The Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) Community fridge is located outside of the Kitchener Market, providing an area for many people to collect food. Kamil Ahmed, the founder, introduced us to the concept of this fridge, which is for it to be run by the community, rather than having an individual or organization in charge. The fridge truly is a location made to enhance the community and create a safe space for development and conversation. In November, a fourth-year class from the University of Waterloo met with Kamil to learn more about the fridge.

The Community Fridge KW open 24/7 located outside of the Kitchener Market. Take what you need, leave what you can.

Kamil Ahmed

Kamil Ahmed, founder, standing in front of the KW Community Fridge

Kamil Ahmed, founder, standing in front of the Community Fridge KW

Kamil Ahmed, a Wilfrid Laurier graduate of global studies, helped to start the Fridge in 2020. After being struck with the realization of the community in Kitchener and the history behind food insecurity, Ahmed took the initiative to make a change. His experience and journey to get to where he is today was inspiring as he faced various obstacles throughout the past two years. However, the success of the community fridge has brought clear evidence that his struggles in the past were worth the hard work. From the get-go, Kamil Ahmed was a very welcoming and engaging host. Even if mid-sentence, he would stop and welcome every person that joined late, which was truly a reflection of his character.

When someone asked if the fridge was his and he replied, “it's our fridge, you're running it as much as I am.” This is an amazing way to foster a sense of community and lend each other a helping hand.

Kelly Cao, a UW student

History of the Community Fridge KW

The spark

The Community Fridge KW was started by two University of Wilfrid Laurier graduates in the summer of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the founders indicated how COVID-19 had a severe impact on the community in the Waterloo Region as people were losing their jobs and their homes. Kamil, originally from Pakistan, remembered back home how individuals were a lot more connected when it comes to food and community. It was a common culture to share food with other individuals back in Pakistan, which is not a custom that is usually seen in Canada or Waterloo Region. This was the spark which initiated the idea of starting a community fridge in the Kitchener and Waterloo Region. The idea behind the Community Fridge is that members of the community can donate food to the fridge and other members of the community who need these products can come to the fridge and take what they need as if it was their own fridge and pantry.

Starting up – Built and run by our neighbors

The goal of the fridge is to have it be entirely run by the community. This entails having no food be bought through fundraising, but to be all donated from other community members or organizations. This allows the building of connections through people in the community.

The Wilfrid Laurier graduates at the infancy of the Community Fridge had zero funds and only an email. But when they reached out to community members, the community rallied together to provide a fridge and Zero Waste Bulk, a low-waste grocery store now recently closed, provided a space in which the community fridge could operate. All the aspects of the fridge have been through donation and volunteering; none of it has been paid for by Kamil or other volunteers.

The Community Fridge KW with blue bags outside the door

One thing highlighted by Kamil was the language used around the fridge. Since it is the center-point for the development of a community all people who interact with the fridge Kamil calls “neighbours”. This use of language regarding the fridge is evidently purposeful and inspiring, as neighbours bring other neighbours’ food, they can connect and rely on each other.

Nadia Vanzanten, a UW student

Moving & Rebuilding

When the Fridge relocated to the Kitchener Market, a new structure needed to be built in order to contain the fridge. This is when the community came together once again for three weekends straight in a brisk November as volunteers and stores donated materials, other volunteers came in order to help build the structure which encased the fridge.

With the structure built, the Fridge was operational for use and there was an increase in donations compared to their previous sites, as more community members came to donate and help support community members.

After the fridge was operational it became a place to welcome all individuals no matter what background they come from. From the start of the Community Fridge, there has been a strong sense of community around the members of the Waterloo Region. Many individuals came to support other community members who were in need and anonymously dropped off food to the fridge, which other individuals were able to divulge if they wanted to.

Various foods like bananas, vegetables and other food found inside the community fridge


Ensuring Privacy & Dignity

A lot of the practice the fridge adopted came from learning as it was being developed. When the fridge was inside a food business location, they discovered that those using the Fridge felt watched. This led to the need to move the Fridge to an outdoor location, which allowed for more freedom of use. Eventually when the fridge moved to its current location outside of the Kitchener Market, the fridge is more visible to the public, which reveals the costs and benefits of having users feel more monitored but having more donations because it is more visible. The KW Community Fridge project has developed tremendously and provides an inspirational baseline for other potential communal fridge projects.

Difficult Situations

Kamil expressed various hardships such dealing with substance abuse, human feces and urine, and physical abuse to the construction of these fridges. There is likely a huge mental toll on him, with having to hear the stories and concerns that residents bring up, especially from a privileged point of view. Kamil mentioned that there are some days where he cries because of a joyous reason, however, there are his fair share of cloudy days. He even mentioned people coming to his residence, might it be for confrontation or a complaint, which can be very daunting.

Band-Aid Solutions

With the help of those at the Kitchener Market and volunteers, the community fridge has become a successful way to help those in need. However, Kamil did reiterate the fact that the Community Fridge only acts as a Band-Aid for the problem and is not the real solution. Thus, there must be more done to help those in need within the Kitchener region.

Pillars of the Community Fridge KW

2 years of volunteering, mutual aid, combatting local food insecurity, addressing local food waste, fostering neighbors relations, barn raising

After more than two years of operations, the Community Fridge KW has adopted four pillars to optimize the experience of users of the fridge:

1. Addressing Food Insecurity – residents can treat the fridge as if it is their own and take what they need.

2. Protecting Food Dignity – honours everyone visiting the fridge, so they don’t feel watched and that they feel welcomed instead b

3. Addressing Food Waste – By not buying, but instead using donation and food rescue, the fridge prevents food waste of those items that would otherwise go unused.

4. Supporting Food Sovereignty – always supports everyone’s right to healthy and cultural food.

But also, the community fridge saw an expansion in the types of products which they provided to individuals as they expanded to having a pantry to hold dry goods. As community members do not only need refrigerated items but also need other supplies such as bread, canned and dried goods, some of which were donated by local stores to help their community members. But the fridge also does a really good job in order to connect to its community by having an Instagram page which has constant updates about what is going on in the fridge. Also, the community fridge uses its social media in order to reach out to community members to indicate what is needed for their members and try to provide them with the necessities that they need. This is how Community fridge KW found out that in the wintertime there was an increased need for baby formula but also an increased need for toiletries.

What’s next for the Community Fridge KW

Next steps in this location are to use the planters available in front of the market to grow and harvest food. This would allow neighbours even more control over their food choices, furthering the development of food sovereignty. The goals are to make food more accessible, give people control, and build a community to take care of each other. Eventually they hope to develop away from having volunteers at all and be entirely run by neighbours in the community.

The Community Fridge KW has done an extraordinary job in order to provide services for all individuals who need them. But the community fridge has also shown how resilient and supportive the people of Waterloo are to its community members. Also, the fridge has shown that during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic people have each other’s backs. It's an amazing experience to be a part of hopeful initiatives such as community fridge KW and the sense of community only grows further in the Waterloo region to make more individuals feel welcomed and supported in the community.

The KW Community Fridge provides an inspiring story for the development of food sovereignty. Kamil, volunteers and neighbors have done an excellent job in the development of this community hub. They are still looking for more volunteers to get involved now. Inspiration can be taken to develop further locations in many different cities, eventually allowing people to have more accessible foods available for them to choose from.

Image list

All images are from the Community Fridge KW’s Facebook