Conway Free Fridge

The Conway Free Fridge, located at Conway Cooling on Main Street in Conway. 

Conway officials issued a verbal warning to the group behind the Conway Free Fridge project, saying the outdoor refrigerator that offers free perishable items to the hungry violates state law.

“I cannot imagine that helping anyone in need through an avenue that requires no application or qualification could be considered a wrong thing, especially if it isn’t breaking the ordinances of the city,” said Laura Edge, who serves on the Conway Free Fridge committee.

Last week, Avery Jones placed a fridge just outside his Main Street business, Conway Cooling. The appliance holds donated perishable items for those in need in a “Take what you need, leave what you can” fashion.

Jones’ wife, Tricia, became interested in the project after reading stories about similar programs in other cities.

However, the City of Conway said the Conway Free Fridge is in violation a state law that prohibits abandoned refrigerators. 

But Tricia Jones said their fridge is fully functional and is in use.

“Therefore, we don’t feel this applies as we are not throwing away fridges,” she said.

City officials voiced concerns about safety and liability. The Joneses said they were told by the city to remove the fridge or face daily fines because a small child could climb inside the appliance and become trapped.

“This project unfortunately moved faster than it should have with disregard to make sure those laws were adhered to," city spokeswoman June Wood said. "Public safety is of paramount importance and not something that city staff can simply ignore. We are hopeful that a solution can be found or an alternate location can be identified."

Jones and Edge are confused.

“Honestly, complete puzzlement considering the appliance is only four feet in height and has a separate freezer on top. It has shelving inside and is stocked with food that would have to be removed in order for a child to climb inside,” Edge said.

Tricia Jones said her reactions to the city's decision have been anger, hurt and disbelief.

“You just feel like the city administration doesn’t want to help people," she said. "I’m sure that is not the case, but it’s hard not to feel this way."

City officials said they understand the intentions behind the Conway Free Fridge, but they have to enforce the law.

“While we fully support the motives behind a project like this, with any new endeavor there is due diligence required to make sure that all applicable rules and regulations are being followed,” Wood said.

City Administrator Adam Emrick said safety is paramount, and there are regulations that deal with the danger posed by appliances with airtight lids and children suffocating in them.

“No matter how the refrigerator is operated in this case, if it is outside, unattended, airtight and large enough for a child to climb in, then it is unsafe and we cannot square it with these regulations,” he said.

Emrick said if the group can figure out a way to avoid those issues, “the primary concern is met.”

Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said she’s certainly not opposed to the idea of the Conway Free Fridge, but said she has to lean towards the sentiments from the city.

“I’m so pleased Conway people are passionate and that Conway people care, and care about the less fortunate,” she said. “There are a couple … dangers involved. A single incident of someone being harmed as a result [of the project] could not justify the good that was done.”

A secondary concern though, Emrick said, is that anything done to the exterior of a property in the Central Business District (CBD) or Main Street Corridor must be reviewed and approved by the Community Appearance Board (CAB).

Emrick said the city has cited others for storing appliances outside and not removing doors to make them safe. The city has also cited people for undertaking projects in that district without getting permission from the CAB first.

“Our concern is that we have enforced similar appliances at other locations and it could lead to complaints for overlooking this specific business,” Emrick said.

Usually, these situations are resolved quietly, Emrick said, but he noted that the Conway Free Fridge committee had “moved forward after being told not to” and posted to social media, “knowing they were not in compliance with the city regulations.”

Avery Jones has since moved the refrigerator inside his shop until the situation can be remedied, but those in need can still access it during his shop’s open hours.

Many more people have used the fridge than Jones originally expected.  

“Several individuals and couples are leaving or picking up food every day,” he said.

Tricia Jones said she also received an anonymous “Thank you!” note inside the fridge during the first few days it was accessible.

The committee is exploring a few different avenues, including placing smaller, dorm-sized fridges in place of the larger one, a more expensive double-door glass cooler option, or possibly requesting that the Conway City Council create an ordinance that would allow the operation of the fridge.

