When psychology student Sasha Lavoie volunteered at the Distress Center in 2019, she noticed a pattern in the type of calls she was taking: Calgarians, who were in a mental health crisis, citing food shortages as a stressor.
“My volunteering with [the] The Distress Center has created in me more understanding and empathy for the amount of stressors people have to deal with … financial instability that leads to problems with access to basic needs like food, for example, ”says Lavoie, BA’12.
The Calgary Community Fridge won the University of Calgary’s 2021 Sustainability Award in the Undergraduate category. The aid project, located in Crescent Heights, deals with the redistribution of resources, food insecurity, access barriers and nutritionally and culturally appropriate needs while reducing food waste. The project’s lobbying has been recognized for its success in achieving the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
1 – No poverty
2 – zero hunger
3 – Good health and wellbeing
10 – Reduced inequalities
A personal connection
Years ago Lavoie was an intern in Toronto battling depression and financial debt. “The financial aspect of living in a big city while on an unpaid internship contributed to my mental health at the time,” she says. The lack of financial support and stability only served as an additional trigger. “I was struggling and in retrospect I didn’t think I had the mental faculty at all to seek help outside the family, which I was privileged enough to do.”
It wasn’t until Lavoie found out about lively common spaces with open access fridges and pantries in New York and Toronto on social media that she realized there were ways to support the struggling Calgarians. Informed about her own experience and what she heard from callers at the Distress Center, she reached out to friends who were interested in starting a similar initiative in that city.
The refrigerator is outside and accessible 24/7 for those who want quick and easy access to groceries without asking questions. Food and personal care donations are welcome to encourage community participation in the program. Community refrigerators that offer fresh produce, condiments, and even pet food are especially important in areas where individuals may not have the funds to travel to food banks.
By using social media early and reaching out to community lawyers, the team leveraged a strong network of personal and online contacts for help and guidance. In the summer of 2020, the refrigerator opened to the community, attracting media attention and support from city councils, mayors, neighbors, other mutual aid networks and nonprofits to ensure the pilot’s success.
Team member James Hill
“It’s amazing to see the community band together to tackle food shortages and the immense impact that access to food can have on the physical and mental wellbeing of a family,” says team member Alice Lam. “We all have so much that we can give,” she adds, referring to collaboration as an indicator of how teamwork is required to achieve sustainability goals.
Thanks to these community-focused efforts, the team continues to work with and update other organizations on progress, including Action Dignity, Leftovers, Grow Calgary, the Calgary Foundation, and Vibrant Communities Calgary, as well as other aid and volunteer organizations. Run organizations in the city.
Several UCalgary Students’ Union clubs have held food drives to support the refrigerator.
“Unfortunately, students are a group of the population that also struggles with financial security,” says Lavoie. “I would love to see a room like this on my own campus. There are so many passionate, informed, and caring people out there that I think they are prepared to make this happen, but the support needs to be there for them. “