work, Richardson is also grateful for the community that she helps.
“When I’m in these neighborhoods, these people feel comfortable enough to talk to me or get to know me and actually be intentional and purposeful about the relationships that I build with these people,” Richardson said.
How Healthy is Your Community?
Does your community suffer from health disparities?
Explore data on your county and how it stacks up on a number of health-related issues including COVID-19, food security, socioeconomic status, and more with the Salud America! Health Equity Report Card.
Compare results to other counties and states across the nation.
Share the findings with city officials and social justice groups to advocate for change in your community!
Explore More:Healthy Food
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.