“The situation is frustrating,” Tricia Jones said. “We really believe in the community fridge program and are willing to do what we can. It is working in other cities in South Carolina. We believe it can work here.”

While the Conway Free Fridge committee knows that there are other programs in place to feed the hungry, some operate under strict government guidelines, some can only give food to a family once a month, and many people are without work now due to the pandemic.

“They may be waiting for help. This program is to help anyone in need without question,” Tricia Jones said. “We are hoping to work with the city administrator as to which route [to remedy the situation] would be the quickest.”

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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(4) comments

Lindamantuano

How about adding a combination lock..leave the digits on top. An older kid that could read is too smart to climb in and a young child can’t read the numbers.

Clbrennan

While it's understandable that safety needs to be a primary concern, there are easy solutions to this issue allowing somebody that wants to do such a deserving and caring deed to do so. One first only need ask, why would a child small enough to become stuck in a refrigerator, let alone climb inside it in the first place be out alone to begin with, to see how ridiculous this enforcement truly is. The bigger concern for me is the safety of the food products placed in the refrigerator, especially during the current covid-19 issue. Why not put a small fenced area around the refrigerator outfitted with a keyless lock on it? Since this is open for all of the community to donate or take as needed, the code should not be a secret and could be something as simple as 1111. A child small enough to potentially lock themselves in the refrigerator is likely not of the age level to read the code therefore eliminating the safety issue for someone climbing inside and getting stuck. The fence does not need to be tall by current fencing standards for Horry County so architecturally it should not be intrusive. I'm sure plenty of people are willing to donate the materials and labor for the fencing and keyless entry pads too. Another solution would be to allow this community give and take refrigerator to be placed on the property of a local police department or fire department that is an operation 24 hours a day and currently already under surveillance for safety. I think this would go gangbuster in our community if the latter were the solution. Plaques placed on the refrigerators could signify who donated and monitors the refrigerator(s) benefiting our needed homeless population in Horry County. Donators/monitors need to be trained on critical control points and food handling to ensure that the safety of the food products. It's a simple class and would only require the refrigerator be monitored daily to make sure that expired food is pulled and that nothing is placed in there that is not hermetically sealed and brand new.

I agree with another commenter on this article that there are far greater areas that need attention than a refrigerator sitting on the property of a business that is trying to do good for their community! It's time Horry County comes into the present and review a lot of antiquated and unnecessary policies and laws that govern issues that are no longer relevant and should be left to Common Sense. If Conway, specifically in this instance, is so worried about the aesthetic of their town, a community given take refrigerator is the least of their problems when addressing eyesores! Removing such a giving and thoughtful hand up is not the answer and does not reflect well on the good of the people of Horry County and their Christian belief to do God's good work. Find a way Horry County, because this costs you nothing and should be of great importance to our community. This is a way for our County Seat to show a willingness to do something for the good of the people that doesn't involve Taxation and Assessments. The citizens of this county and this state, need your support now more than ever and watching the frivolity of money being spent on things that are completely unnecessary and that do nothing for the community needs to come to a screeching halt! Frivolities belong to the wealthy and should be funded from private funding not through taxation and assessment of your county and state residents.

Conwayborn1964

Since the mayor and city council are so concerned about a child getting trapped in a food filled refrigerator and the solid door closing and no one knowing or seeing the child in the food filled refrigerator [ohmy] then allow these amazing generous people to but a glass door refrigerator out that way if a child happens to somehow climb into a food filled refrigerator and the door closes then they will be seen by everyone who walks by, I'm sure that the officials of good ole boy city of Conway S.C has more hardened crimes to worry about and solve (like who killed that young lady and her child off Suggs street right here in Conway) besides enforcing a law that's undermining a project to feed the homeless and those who are in need especially now. IJS

j2rent1

Unbelievable.... City officials need to get a life. Don't they have more important things that need attention? How about our infrastructure. Oh, i forgot, $500,000 had to be donated to CCU to name the boardwalk at the baseball stadium. That was money that could have been spent on our deteriorating water lines all over the city.

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