SOLIDARITY FRIDGE – ONE NEIGHBOURHOOD, ONE FRIDGE @ THE WASTED CITY BOOK

A small, localised solution to a more endemic problem of food waste: “These little things are the things that change life, that change our reality.” – Ainhoa Crespo Gadea

We all create staggering quantities of waste; it’s become inherent part of our daily lives. But this waste creates large environmental and economic challenges for cities. In steps Solidarity Fridge (Nevera Solidaria in Spanish) – an ingenious response to the problem of food waste, developed on the street of Galdakao; a village neighbouring Bilbao in Basque Country, Spain. In the fifth entry to our Wasted City interview series, CITIES’ independent researcher Alex Thibadoux interviews Ainhoa Crespo Gadea of Solidarity Fridge to find out more about the initiative. Read all about it below.

TitleSF

To start, can you tell me a little bit about what you do with Solidarity Fridge?

So we started with GBGE, that is our association. Galdakaoko Boluntarioen Gizarte Elkartea. It is like a volunteer association in Galdakao that is in charge of the food distribution of the needy neighborhood. We started to see things with food. We started to see that there were many food that we couldn’t give because of its best-before date or simply because fresh food could be ruined (we only do the food distribution once a month). We only could give like cans, dry food and hygiene products. So we started to think, and Álvaro, who is president of the association, thought about the possibility of like a… a trash can, like a trash bin where we can put food inside. But it was not a usual trash can, it was a fridge, but converted into a trash can. So we put the pilot project in Galdakao, in our village. We went to the city council. We explained the project, and surprisingly they were in favor of the project, and we started to make a study and so on. We had a permission of 3 months. We put the fridge on the street for 3 months, and we saw that it was a real solution in our village. So the network started to grow up, and here we are. Nowadays we have like thirteen fridges all over Spain, and we want to expand it to other countries. We are working in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and USA, among others. It is our dream.

How many people work with the organization right now?

We are like 120 volunteers. It is volunteers. I mean sometimes we have 5, sometimes we have 10. It is people who work in other things, and they help when they can, but we are more than 100, yes.

So you don’t work on it full-time?

Yes. Nowadays, we are 2 people working here full-time (as volunteers, I mean, we do not receive any money for it). There are 4 people more who work in other jobs but come to our office every day. We are growing and increasing our team.

Are you working with any other partners or organizations?

Yes, we work with the food banks, but they have another thought of the project, because the food banks are created for needy people, and our project is not for needy people. Our project is for everyone. We want to break the stigma of the poverty and we think that our first purpose is to not throw away food. The person who puts food in today can get it tomorrow. You have two positions, and there are no people who take and people who leave. Everybody does the same. So the food banks, it is difficult for them to understand this, because they think if a rich person goes… It is not our problem. We always say something… “no hay nada más excluyente, que hacer algo para los excluidos.” In Spanish, it means like there is nothing more discriminatory than making something for those who are discriminated.  We want to make a collaborative network and start to think in another way. That is it. We started to work with an electrical appliance brand here in Spain. They wanted to collaborate with us, but finally it wasn’t viable, so we didn’t. We ended it.

How are the fridges usually acquired? Is it through donations or do they raise money?

No, usually they are donations. They are second hand, but sometimes we have to… we did crowd-funding to do one for one minute, but finally a neighbor gave us one, but that is a purpose too. It is not to buy a new fridge. We have to use second-hand things, no?

@Solidarity Fridge

@Solidarity Fridge

What are the biggest problems you run into as you expand into other communities?

OK, yeah we have a lot of problems, because it is difficult for city councils and the health service to understand responsibility exception, or something like that. That is difficult to understand for the health service, but we have a really big, good point. It is that in Catalonia, the public health service supports us, and they want to do it in a legal way.

So when someone wants to start a fridge in his village, they usually call us, and we go to the city council and ask for permissions. We need two permissions. The public occupation one. The permission that allows you to use the street, because the fridges are on the street. This is usually easy to get, because it is like vending machine permission. It is the same. First of all we have this permission and the other one is the health service permission. This second one is a little more difficult to get, but when the city council sees that we had two years of the fridge and nothing bad happened in our village, it is like a guarantee. I mean we have been working two years. Nobody has died, nobody has gotten ill. Nothing has happened. There is no vandalism. We have to believe that people are good, because sometimes the argument is “oh if someone puts poison there” or something like that… we have to believe that people are good, and then start making projects. Our first challenge, as you ask me, is fear, people’s fear. People are afraid of this type of project because… I would recognize that it is brave. Something different. There are other countries that have had problems, like in Berlin. They were a little bit controversial and so on. I think that if we have fear, we can do nothing.

