Virtual fridge

The virtual fridge events are going really well, with several crates of food going at each session.  A local resident has organised a rota of volunteers to run the fridge; the local Manna Cafe is holding onto the food in between volunteers picking it up and other volunteers running the fridge; and care packages are being distributed during the fridge events.

So far we have received the surplus food from Turl Street Kitchen as it was shutting for the coronavirus duration; and have been promised the surplus food from St. Edward’s School.

People taking the food have been very generous with donations: we have collected about £30 so far to go towards hand sanitiser.  We had to buy 5 litres for £99.95, but have sold 3 litres at cost to the Abingdon and Witney fridges and a church-run cafe, leaving us with 2 litres and £40 cost.

I have also been getting multiple requests for food parcels.  So far the Food for Charities supplies are holding, but at some point the donations will be used to buy food for food parcels.


Hand sanitiser and food parcels

We have had to buy 5 litres of hand sanitiser at £99.95 so that we can run the virtual fridge events.  The Rowse honey container is finding a new use:

hand sanitiser

We’re making three of the five litres available to other charities at cost, in the hope that we won’t get close to using even two litres of the stuff.

Also we’re preparing food parcels for people in need.  They are available at the Manna Cafe above the Botley Coop, or at the virtual fridge events.  Three have already been taken:

food parcel

The community fridge is a baby phoenix

We had agreed with St. P&P church, who have an elderly/frail congregation, that we would shut the Botley community fridge as soon as the first coronavirus case was identified in Oxford.  That happened last Sunday, and we shut the fridge on Monday.

I thought that we’d have a little holiday from picking up and distributing fresh food, and my only worry was finding somewhere that could distribute non-perishables to people in need.  I told several of the other community fridges that they could have ‘our’ food for the duration…

… and then I received some lovely emails from several women who were wondering whether it might be possible to keep the Botley fridge alive in some virtual form, say by delivering the food to local children’s groups, or cooking it and delivering it to people who needed food.

So on Wednesday we trialed a ‘virtual fridge’ outside the library from 3:15 to 4:15pm: we set up 7 crates of food, and several of us basically said ‘come and get free food’ to anyone passing by.  Six of the crates went!

Since then (today is Friday) we found a place to store the food between when it is delivered and when it will be distributed, in the Manna Cafe.  It’s not a perfect location: on the first floor, on the opposite end of the shopping precinct.  But it’s better than keeping it at one of our homes.  We’re hoping that we can find a closer place, possibly in Seacourt Hall, but that needs to go through various committees first.

We have also come up with a plan.  Several parents from the local school will be running a virtual fridge, again outside the library, today and next week every day Tuesday – Friday.  We had been hoping to get young people from St. Edward’s School to run a weekend virtual fridge, but I just found out that their school won’t allow it because of the virus.  The library also can’t hold onto, and distribute, non-perishables to people in need on coronavirus grounds.

Because of coronavirus, we are having to run the virtual fridge with a couple of rules:

  1. Nobody with coronavirus symptoms should get near the food
  2. All volunteers and fridge users should stay at least 1m away from each other
  3. We will provide sanitising hand gel (which should be delivered today, in the meanwhile we’ll use baby wipes) which fridge users will need to use before they can touch the food
  4. Volunteers are asked to become familiar with NHS information about coronavirus.

So, at the time of writing this, the Botley fridge has arisen from the ashes like a phoenix (or at least a baby phoenix).  We will have regular ‘virtual fridges’ for at least a week, we have found a place to store the food, we have a coronavirus protocol, and we are in the process of trying to find better accommodation.  I’m delighted, though the vacation from the fridge will have to wait.

Fridge open

Meeting of Oxfordshire community fridges

… well, not the fridges themselves, obviously, but of fridge representatives.  Six of us met yesterday evening, out of the ten Oxfordshire fridges.  The ten fridges are:

  • Abingdon
  • Banbury
  • Barton (E Oxford)
  • Bicester
  • Botley (W Oxford)
  • Jericho (N Oxford)
  • Leys (E Oxford)
  • Wallingford
  • Wantage
  • Witney

The main lessons to come out of the meeting were:

Facebook is an incredibly strong medium for making people aware of the community fridge, of food gluts, and of fridge ‘rules’.  Fridges with good social media volunteers seem to do particularly well.

Limiting food take.  Most of the fridges have some issues regarding people ‘taking too much food’ (see the next point).  Witney has a suggested limit of 5 items.  Some of the other fridges have notices that ask fridge users to think of others, or take only a small shopping bag of items.  Generally fridge users seem to self-police quite nicely, and Witney’s 5 item limit seems to work quite well.  But we agreed that limiting food take is not easy to do.

Is it a problem if some people ‘take too much food‘, or arrive in a big car to take the food, or buy alcohol or cigarettes and also take food from the fridge?  We agreed that the main purpose of the fridges is to reduce food waste; that anyone is welcome to take the food (even drinkers, smokers and drivers of large cars); and that people have all kinds of reasons for taking ‘too much’ food (e.g. the person might also be picking up for someone else).  Also some fridges have 1000+ users (I’m jealous), and it can be expected that food will rapidly go down.  Regular Facebook post about this might help.

Getting food.  The Oxford Food Bank picks up surplus food from a lot of the larger supermarkets in Oxford and Bicester.  The four Oxford community fridges in particular are struggling to get food because of this.  On the one hand, this is lovely because the food is going to good places (the OFB delivers to charities).  On the other hand, it means that the community fridges are limited to the smaller supermarkets that are harder to get to, have less food, and have rapid turnover of staff which means that food supplies often stop until the new staff are trained up.  Happily, the fridges outside Oxford seem to be getting plenty of food.

Growing the fridges.  A couple of fridges are in the process of growing.  The Witney fridge has just got a £500 grant which will probably go towards cooking classes – congratulations!  The Bicester fridge is rapidly outgrowing its shed and may move to larger premises at some point.  The Leys fridge has spawned the Leys community larder


The Botley community fridge saves 100-200kg/wk of food from going to the waste stream

This chart shows how many kilos of food have gone through the Botley community fridge since April 2018.  This is the MINIMUM, since some food gets dropped off with rough sleepers en route to the fridge, and some food gets dropped off at the fridge whose weight doesn’t get recorded.  About 6 tonnes per year, and an average of 2ookg/wk in Dec 19 / Jan 20.

Weight of food Feb 20

Community fridge provides more than 100kg of food per week

We have been weighing the food that goes into the fridge every week.  Here is the result after 6 months, with an average of 105kg/week:

Fridge weights 6 months

We got more food over the summer because there were fewer students around, and Tesco does the same order regardless of student numbers.  The low points coincide with a key volunteer going on holidays.

This is the MINIMUM amount of food, as food that is delivered to rough sleepers on the way between Tesco and the fridge (probably 5-10kg/wk of fruit, pastries, salads etc.) does not get counted, nor does food brought to the fridge sporadically by individuals (e.g. eggs from the chicken farm that takes our surplus bread).  Compost no longer gets counted as the reverend who takes the compost out does not weigh it… but it anyway never accounted for much and still doesn’t.


Vandalism at the church

In recent weeks there has been quite a lot of antisocial activity at the church: eggs and rice were thrown around the church, needles and human shit were left in the Garden of Remembrance, the church toilet was left in a mess, mugs from the kitchen ended up in the compost bin, people were trying to open doors in the admin area of the church.  People were worried about some of the people coming to the church (and the fridge).  There was talk of closing the church entirely for several weeks to try to stop people from viewing the church as an alternative public toilet.

Instead, the church committee has kindly decided to keep the church open and the fridge going, and instead to lock the toilet and kitchen (and, in doing so, the admin area).  Also the church hours will be restricted from 9-5 to 10-4.  This will allow the administrator to come in at 9:30 to an empty church, ditto the organist at 5pm.