Despite its reputation as a "great food city," the percent of the population in Charlottesville that lacks access to consistent meals has crept into the double digits.
The Little Free Fridge located at the Visible Records art gallery and studio space on Broadway Street is aimed at changing that.
“There is definitely enough food in Charlottesville,” Matt Dhillon, a studio member at Visible Records, told The Daily Progress.
“Extra food from farms to groceries has been thrown away because there was no place for them to take it. Now this is where to take it,” Dhillon said of the program.
Despite the "little" in its name, the Little Free Fridge can do lots of good, organizers said.
A blue shed hosting four decorated refrigerators sits in the Visible Records parking lot. The program’s volunteers hope each fridge will eventually be stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, breads, cheeses and more.
Accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, people are encouraged to donate and take food as they please.
Whether someone is simply hungry on their lunch break or is unsure how they’ll afford groceries that week, Dhillon said all are welcome to use the fridge as they need.
“Take what you need. Give what you can,” reads a flyer on one of the refrigerators.
While the refrigerators have been in this location since February, Dhillon said it is just now getting attention due to it recently being promoted on social media. A blurb on its Instagram page, @littlefreefridgecville, reads, “We believe there’s plenty to go around.”
When the appliances arrived months ago, the first order of business was to provide them adequate electricity.
“We raised funds, got electricity hooked up and got it ready to operate,” Dhillon said, adding that volunteers cleaned and painted the refrigerators.
Dhillon said the Little Free Fridge was conceptualized by Della Bennett, founder of Plenty Cville, a local meal delivery service. Bennett and her father had a refrigerator but nowhere to put it. They gave it to Visible Records to host the program, Dhillon said.
Bennett did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Progress.
The program serves as a reminder that despite the city’s well-regarded restaurant scene, many locals are struggling to afford food.
“Even though Charlottesville is an affluent place where you wouldn’t expect people to go hungry, it has a hidden food insecurity problem,” Dhillon said.
The most recent data from Feeding America, a nonprofit group focused on getting food to hungry Americans, shows that Charlottesville has a more serious food insecurity problem than most of the state.
In Virginia, 8.1% of the population is food insecure, according to the group, while 57% are eligible to qualify for food stamps.
But in Charlottesville the numbers are more dire: 11.2% of residents are food insecure and 80% qualify for food stamps.
A little fridge won’t solve the problem. But it could bring some relief to community members who sorely need it.
Those interested in supporting the project can bring food themselves or make a donation on the Visible Records website.
Raw meat, raw fish, alcohol and half-eaten leftovers are not accepted.