Free Groceries to Fight Hunger
By Desdra Dawning, Co-op Member
Have you heard about or seen the free grocery store in Olympia? Its current location at the time of this writing is in the parking lot of Stonewall Youth in downtown.
Kim and Sosa are community members intimately familiar with life on the street, living without a house to shelter them. And they have seen first-hand how the various services designed to serve our houseless population, while all very well-intentioned,
still leave a crack for those on the edge to quite easily slip right through. With set scheduled times of operation, rules to follow, ID’s necessary, sign-ins and often long lines, these groups can only go so far in helping people who are quite simply hungry
and tired and in need of help in-the-moment. “People should not have to ask for their basic needs to be met. When you are really hungry, you should not be asked to wait until tomorrow to have something to eat,” Kim says. “People who are pushed to the edge in their lives end up doing things like shoplifting in order to care for their hunger,” Sosa adds. Even those with homes are not always free from hunger, and the need for basic necessities.
And so, in May of this year—2021—they decided to do something about it. They rounded up a used refrigerator, got help refurbishing it, and put out the word as best they could to let folks of good heart know that they were setting up a free groceries station. They were looking for both already-prepared food, and fresh produce—food beyond what was already being offered around the community in neighborhood “Free Food Pantry” shelves with canned and packaged non- perishables. They contacted GrUB and some local farmers, looking for contributions. And they found a place to set up shop at POWER (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights), located in downtown Olympia. At first, it seemed like a good fit, but quickly (in less than a month) the landlord asked them to leave, stating that there were too many people eating in the area. Stonewall Youth, at State and Capitol, then invited them to use their parking lot and offered to take care of the electric bill for the refrigerator.
By June, they were set up with a medium-sized refrigerator, donated through Instagram, and food was coming in from many directions. They were also getting donations of other items that could be used, such as personal care products and things for children. So, they gathered some used wood and created shelves for the non-refrigerator items. Sosa sees this process of people reaching out to help each other as
community-building, and a way to offer help without anyone needing to ask for anything.
It was at this point that something very mean and unkind started to happen. During the night, their refrigerator was destroyed, along with the shelving. This has happened several times, and each time they have found another fridge and wood for shelves. It is also very disheartening to them and to all who benefit from this kind service, to think that anyone would want to destroy what is obviously there to help those of us so much
Kim and Sosa are doing this work pretty much on their own, even though they are part of a growing movement in the US. YES! Magazine recently published an article about this action, called the Freedge movement (freedge.org). Founded by Berone Oehninger, it sprang up to meet the acute need to address food insecurity and has expanded greatly during the pandemic. The article points out that “…he sees the fridges as a visible reminder that many people don’t have access to enough food, and also a gateway that could create enough food for all through larger efforts that include the people power of mutual aid projects.” The article then goes on to quote Oehninger as saying, “The fridge doesn’t solve food insecurity. What it does well is start a conversation about food insecurity.” “And that conversation,” says YES!, “can lead to
a new urban farm, or more urban kitchens, or even systematic changes on a policy level.”
As for Kim and Sosa, while they very much appreciate the support from Stonewall, they would like to find another place in town, close to downtown, to set up this loving service—a place where they could secure the fridge and shelves during the night, keeping them and all the donated items safe and protected. They would also like to thank everyone who has been so supportive and generous with them as they take on
this daunting task of caring for those on the very edge of our community.
How can the members of the Olympia Food Cooperative help with this project and become part of the community fridge network? Our Westside store has for many years had a Free Store of donated goods. Both stores collect lots of food bank donations. Donating to what is becoming, for our community, a bit of a Free Grocery Store, is a start.
Feel free to contact me for more information. Desdra Dawning: