Parkdale Food Centre shuts down outdoor community fridge, citing racism and homophobia

The Parkdale Food Centre says it has decided to close its outdoor community fridge, due to an increase in unspecified incidents that have involved acts of racism and homophobia.  (Avanthika Anand/CBC  - image credit)
The Parkdale Food Centre says it has decided to close its outdoor community fridge, due to an increase in unspecified incidents that have involved acts of racism and homophobia. (Avanthika Anand/CBC - image credit)

Through rain and snow, the Parkdale Food Centre's outdoor community fridge has stood on Hintonburg's Rosemount Avenue since the summer of 2021, offering those in need 24/7 anonymous access to free food.

But the centre has decided to shut it down due to an "increase in incidents" that have "impacted the feeling of safety and inclusivity," according to a recent social media post by the organization.

"Homophobia, sexism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia, racism, and in particular anti-Black and anti-Asian racism have no place in our community," the post said. "Neighbours have voiced an important need for safety to be prioritized.

"The realities of poverty are impacting people across the city, reflected in increased tensions and competition for food... and fuelled desperate behaviours," it added.

The centre declined to comment on specifics of the incidents or the perpetrators behind them. But in an email to CBC, director Alissa Campbell said that a "feeling of eroded safety and inclusivity has been felt across the community, not only by volunteers."

"Those at the intersection of multiple marginalizations are often most heavily impacted by these types of things," Campbell added. "This was a difficult decision to make."

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

'It makes me frustrated'

Several people living and working nearby told CBC Thursday they were confused about the incidents that led to the fridge being shut down.

Marjorie Peart has lived in the building across the street for over 13 years and said she's never experienced discrimination or racism while accessing the Parkdale Food Centre's services.

The outdoor community fridge in particular has been "very helpful," Peart said, and she's always felt safe accessing it.

"The cupboard is very neatly set in by a carpenter. It's a unique concept, and we hoped it would stay a longer time," she said.

"There are many ... people who just can't eat other than there. Unfortunately, they're going to be very angry and hungry now."

Sally Meness lives in the neighbourhood, and said she has also relied on the fridge for food.

"It makes me frustrated, the fact that ... that somebody thwarted the effort of the whole community," she said. "It was just a blow to me."

Both Peart and Meness said they hoped the fridge would reopen soon.

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

BIA unaware of incidents

Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West Business Improvement Area (BIA), said while he was shocked by the closure, he was also unaware of any recent complaints about hateful or discriminatory acts involving the centre.

"Anytime there is an incident of any kind of hate or intolerance, we feel for our neighbours," he said, adding that the food centre is supported by many who live and work in the area.

"[But this hasn't] been an active thing on [the BIA's] radar."

James Choi, owner of coffee shop Sharpfle Waffle, just two buildings down from the centre, said he hasn't seen or experienced anything that would "cause concern" for himself or his employees.

"This is a good community, and it's been very welcoming regardless where you're from and what cultural background  you are from," he said.

"It's a neighbourhood that values friendship and a sense of community."

Choi added that there needs to be a "community discussion" about ways to support the Parkdale Food Centre.

In its statement, the centre acknowledged that removing the fridge would create challenges, but said it was "committed to working with our community to find solutions and ensure continued access to food."

An indoor community fridge remains accessible, the centre said, and its grocery program, Mino'Weesini, recently had its evening hours extended.