Local chef offers new way to feed Fayetteville with ‘Friendly Fridge’ at St. Paul’s

Staff photo

You’ve heard of Little Free Libraries. Maybe you’ve helped fill a Little Free Pantry. Now, thanks to a local chef in Fayetteville, there’s a new way to help locals in need, and share in a time when sharing is more important than ever.

St. Paul’s Episcopal and Mount Sequoyah Center chef Kaitlyn Rush recently unveiled the first ever Friendly Fridge in Fayetteville, a take-what-you-need refrigerator located near the east entrance of the church (224 N East Ave.)

Rush said she read about the idea, which had popped up in and around Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York, in an article online. That led her to the official Instagram account, which led her to thinking about she could apply the concept of a Friendly Fridge right here in Fayetteville.

As a chef at the church who has been working to prepare their twice-weekly community meals, Rush knew exactly where to locate it.

“I instantly thought of St. Paul’s, where I knew there was electricity outside, and I had an extra fridge, and I just thought, ‘This is perfect, we have to do this,'” she said.

The refrigerator, she said, just kind of helps fill in some gaps.

“You think about dropping off a box of mac and cheese (at a little free pantry), but what about the milk?” she said. “The refrigerator allows you to fill in for some of those things when you are thinking about ‘How can I make this into a meal.'”

Rush said that anyone can drop off items to help stock the refrigerator.

Kaitlyn Rush / Courtesy, St. Paul’s Episcopal

“Our motto is ‘Take what you need, leave what you can,'” she said.

In addition to individuals, several local restaurants have already reached out to help fill the refrigerator.

“I immediately heard from Adrienne Shaunfield from Farmers’ Table who wanted to be involved. Hugo’s has given us a ton of stuff, we have a box of tomatoes, lettuce, a huge thing of bread, turkey. They have been great.”

Wood Stone Craft Pizza has also helped to stock the fridge, and local artist Brandon Bullette has offered to paint the refrigerator to help bring attention to it. Others have also reached out to help.

“We really have an incredible local business community here,” Rush said.

Refrigerated items from the grocery store like meats, milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables, and other items are welcome in the fridge, as are prepared meals, though those should be carefully labeled and dated. The refrigerator also has a freezer, so frozen items can be dropped off as well.

Rush said she has been stocking the refrigerator herself especially on Mondays and Wednesdays with leftovers from St. Paul’s community meals served that day. Items, though, have been moving through the friendly fridge pretty fast.

“That is one of the things I have really noticed is the need is really evident during the community meal days,” she said. “People are hungry. It is really heartbreaking.”

As she prepared to open her first Friendly Fridge, Rush said she spoke with Little Free Pantry founder Jessica McClard, who is from Fayetteville, who provided some valuable advice on how to set things up. Like McClard’s Little Free Pantries, Rush said she hopes that more Friendly Fridges will pop up around town as more folks are exposed to the idea.

Photo: Courtesy, Kaitlyn Rush

“I hope there are others,” she said. “I could see them popping up all over town.”

Part of the success of the program will require the community to take ownership in the refrigerator, and help keep it clean.

“I hope people will help out, if there’s an empty can in there, just throw it away. If it’s dirty, maybe grab a towel and wipe it down,” she said.

Rush wanted to remind the community about the twice-weekly community meals at St Paul’s, served on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

If others would like to contribute to the project, or are interested setting up their own Friendly Fridge and are seeking some advice, they can email Kaitlyn at [email protected].

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.