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Community refrigerator program expands to Dover

The new community refrigerator in Dover.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Dover's new community refrigerator.

A community refrigerator program is expanding into Dover — one small-scale response to rising food insecurity across the state.

Relying on support from local faith groups and food banks, a new community refrigerator will be available 24 hours a day outside the Westside Family Healthcare clinic in Dover.

The Dover location is the first step in bringing the Wilmington-based nonprofit Planting to Feed’s community refrigerator program into central and southern Delaware.

Unlike many food pantries — including one operated by the Capitol School District — the refrigerator can stock fresh produce and dairy. Westside Family Healthcare also plans to add a freezer for meat. The refrigerator won’t be locked or staffed, and Planting to Feed founder Jessica Westcott says her organization intentionally avoids collecting data on who uses them.

“One thing we believe in is not tracking the people that are using or coming to the fridge, because we want to remove that stigma – we don’t want people to feel discouraged," she said.

Planting to Feed already operates four community refrigerators in Wilmington, all placed at community centers in neighborhoods with limited food access.

As the program expands into rural Delaware, Westcott says finding existing community centers those in need of food assistance already frequent is vital. "We try to attach ourselves to a community center – where people are going. We don’t try to come up with new locations," she said. "Instead of creating additional barriers to get where they need to go, let’s go to where they are.”

She notes a lack of adequate transportation is a key barrier to food access - so centralizing services is especially critical in rural communities in Kent and Sussex Counties.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.