It's white on the outside, but Ottawa's first outdoor community fridge is bursting with the bright colours of fresh fruits and vegetables on the inside — all free to anyone who needs them.
The fridge, which officially opened on Friday, is located outside the Parkdale Food Centre on Rosemount Avenue in the city's Hintonburg neighbourhood.
Staff and volunteers from the centre will be cleaning and monitoring the fridge seven days a week. People are allowed to take what they need and donate what they can, no questions asked.
The idea to launch the fridge came about earlier this year while the Parkdale Food Centre was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Gillian Koh-Slepchik, a member of the Hintonburg Community Association.
The association donated the fridge and then worked with the centre and the Ottawa Community Food Partnership to get it up and running.
"COVID-19 has magnified the importance of social services," said Koh-Slepchik.
"We wanted to find a way to help our neighbours in need access fresh food."
Growing in popularity
Community fridges are part of a growing international food-sharing initiative that's popping up across Canada. In downtown Toronto, there are eight community fridges already in operation.
Marjorie Peart was the first person to visit Ottawa's fridge Friday, taking home some yogurt.
"Well, I like it because there are items available. Some I don't eat ... but most of it is good fruit," Peart said.
George Dalton, a Parkdale Food Centre volunteer, said the fridge is already creating a buzz among those who struggle with food security.
"It's convenient, right? And everybody uses it wisely, which is great," he said.
Good food, good health
Ottawa does have seven community fridges at various social service agencies across the city, said Karen Secord, executive director of the Parkdale Food Centre.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered them mostly inaccessible as they're located inside buildings closed to the public," she said.
Secord said the centre believes that "good food is intricately associated with good health."
"People who have the lowest income in fact should receive the best quality food," she said, adding that it's important for the fridge to operate without any sort of policing or monitoring of what people take.
The centre is encouraging all types of donations, save for a few items that include raw meat, home-cooked meals and food that's already expired.
Organizers are hoping that if this outdoor fridge is successful, the model could be replicated in different locations around the city.