SFU-led projects

SFU Community Fridge reopens for the spring term

February 03, 2022

For Annette Yang, an executive assistant in the Office of the Vice-President, Advancement and Engagement, food can facilitate cultural connections and expressions of love. When Yang cooks with her family, they make enough to feed an army. Now, her affinity for food drives her to feed her community as a regular contributor to SFU’s Community Fridge—an initiative launched in Fall 2021 that provides free food to members of the SFU community.

Growing up, Yang lived through periods when food was not always abundant, and these experiences have informed her appreciation of food and cooking.

“When I was little, I lived in a refugee camp with very restricted access to food. There usually was not enough,” Yang says. Yang first arrived in Canada at the age of 7 and passed through a facility in Edmonton, where the housing cafeteria left her in awe. “We could help ourselves to anything we wanted, and it was all free.”

After settling with her family in Courtenay, BC, Yang eventually decided to strike out on her own, arriving in Vancouver to attend SFU. While eager to explore and learn, Yang encountered significant hurdles. “I did not realize the big city was so expensive,” Yang recalls. “I lived on instant noodles and cheap vegetables. I was studying hard, yet I wasn’t consuming any real nutrition for my brain.”

In recent years, these issues have been exacerbated. “I think the pandemic has shown just how much students are impacted by not only food insecurity, but also jobs, housing. Students have been forced to make decisions either to buy groceries, pay rent, or continue to pay tuition,” says Matthew Provost, vice president external relations at the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), one of the initiative’s many supporters.

As a current contributor to the fridge, Yang is hoping to help those in a similar situation. She is especially enthusiastic about the Community Fridge’s ‘help yourself’ model, in which food is available to anyone who wants or needs it, with no requirements and no questions asked. “Sometimes the asking is the hardest part,” says Yang.

The SFU Community Fridge program was made possible through the partnerships of the SFU Office of Community Engagement, Burnaby Primary Care Network, Food Mesh, Embark Sustainability, SFSS, Burnaby Neighbourhood House and SFU Ancillary Services. During the project pilot, volunteers with Embark Sustainability, a non-profit based at SFU, provided program assistance. The group continues to provide communication support on an ongoing basis.

Nelly Leo, Embark’s executive director, understands that while poverty is often hidden, especially in an environment like a university, food access is a critical issue for these groups. “We saw there was a distinct need for an initiative like the fridge,” says Leo.

One of Embark’s primary focus areas is food justice. Through critical conversation, the organization aims to identify systemic issues and create ripple effects to promote food justice individually, locally and globally. This includes addressing food security.

The food systems we interact with daily are affected by many elements–from the supply chains that determine where food is available to socioeconomic factors that determine who can access it. Food security ensures everyone has dignified access to adequate, appropriate food.

As SFU’s community fridge addresses one of food injustice’s most urgent symptoms – hunger – it also provides the extra benefit of preventing food waste.

“Both my father and I have vegetable gardens, and often we grow much more than we can eat,” Yang says. “I know there are a lot of people with their own gardens, and when they have surplus, they just compost it. Along with giving out vegetables to my family and friends, I’ve started bringing my extra produce to the fridge.”

Says Leo, “Sustainability is not the primary purpose of the fridge, but if we can respond to the needs of our community while preventing perfectly edible foods from being wasted, then that’s an additional benefit for the environment.”

“We know that financial need for undergraduate students is a concern and has been one for quite some time,” says Provost. “With the fridge we are doing our best to provide resources around this one issue, and I hope that in some way this is supporting students who are facing barriers.”

The SFU Community Free Fridge is operated and maintained by the SFU Office of Community Engagement. For more information on getting involved and accepted donations visit their website. For further inquiries to the SFU Community Fridge program please contact Tara Flynn, coordinator, civic and community engagement, tara_flynn@sfu.ca.