El Mirage opened a full-time Community Fridge this week at the Dysart Community Center, a place where surplus food is made easily and freely accessible to people in a community in need. It’s one of two Community Fridges that have been started as part of the Arizona Sustainability Challenge, funded by the Microsoft Datacenter Community Team. A Community Fridge in Downtown Mesa opened in August 2019.
During the 1930s, migrant farm workers settled in El Mirage, Arizona to harvest crops, and it became incorporated as a city in 1951.
Not long afterwards in 1962, the Dysart Community Center was established in El Mirage by a group of volunteers to provide basic health and educational resources to local families in need. As it states on the Dysart Community Center website, “Educating those in need was the first priority for these volunteers and remains so today.”
Annie Ansell, the Executive Director of the Dysart Community Center, and her team provide a variety of educational programs for thousands of residents, including English Language instruction, citizenship courses, after-school and summer programs for children, and high school completion (GED) courses for teenagers and adults.
While education is the foundation, the Center must attend to a variety of a
While El Mirage started as a home for agriculture in the West Valley, today
it’s a ‘food desert’ with limited access to affordable, healthy foods.They Dysart Community Center has offered a mobile food pantry in the past, serving around 130 people. As Annie states:
“Food is an equalizer. You can’t study or pay attention in
school if you don’t have food in your belly. We started the Community Fridge
so that the community would not have to worry about what to eat.”
But, the food pantry was only available one day per month. With the grant from Microsoft, in partnership with ChangeX, the Center extended their plans to offer an ongoing Community Fridge available Monday – Thursday from 10am – noon for residents to shop for fresh foods at their convenience. For Annie, that’s an essential step forward.
“For parents, having food available means the difference between being able
to pay the electricity bill and making it to the end of the month.”
Annie has plans to match the Community Fridge with a walking ‘steps’
program to improve health outcomes.
“It costs a lot to eat healthy. It doesn’t cost much to eat terribly.”
There is also a social aspect of shopping for food. As Annie said, “For some
people who come to get food, we are the only people they talk to all month.”
The Community Center team, Priscilla Dueñaz and Francisco Portillo, were
hard at work organizing the Community Fridge for a launch at the beginning of November 2019.
Both, Priscilla and Francisco, attended Dysart as children, volunteered as teens and
now they are sharing their passion for education with the community as staff
ChangeX partners with Hubbub, an environmental charity in the UK, to help spread the idea of the Community Fridge in the U.S.. In the UK, Hubbub have helped people to set up Community Fridges in more than 70 locations across the whole country as a solution to avoid food waste by redistributing surplus food to people in need.