‘Sharing Fridge’ now open

Salem UMC member Rosalee Lovelace places items in the Sharing Fridge.

Variation on Blessing Box/Little Free Pantry concept arrives in Conway

By Amy Forbus

With a growing number of churches installing a “Blessing Box” or “Little Free Pantry” to share nonperishable food items, toiletries and more with neighbors, Salem UMC Conway is trying out a twist on that model to help hungry individuals gain access to food that might otherwise go to waste.

Just before the evening Ash Wednesday service on March 1, the church blessed its new Sharing Fridge. The refrigerator, which sits just outside the Fellowship Hall, has guidelines posted on the door, and a page of the church’s website provides details about the ministry.

The Sharing Fridge began as an idea from a National Public Radio news piece about a “Solidarity Fridge” in a town in Spain. A team of interested Salem UMC members soon began researching how they might make it a reality in Conway.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an estimated 40 percent of food in the U.S. doesn’t get eaten, even as one in eight Americans experiences food insecurity (www.nrdc.org/issues/food-waste). The Rev. Todd Vick, Salem’s pastor, hopes that the Sharing Fridge helps bring the Conway area’s food surplus to those who need it. Several area restaurants, including the catering department of Central Baptist College, are participating by donating food.

“We are still working to get more restaurants on board,” he said. “We really want it to be a place where one can find a meal ready to eat when money is tight and the pantry is bare.”

Because it is outdoors in a covered, lighted area, anyone in the community may contribute to or select from the items in the Sharing Fridge at any time, day or night. Any individual or organization with a surplus of prepared food may leave it in the refrigerator, properly packaged. The church supplies stickers and writing utensils for those donating food to label it with the contents and the date it was prepared. To reach potential consumers, they distribute information at multiple locations around town, including the interfaith clinic, Boys and Girls Club, senior citizens center, library, college ministries, government organizations and more. They also have a brief fact sheet to share with individuals, businesses and other churches that might be potential givers. It even addresses liability concerns by providing information on the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996.

“So far, there is food coming and going often,” said Teri Moffitt, the Sharing Fridge ministry team leader. “Seldom do the fridge’s contents stay the same from day to day, which is exactly what we were hoping for.” In case something does hang around for a few days, though, Sharing Fridge team members come by to check the date on the food and freeze it or dispose of it, as appropriate.

If this Sharing Fridge continues to work well, Salem UMC hopes to join with community partners to establish similar refrigerator-equipped stations around the city.

Visit www.salemumcconway.org/missions/solidarity-fridge to learn more.