By Mike Anderson

Families experiencing food insecurity have a new place to get free groceries thanks to the Keswick Community Fridge, which opened on December 13.

Located at the Georgina Ice Palace, the community fridge operates 24/7 and is stocked with various perishable and non-perishable grocery items, including some pre-made meals.

The community fridge is a joint initiative between the Town of Georgina and the Georgina Community Food Pantry (GCFP).

The Town is providing a permanent location on municipal property, while GCFP manages the fridge, oversees signups, organizes volunteers, and coordinates food donations.

The community fridge works on the honour system, and people can take whatever they need.

GCFP Chair Emilee Elliott says she’s not concerned that some people may take advantage of free groceries.

“That’s not a concern,” she said. “If somebody takes advantage of it, it’s because they need it.”

While GCFP is managing the community fridge, anyone can drop off food. However, Elliott says meals must be made in a certified kitchen.

The community fridge was first proposed by Ashley Mutch, a Keswick resident with extensive experience working with people experiencing homelessness in York Region.

Mutch was inspired by the success of the Newmarket Pantry Community Fridge and was determined to bring the initiative to Georgina.

“There are minimal meal programs in the area, and the food bank is unattainable for those living outside, in vehicles, or on a fixed income,” she said.

“Travelling 15-20 minutes to get to the Food Pantry in Sutton can be expensive when someone only earns $350 a month.”

While Elliott says GCFP plans to open a satellite location in Keswick, she believes the community fridge is a good stopgap for now.

“Sixty percent of our clients are from Keswick. This helps those without transportation access free food without going to the Pantry,’ she said.

However, Elliott says the fridge will only work if the community supports it – which seems to be happening.

GCFP Chair Emilee Elliott and Exec. Dir. Cesar Caneo receive $5k cheque from YRP
Ashley Brown and Natalie Floyd help kids stock fridge

On opening day, YRP Superintendent Edmond Villamere provided a $5,000 cheque to GCFP to help stock the fridge.

More than a hundred pounds of groceries were also dropped off by the York Regional Police Association (YRPA), collected during the Heroes Food and Toy Drive, held at Keswick Zehrs on December 11.

Mayor Margaret Quirk and Councillor Dave Neeson were also on hand to help stock the fridge.

“A lot of work and dedication has made this project possible, and I want to thank everyone who played a role, including Town staff, the Food Pantry and residents in their work to help alleviate food insecurity here in Georgina,” Mayor Quirk said.

Minor League Hockey teams are also pitching in to stock the fridge.

Natalie Floyd, whose son plays hockey for the Georgina Blaze U9 MD team, organized a food drive for the fridge.

“I’m very supportive of the community fridge,” Floyd said.

“I think it’s a great idea. It can help people in need and is more than just food. Other products in there can help people. So things that you may not think about, like kitty litter or paper towels, deodorant and razors.”

“It’s a good location. A lot of people walk on foot. Traffic is huge here. I think everyone from our community steps into this building at some point. And it’s easy for people to say, you know what? I should go and fill it up.”

Ashley Brown, the team’s manager, agrees. She adds the fridge provides an excellent opportunity for kids and their parents to give back to the community.

“It teaches the kids valuable life lessons and that they are part of a community. They’re privileged and lucky to play this sport, so it’s a good opportunity for them to do something nice for someone else, especially around the holidays.”

Brown says her son Miller, 8, enjoyed canvassing their neighbourhood for food donations.

“He knew he was doing something good to help other people that made him feel proud,” she said.