That is a nice way to think about it. What would help you the most right now in functioning as an organization?

We need more people. We need more people because we are 100 people, but 4 or 5 people full-time, but we have a lot of work. Because this is not our only project. We have 4 other projects. We have the Solidarity Fridge. We have the food distribution, that is our first step. We have cooperation works in Greece with refugees, and we have another one in Mongolia with disabled children, creating schools and so on. We are few people for this project and sometimes I think we need more help.

How do you communicate to all of the volunteers? If you need to talk to the whole community, how do you all keep in touch?

We, as volunteers, communicate with each other through a Whatsapp group. Nowadays, we are 120 people on it. We exclusively talk about things related with the Association. I think in social projects, the thing is that we have to create a network, a network between everybody. We have contacted with other people who make similar projects, like Fruta Feia. It is in Portugal. It is a huge project that rescues food that isn’t going to be sold because of its appearance. Fruta Feia, it means ugly fruit. So they prepare these casopas where people cook this ugly food and they eat it on the street and so on. So I think these kinds of projects, and us, have to be together. In every step we do, we have to be together, and sometimes this is difficult because we are a lot of people, a lot of projects, and we have different minds.

How do you imagine the project in the future?

Our aim is to create a solid network. Our slogan, or something like this, “one neighborhood, one fridge.” So it is easier to install fridge in a little village. Because we are aware that to install one fridge in New York is really difficult, because it is really big, in Manhattan for example. If we started to install them in little villages to create community, I think it will normalize this kind of thing. People in 20 years will start to see this fridge in the street as something really normal. I have soup and I have surplus, so I go downstairs and I put it in the fridge. And tomorrow, I am late for my dinner, I open it, and I take another thing. To start creating another way of thinking. We are aware that this is not the solution of anything, but it is the first step. These little things are the things that change life, that change our reality.

@Solidarity Fridge

@Solidarity Fridge

Have you had any problems with having a fridge outside that is not supposed to be outside? Anything like that?

You mean on the street?

Like with the fridge getting wet or anything like that?

No, no, no. Because we have thought about everything. We did a really hard study with five principle actors. First of all our association, people of our association. Second one, an electrician, who was in charge making a paper with the instructions of how to start the electrical part of the fridge. So every time someone puts a fridge, our electrician checks it. It is not a person, like a company that supports us in our project. They do it for free. We send them photos and they say it is good or it is not good. We started too with a food investigation company business, something like this, that help us make the first project to present to the council. They were the people who really helped us in making this real. It is our support. We have this study. If something happens, we have this paper to us all. We don’t usually have problems. The only problem that we have is we don’t get the permission. Once the fridge is on the street, there is no way that there is a problem, because the fridge is not alone. It has like a wooden structure. The fridge is not on the floor. It is like 10 cm up with a pallet. A material that is resistant to water.

How many more fridges are in development right now?

Nowadays we have 13. We are working on like 10 more. Next week we are going to open one more, the other week, another more. Another eight in February. We will have like 20 fridge, I am almost sure. And we are working with other countries as I tell you before, like in Mexico and Argentina, but it is more difficult, because we know really, really good our law. The Spanish law. Starting to make the project in another country is really difficult, we have to have a lawyer that is in our association that is studying everything and talking with people there, but I think we are going to get it.

Great. Have you ever tried to get funding to be able to do this full-time or do you see it always as a part-time project?

As an association, no, because we have a lot of projects that are really important to us. I mean we are a volunteer organization that does a lot of projects. Because I have told you the four big ones, but we do a lot of things in our village, like the Solidarity Dinner or a Solidarity Market. We have people and we do a lot of things. Solidarity Fridge is maybe the more famous or more curious maybe, but we have a lot of projects that are all important for us. But with the people, the individual person, we need people in full-time. As this project is starting to grow, it is growing in the past months, we need to have people full-time. Not one or two, more, like five people full-time. Eight hours a day.

 

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Created on 25 July 2017

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