Horry County families in need may soon have two options where they can find free perishable food.
“We wanted to do something to help people who may not qualify for assistance but just need help feeding themselves or their families,” said teacher Tricia Jones, who has seen the need in the area through her work.
The Conway Free Fridge would allow the hungry to get items such as milk, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables in a “take what you need, leave what you can” format.
Jones, her husband Avery and a group of like-minded friends recently placed the Conway Free Fridge outside Avery Jones’ business, Conway Cooling, which is at 422 Main St. in downtown Conway behind Bank of America and Kosta Bowls.
Pastor Richard Williams of Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church in Nichols recently added a fridge at their church near Green Sea as well.
Since the church is still not meeting in person, Williams said his congregation thought it was another way to minister during quarantine.
“We see God using us to reach the community,” Williams said, noting that the fridge would be a great complement to their existing produce drive that they do along with Spokes of Hope and Farmers to Family every other Wednesday from noon until 2 p.m.
The Nichols church has two volunteers who will help keep the fridge cleaned and up to date, and the Conway group has a schedule of people who will be monitoring and maintaining the fridge at Jones’ shop.
“There are so many Conwayites who have been devastated by the pandemic with loss of jobs,” said Laura Edge, who is part of the group organizing the Conway Free Fridge. “I felt like this would be a way to help make sure that people could still provide food and nutrition for themselves and their families when personal funds and public assistance ran dry.”
A Consumer Reports article from Jan. 6 said there are “freedges” in places such as India, Brazil, and Slovakia, as well as more than 150 in the U.S., “with the goal of redistributing perfectly good food that would otherwise go to waste, and to bring people together to combat the growing problem of hunger in underserved communities.”
While groups such as Churches Assisting People provide assistance to the community, Edge said the goal is for the fridges to be sources to supplement those types of programs.
“Our hope is that people who have a need will find it met through the giving by others, and that those who would like to meet the needs of others will find this an avenue where they can share,” Edge said.
The group hopes to discuss the project with Conway City Council, including the possibility of setting up additional locations in the city, but some city officials have been reluctant to support the free fridge concept. City leaders have pointed out that a state statute prohibits abandoning refrigerators that can be accessed by children.
"We have serious safety and liability concerns," Conway City Administrator Adam Emrick said.
But when Tricia Jones first started researching the community fridge concept, she noticed that other towns in South Carolina had installed free fridges without any issues. Despite the potential setback, the group is pressing forward. Volunteers are working on an interactive calendar for cleaning the fridge. They are also discussing ways to accept and manage donations and they hope other area businesses and churches will get on board.
“The idea of the free fridge is a global, charitable venture, and in the past the Conway community has been great about coming together to help each other,” the group said in a letter to be presented to Conway City Council. “The opportunities for volunteer service and contributions are endless.”
Monetary donations are not being accepted at this time, but donations of new, non-expired food (no alcohol) will be accepted at both locations.