Featured photo: The second fridge opened at 1801 10th St. earlier this year. (photo by Brian Burch)

Editor’s note: A number of the names of individuals in this piece have been stylized to the source’s preference. 

At 1801 10th St., the tips of a thick oak tree’s thin branches almost touch the slanted roof of a kaleidoscopic, outdoor pantry — a quaint structure painted and built collaboratively to house Greensboro’s second Freedom Fridge. The side facing the street features a full tree in a warm season, generously supporting several lily-like flowers on its trunk; the opposite side is covered in interrelated shapes and patterns and boldly asks, in both English and Spanish, “What inspires you?!?” 

“Everything’s rooted in a story, or should be if it’s not,” says Bevelyn Afor Ukah, a multifaceted, Nigerian-American artist affiliated with Black Women’s Art Collective of Public Art Practice. “It feels like a great honor to have been invited as the artist for this second Freedom Fridge. This is also a major entry point for me since I do food systems work.” 

Like the interconnected relationships involved in a food system, everything about the Freedom Fridges proves that communities inspire and sustain each other. First started in 2021, the Freedom Fridges are a concept borrowed from other cities in which a refrigerator is set up in a public space and acts as a place for people to drop off and pick up food for free.

Curtis Street, Greensboro Greensboro’s first Freedom Fridge is located in the parking lot of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in the Warnersville neighborhood. GSO Mutual Aid has partnered with several local groups including Hickory Winds Farm, who is currently supplying 20 pounds of produce every week, to offer fresh food and water to anyone who needs it.

According to alyzza may, a key organizer with Greensboro Mutual Aid, the second Freedom Fridge “exists in partnership between East White Oak Community Center, and the residents of Greensboro who believe and practice a culture of mutual aid and radical love.” says alyzza may,  May noted that the group was able to launch the second fridge this year using financial support from the Trans Justice Funding Project and the Cone Health Foundation. Mark Dixon and Justin Lewter built the physical shelter for the Freedom Fridge. 

The first Freedom Fridge sits about four miles away from the new one at 1100 Curtis St., at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Prince of Peace’s congregant, Alice Drake, also serves as the Creative Director of the East White Oak Community Center, where the second Freedom Fridge now lives. After supporting the first iteration, Drake approached the local organization Greensboro Mutual Aid about the idea of a second one.

“Many hands, hearts, and minds have stewarded this physical manifestation of community care,” says rakaya nasir-phillips, another central Greensboro Mutual Aid organizer. 

The second fridge opened at 1801 10th St. earlier this year. (photo by Brian Burch)

The Freedom Fridges are a reciprocal response to the systemic issue of food insecurity. When the first Freedom Fridge was revealed in 2021, there were 17 known food deserts in Greensboro and 24 in Guilford County. In April 2023, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the multi-step State Action Plan for Nutrition Security to decrease North Carolina’s overall food insecurity rate from 10.9 percent to 10 percent by December 2024. 

Though the plan includes adding more community-based organizations that provide local services, Greensboro residents have reasons to believe that a more permanent solution for families receiving consistent, nutritious food will have to acknowledge and act on the scope of related systemic issues that contribute to food insecurity. 

“The Freedom Fridges are only a temporary solution to the insidious structural classism and environmental racism that the city of Greensboro continues to inflict upon its community members,” says nasir-phillips. “Until atonement has been made for these harms, we will continue to imagine new solutions to bring food to all of Greensboro.” 

The second fridge exists in partnership between East White Oak Community Center where it is located (photo by Brian Burch)

The practice of mutual aid, which is fueled by the collective action of the people to meet needs and to get needs met, is radical in the sense that it challenges the assumption that poverty and or insecurity are the result of a lack of resources rather than a lack of access to those resources. Though the concept has existed for more than a century, the model took off in many ways during the pandemic in which communities gathered to collect resources for one another and share in new ways.

 “We have enough housing, we have enough food, clean water, clothes, parks, modes of transportation, money, everything,” says may. “We just live in a society that is extractive and siphons resources into specific areas and limits them in others, often correlating along lines of race, class, and gender.” 

The practice of public art also challenges assumptions. 

Afor’s mural, which she carefully designed and then painted with the help of her partner, took about a year to complete.

“I purposefully made the mural very accessible, like the design of it, but brought the complexity in with textures,” says Afor.

A similar piece by Afor, “Our Collective Table,” is currently on display through the summer at the Melvin Municipal Office Building in Greensboro. 

The second fridge opened at 1801 10th St. earlier this year. (photo by Brian Burch)

After talking with Drake about the East White Oak Community Center, the two decided to dedicate the piece to a youth named Amuarin Niquae Watkins, who had a naturally happy and generous spirit and frequented East White Oak until his unfortunate passing on February 18th,  2019. 

One day, Watkins came to East White Oak with a backpack full of oranges and explained that he’d brought them to share with everyone.

“This act was unprompted; this act was loving; this act was kind,” wrote Afor in her artist statement for the unveiling of the second Freedom Fridge. “This act perfectly exemplified what it means to be in community, and what it means to lovingly practice mutual aid.” 

An open, red backpack full of oranges sits under the shade of Afor’s painted tree. A few other oranges float in the background — some in light green grass speckled with yellow, and some against an expanse of purple.  

Bevelyn Afor Ukah, a multifaceted, Nigerian-American artist conceptualized the design on the shed with her partner for the second fridge. (photo by Brian Burch)

“In the midst of a world where many choose to encourage state-sanctioned violence, genocide, exploitation, extraction, and deep-rooted harm,” continues the artist’s statement. “I ask myself, what inspires me to choose active hope?” 

Maybe the answer is already displayed on the back of the outdoor pantry: a series of colorful homes united in front of a purple, cloud-clinging moon. 

Both Freedom Fridges (1801 10th St. & 1100 Curtis St.) accept donations 24/7 and are completely free and available to take from. Greensboro Mutual Aid accepts donations that will help them continue meeting the needs of community members via the Cashapp handle $GSOMutualAid, or here. 

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