“We come and check. If it’s good and we like it, we take it, otherwise we know it’ll be useful to someone else. Everything kept here is put to good use,” says a woman smiling, as she picks up an item kept at the Brookefield Community Fridge.
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In a city where one has Zomato, Swiggy, high-end restaurants, big breweries, ice cream parlours, Indira canteens and numerous other options, food should be the last worry on a Bengalurean’s mind. Yet, there are hundreds of families who go to bed on an empty stomach in Bengaluru every day. While mid-day meals in schools, government schemes and NGOs have slowly been trying to solve this problem, public refrigerators are an innovative solution to feed the needy, by encouraging the entire community to participate in the process.
The concept of public refrigerators is relatively new to India, though it has been a common feature in the West for a while now. Ayyamittu Unn, an NGO in Chennai has been working towards this goal, having installed public refrigerators not only in Chennai but also in Bengaluru. The uniqueness lies in collecting food from those who have it in excess, and providing it to the needy in a dignified manner, that doesn’t belittle the taker.
There are multiple public refrigerators placed in different parts of Bengaluru: BTM Layout, Koramangala, Basaveshwaranagar and Indiranagar. Brookefield now has one to call its own. The Brookefield Layout Association run by residents of the area successfully set up a public refrigerator near Ryan International School this year. This refrigerator in Brookefield was officially inaugurated on 26th January, 2018. From raising the money required to set the refrigerator up to ensuring that it runs regularly without any hassle, the association has made sure that the project is a success.
A refrigerator of the people, by the people, for the people
The Brookefield Layout Association formed in 2015 by residents has been maintaining the roads of the locality by building pavements, employing sweepers to clean it and filling portholes. The residents noticed that the area had over 500 slum dwellers who went hungry often. Inspired by the public refrigerator model in Chennai, the citizens took a collective decision to set up one in Brookefield. On the Republic Day of 2018, the refrigerator was inaugurated in the presence of MLA Aravind Limbavali.
“When we cook, typically there are leftovers which we either eat the next day or keep in the refrigerator sometimes, we forget about it finally and it goes to the dustbin. We have over 1000 families living on the Ryan International School road. So we thought why not come up with a public refrigerator where people like us can donate whatever food we have?” says, Kaustubh Shantanu, a resident and member of the association.
Installing a public refrigerator requires dedication and planning. Land and electricity had to be found. An empty piece of land which wasn’t being used by its owner eventually became the location for the refrigerator. The electrical connection was sponsored by a housing society in Brookefield. To meet the costs of the installation, the residents raised funds up to Rs. 1 lakh.
Setting it up was only the first step. Maintenance and security had to be taken care of. No spoiled food would be kept in the refrigerator and the food had to be packed well. Since everybody was allowed to donate food, it was even more important to make sure that hygiene and freshness of the food were always maintained. On the days a large amount of food donated, the crowd also would be huge which needed to be regulated. To solve all these issues, they decided to hire a security guard who would monitor the refrigerator everyday.
The refrigerator has a capacity of 320 litres with four shelves. It is placed inside a wooden enclosure which is locked at night. The refrigerator can be used between 8:30 am and 8:30 pm every day of the week. The cost of electricity and the salary of the security guard are the main costs incurred in the upkeep of the refrigerator which is taken care of by the association.
There are certain instructions listed that need to be followed with regard to how the food is donated. The refrigerator has separate shelves for non-veg and veg food. Donors are urged to only donate food that is of good quality. Takers are advised to check the food before they take it to make sure it’s safe and ok to eat.
Taking the plan further, once the refrigerator was set up, the residents thought why just food? This led to the creation of a second section in the enclosure meant for other donatable items such as clothes, shoes, blankets, books, etc. Both donors and takers are asked to sign in a register to keep a track of who has donated or taken any item on a specific date.
“Take what you need, share what you can!”
So far the refrigerator has seen an overwhelming response from its users. Restaurants are known to donate up to 100 packets of food at one time to the refrigerator. Those who run paying guest facilities in the neighbourhood have also found the refrigerator useful. Working professionals who donate food do so more often over the weekends when they get a break from work. It’s not just leftovers that makes it to the refrigerator – there are many who cook or buy food specifically to donate to the refrigerator.
While donors are actively participating to make the project a success, it’s important to ask if the slum dwellers are consuming the food? Kaustubh Shantanu explains: “A major concern we had was whether the food will go bad and if people will eat it. But all our concerns were baseless. If you go there, you’ll mostly see that the fridge is empty because as soon as the food comes in, it goes out.”
The fridge is currently visited by 25-30 people per day at least, says the security guard. To keep the project going the food needs to be consumed regularly. In the case of this refrigerator, the food is consumed within half-an-hour of being kept in the refrigerator.
He attributes the popularity of the refrigerator to word-of-mouth publicity among takers and donors. He said that the association had thought of asking donors to place the food with a label showing a use-by date as a preventive measure, but it was not needed because the food is taken almost immediately.
The community refrigerator not only allows those in need to have a good meal but also encourages better utilisation of food specifically fresh food that would otherwise be wasted. The Brookfield Community Fridge is a step in the right direction.