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Community Fridge Cleveland: Interview with Alex Quandt

Written by Abigail Preiszig

Lifelong Clevelander Alex Quandt has fought to eliminate food-waste increases due to COVID-19 by starting Community Fridge Cleveland, a volunteer-based refrigerator and dry pantry setup that provides accessible healthy food to members of the community for free.

Community Fridge Cleveland (CFC) is a community refrigerator that offers free food to anyone, regardless of proof of aid or income level. The local project was started by Alex Quandt, who lives on the east side of Cleveland with her husband and one-and-a half-year-old son. After having her son, Quandt began working from home, and she began the CFC project in July 2020. This isn’t Quandt’s first endeavor as an active member of her community — before starting CFC, she worked as an event planner and did crafts at a senior living community. As she set her heart on starting a community refrigerator, she began looking for a physical fridge, an accessible public location, food and monetary donations and enthusiastic volunteers. By November, the first refrigerator had found its home at The Root Café in Lakewood!

"... my ultimate goal is to make food that’s good for our bodies just as accessible."

Abigail Preiszig: What inspired you to start Community Fridge Cleveland?

Alex Quandt: I had seen some community fridges on Instagram that had been met with really great success in their city and figured, why not here? We have such a vibrant and tight-knit community, and I thought that we could really make a difference here.

AP: What is the goal of CFC?

AQ: I believe that everyone should have access to free, healthy food. The idea of food scarcity is a myth — there’s plenty of food that gets thrown out for one reason or another all of the time. The goal is to create a sustainable food-sharing program that reduces food waste in our area.

AP: What has surprised you most since starting CFC?

AQ: This community grew so fast! Since I’m a working mom, this wouldn’t be possible without a network of volunteers and community members willing to help out. So many people were on board right away. It still amazes me how many wonderful people are excited to be a part of this project. It’s so energizing!

AP: What has been the most challenging part of starting and maintaining CFC?

AQ: Finding hosts has by far been the most challenging part. I’ve had a lot of meetings that didn’t go how I’d hoped. I think a lot of people are so used to the idea of charity that mutual aid can seem unrealistic or even intimidating. Julie, the owner of The Root Café, was a lifesaver. I’d been having meetings for months before we were put in touch, and right off the bat, her attitude was, “Let’s get started.” She and her staff have been so generous and have given us the ideal environment for the project.

AP: What do you hope CFC can contribute to our community?

AQ: I hope that we can provide a safe space for our neighbors to be able to connect with one another. The platform of the Fridge has allowed me to connect a lot of people with one another to share more than just food — household goods, services, furniture, fundraising, etc. This community is super powerful.

AP: What do you desire for the future of CFC?

AQ: Expansion! I’d love to have Fridges in more neighborhoods around Cleveland. I have two donated refrigerators in my garage as we speak, just waiting for hosts. I have people DMing me all of the time that their neighborhood could benefit from this project. I want this loving community to get bigger and better in 2021.

AP: Who manages CFC?

AQ: It’s just me on the administration end. I have an invaluable group of volunteers who checks the Fridge to sanitize it and make sure that things are looking good and are within date. I do the big shopping hauls with money that we get through Venmo, and the rest of the food comes from direct donations within the community.

AP: What are the criteria to host a Fridge?

AQ: All that’s really needed is an accessible space and electricity! The addition of another refrigerator to an electricity bill results in an increase of under $20 per month. Fridges should be in places that allow foot traffic and are accessible by public transit.

AP: Who can take from the Fridge?

AQ: Anyone at all. We don’t check documentation or income, which is what makes mutual aid so much more beneficial than government aid or charity. Anyone is able to walk in and take what they want and leave what they don’t because everyone deserves access to food. I take things myself sometimes that we could use in our house!

AP: What can be found in a Fridge? What should be donated?

AQ: The Fridge is typically full of fresh produce, surplus from local bakeries, pantry staples and dry goods. We keep things vegetarian to be respectful to our host since The Root is a vegetarian café. Things should be labeled and within date. Because of food safety laws and COVID, we can only accept prepared items that have the ingredients clearly labeled and were prepared in a food-safe grade, professional environment. I always say that you should only donate something to The Fridge that you would be comfortable eating yourself or feeding your family. It’s often easy for people to access things that are high in sodium and heavily processed, so my ultimate goal is to make food that’s good for our bodies just as accessible. We also often have baby food and formula, disposable masks, reusable bags, hand sanitizer and menstrual care products!

AP: How can I donate to CFC?

AQ: We accept donations during The Root’s business hours. You just walk in, and there’s our fridge and a dry goods cabinet next to it! We also accept donations on Venmo. It’s easier for some people to donate what they can toward a haul than it is to physically go donate in person themselves!

AP: How do I volunteer with CFC?

AQ: Anyone can always directly message me about volunteer opportunities! Full disclosure: I am awful about checking my email regularly, so DM will guarantee I get back to you a lot faster.

AP: Who makes the graphics for your Instagram? They are great!

AQ: Me! Thank you. It’s so fun. I love messing around and making dumb memes to send my husband, so it’s been so sick that people like them!

AP: Anything else you would like to add?

AQ: If this project resonates with you, be sure to reach out to your favorite cafés, shops, restaurants, and markets and tell them about us. I need all of the help that I can get so that we can expand this project all over the city! If you are unsure of what to say, there are phone call templates available on our Instagram.

If you want to learn more about Community Fridge Cle and how to donate, find them on Instagram and Venmo, @communityfridgecle.

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