When Shaundra visits the easy-access, always-free fridge near her family’s Fulton Hill home, she usually picks up a few eggs, fresh greens, or another vegetable or fruit. The Richmond parent says she wants her kids to have at least one serving a day of real food. Because the closest grocery store is a bus-ride away and she is working two part-time jobs, it’s never truly convenient to get to a local market, even when she has
That’s what life in a food desert is like for many Richmond-area families.
Data from the 2019 Virginia Food Desert Study showed that in localities without access to healthy and affordable food, the number of fast food restaurants and convenience stores per 1,000 residents is far greater than the number of grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables. Despite the challenges that food deserts and food insecurity present, there are resources available in Virginia to help families like Shaundra’s.
“Helping communities that don’t have access to healthy food is a focal point for many mutual aid and charitable organizations,” says Taylor Scott. She founded RVA Community Fridges, an organization that provides free food twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week to the communities it serves, to help reduce food insecurity in Richmond.
A New Orleans native who moved to the region five years ago to study criminal justice and homeland security at VCU, Scott first encountered a community fridge in her hometown during high school. She also remembers the community compassion that flowed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I’ve grown up with people assisting us from [Hurricane] Katrina, people handing out little bags with toothpaste and a toothbrush – that was a big help, little things like that,” says Scott. “Even though I wasn’t born here, I feel so much like I’ve been in Richmond forever.”
Scott opened the first fridge at 2025 Venable Street in Church Hill in late 2021. Since then, the volunteer-run organization has established ten community fridges around the city.
“It started when I was growing food in my apartment and looking for a way to distribute it,” says Scott, whose hobby was hydroponics (growing plants in small spaces without soil). “I wanted to find a way to feed whole neighborhoods.”
That desire became a reality when Scott partnered with area businesses to establish 24/7 accessible refrigerators. Next, local farms reached out to donate extra produce, and businesses provided places to plug in the refrigerators.
The RVA Community Fridges’ take-what-you-need and leave-what-you-can model means more people have access to a daily rotation of prepared meals, fresh produce, water, and other essentials.
In addition to providing fresh food for families, almost all Community Fridge locations include pantries for nonperishables, personal hygiene items, and essential household products. According to Scott, what makes all of this more special is that
even with the increasing popularity of the program and support from outside sources, the services – cleaning fridges, grocery shopping, rescuing food, organizing donation drives, painting fridges, and more – are still most often completed by members within the community.
Scott says the no-policing policy (the fridges are open access) promotes positive interactions with community members. “In the end, it’s none of anyone’s business how much someone else may need for their family,” says Scott. The community advocate adds that members of the RVA Community Fridges extended family have told her “the fridges literally saved their lives.”
As families like Shaundra’s continue to grapple with life in food deserts, while emerging from a pandemic that has left many unemployed, under-employed, and unhoused, RVA Community Fridges will continue working to help families achieve food security.
“I honestly never imagined this would be the route I took to help others, but I am so glad it is the avenue that fills my heart with joy and fulfillment,” says Scott. “I love seeing the fridges get emptied out almost as soon as they’re filled, meeting up at the fridges and talking to community members, or meeting new people in the community who want to find a way to get involved and help.”
3 Ways to Support RVA Community Fridges
1. Anyone can donate food – including nonperishables, fresh produce, and labeled prepared meals – at any of the fridges. For donation details and guidelines, plus a map of all the fridges in the region, check out RVA Community Fridges on Instagram.
2. RVA Community Fridges is searching for individuals who want to make a difference in communities across Richmond. This unique volunteer experience requires a few hours a week. To learn more, email: email@example.com
3. You can also support RVA Community Fridges by donating to their GoFundMe at RVA Community Fridges or purchasing a reusable tote bag or t-shirt.
Facebook: RVA Community Fridges