What’s in the fridge? In New Orleans, solidarity means a stocked fridge. In this episode of Gravy, producer Sarah Holtz takes listeners inside a mutual aid society called New Orleans Community Fridges, which formed during the pandemic to help feed people in need. Since its start, the group has been gifted around 20 fridges. They sit on neighborhood sidewalks, plugged into power strips, some powered by generators—filled with food that’s free for the taking.
Mutual aid has a deep history in the US. Beginning in the late-1700s, social aid clubs, settlement houses, and fraternal organizations were established within predominantly Black, immigrant, and working class communities. They provided support to individuals who lacked the means or governmental assistance to pay for medical care or bury their dead. New Orleans, in particular, once had 135 all Black mutual aid societies, and a third of them were created by and for Black women. Mutual aid was built on the fundamental idea of “solidarity, not charity.”
Often, mutual aid groups are formed by friends to serve friends, making them rather insular by definition. The community fridge model is an effort to be more inclusive. It started with a small group of food justice activists, but the fridges quickly became common knowledge. Making mutual aid visible allows for a broader view of who needs help—not just the food insecure, but someone who’s just had a long day.
In this episode, Holtz talks to New Orleans Community Fridges organizer Sarah Rubbins-Breen; Destany Gorham and Tenaj Jackson, two fridge hosts; and Tim Vogel, a fridge contributor, to understand how neighbors are feeding neighbors through the fridges. She also speaks with Devin De Wulf—an educator, artist, and co-founder of the mutual aid organization, Feed The Second Line—whose solar panel-topped house became a neighborhood hub during Hurricane Ida power outages. (From there, he hatched an idea to create a network of solar-powered first responders, called Get Lit, Stay Lit.) Together, they demonstrate how mutual aid—by the people and for the people—can lead to greater self-determination within communities.
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Sarah Holtz is a reporter and producer based between Oakland and New Orleans. Her work has aired on Houston Public Media, New Orleans Public Radio, Northern California Public Media, and elsewhere. She received training in audio and writing at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.