Mutual aid is flourishing in Philadelphia in the form of community fridges


In October 2020, Grid released an introduction to community fridges, a mutual aid concept where a refrigerator is placed in a public space and stocked by organizers and the community at large for the benefit of those in need. The food is free to all.

At that time, there were only 11 fridges citywide, but four months later, the number of fridges has nearly doubled. Since July 2020, when the first fridge was established in Philly, the mutual aid trend has swept through the city, culminating in the establishment of 24 total community fridges.

open community fridge full of produce
Mama-Tee’s bright yellow community fridges were the first to pop up in Philly. Photography by Aaron Salsbury.

Alyssa, a West Philly resident who asked to have her last name withheld, created a Google Maps database to highlight all of the Philly fridges. “I wanted an easy way to see and update where fridges were and thought other people might also find it useful,” she explains. The map has been viewed more than 2,500 times and features short notes and social media links to each refrigerator.

“I’m personally very visual so it helps me to see them all laid out,” says Alyssa.

Google maps displays 20 locations of the community fridges in Philadelphia.


Google maps displays 20 locations of the community fridges in Philadelphia.

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17 of Philly’s fridges are owned and operated by Mama-Tee, a lifestyle brand leading the charge for mutual aid in the city. Last time Grid spoke with Dr. Michelle Nelson, the founder of Mama-Tee, they were operating seven refrigerators. Since then they’ve added 10 more and are looking to continue growing.

When asked about the fridges, Nelson is reluctant to share too much. “Our focus has shifted in terms of what we’ll be sharing about fridge expansion, but I can say, yes, it has doubled.” Nelson says that more information on Mama-Tee fridges will be made public in the near future, hinting at a big announcement.

However, it’s no secret that Mama-Tee is expanding it’s food distribution capabilities with  a pop-up grocery store and a partnership with Whole Foods Market’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. “They like the brand and our operations. They will be sending a certain amount of poundage to our grocery store,” explains Nelson.

Mama-Tee is currently developing a one-of-a-kind pop-up grocery store, which is expected to open up in March 2021. “I wrote the plan for it about six months ago. I had the thought that I’d like to do something more impactful. This will be doubling or quadrupling what a fridge can do,” Nelson says. The pop-up grocery store will start in Graduate Hospital at 17th and Montrose streets, but “after that, our mobile shop will find a new home to serve other Philadelphia communities in need,” according to the Mama-Tee Pop-Up Grocery Store GoFundMe.

A community fridge located by the Bok building in South Philadelphia.
A community fridge located by the Bok building in South Philadelphia.

Nelson, along with Mama-Tee’s architects, has worked to build a food distribution center that can be towed to different parts of the city. “The store will also act as a distribution center that we desperately need,” Nelson explains. The functionality of the pop-up is two fold: It provides a place for Mama-Tee to hold more food to then distribute to their fridges, as well as a hub to hand out food in various communities.

Beyond Mama-Tee, two new names have joined the community fridge scene. The new bar Community in Point Breeze opened a community fridge of their own in February, and the East Falls Community Fridge went live at the start of 2021. Deanna Marshall, a 30 year-old public health researcher noticed the popularity of the Germantown community fridge and decided to bring one to East Falls.

“We saw how much use it was getting on every side, between organizers, volunteers, and people who need it,” says Marshall. She highlighted long lines outside the East Falls Food Bank as inspiration for bringing a fridge to East Falls.

The mutual aid boom continues. In less than one year, Philly went from zero community fridges to two dozen. “COVID has isolated a lot of people and taken away their ways to connect with people. So people are getting really involved,” says Nelson. “I like to think that during non-COVID times this could have happened. But honestly I’m not sure.”

Community Fridges can be found at the following locations: 

  1. Spot Burgers: 2821 W. Girard Ave

  2. Triple Bottom Brewing: 915 Spring Garden Street

  3. 312 39th Street (West Philly)

  4. Castellino’s Italian Market: 1255 E. Palmer Street

  5. Ambasador: 635 W. Girard Ave

  6. Franny Lou’s Porch: 2400 Coral Street

  7. Restoration Church: 6410 Rising Sun Ave

  8. Caribe Towers: 3231 North 2nd Street

  9. Opportunity Towers I

  10. Opportunity Towers II: 1717 W. Hunting Park Ave (2 Fridges).

  11. Porcos: 2204 Washington Ave (Point Breeze).

  12. Opportunities Towers III  5524 Haverford Ave (West Philly)

  13. On Lok House 219 N 10th St (Chinatown)

  14. Community Partnership School 3033 W Glenwood Ave (Strawberry Mansion/Brewerytown)

  15. Alchemy Hair Lab  2401 E Letterly St (Kensington)

  16. 234 Winona St, (Germantown)

  17. 21st & Federal – Community Bar (Point Breeze)

  18. 20 W. Armat St – Greene Street Friends School (Germantown)

  19. 19 E High St. – First United Methodist Church (Germantown)

  20. 3507 Midvale Ave – Vault & Vine – East Falls Community Fridge

  21. 511 S. 52nd St. – The Fridge on 52nd – Mina’s World (West Philly)

  22. 1229 S. 6th St. – PHL Community Fridge (South Philly)

  23. 1901 S. 9th St. – PHL Community Fridge (South Philly)

  24. ***Available in April*** Walnut Street Cafe 2929 Walnut Street (West Philly)

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