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OSS student proposes community fridge to tackle food insecurity

Community fridge, proposed for library, 'provides support to those who need it, and engages community members to donate food and other items,' student says 

Take what you need. Leave what you can.

That’s the motto behind a local high school student’s proposal to create a community fridge – where people will be free to take and leave food donations at any hour of the day.

Orillia Secondary School student Myles Odlozinski, who just finished Grade 10, presented the concept to city councillors Monday evening. He hopes it will help address food insecurity in Orillia and reduce the stigma people might feel about accessing food donations.

“A community fridge is a fridge, freezer, and pantry typically located in an outdoor location in an accessible spot in the community. It provides support to those who need it, and engages community members to donate food and other items,” Odlozinski said. 

“It tackles food insecurity because it provides a place for free and fresh food for no cost to those who need it. It is also open 24/7, which makes it accessible to a wider range of people … as opposed to a food bank that has limited hours, and it also combats stigma," he told councillors.

The proposed fridge will sit inside a winterized shelter and house donations from community groups, businesses, and residents. Odlozinski has proposed the Orillia Public Library as the site for the fridge, and said he has begun discussions with library officials.

“I presented to the CEO of the Orillia Public Library, and they were able to answer any questions I had and agreed to the concept of having an Orillia community fridge located at the library,” he said. “It is the ideal location for the community fridge, as it is the hub of our community. It is accessible by transit, has lots of parking; it’s the site of the Orillia farmer's market, which means there is plenty of nice and fresh food ready to be donated.”

Odlozinski hopes the fridge can help mitigate the lingering impacts of the pandemic amid rapidly rising costs of living.

“Food insecurity is a massive issue, and it's not just a big city issue – it’s right here in Orillia. Rising food costs and the pandemic make that situation much worse,” he said.

“The Orillia Sharing Place and Salvation Army are seeing increased needs for the services. The Orillia Sharing Place helps 1450 of visitors a month, and 12% of households in the Simcoe Muskoka area are food insecure. This is made even worse by the stigma that's attached to visiting the food bank.” 

Odlozinski said The Brick has offered to donate a fridge for the project, and he hopes to build various partnerships with local restaurants, not-for-profits, grocery stores, community groups, and others that might help contribute to its success. He is also hoping to partner with a local contractor to build the enclosure, and a local artist to beautify it.

He proposes the fridge be monitored by library staff, who will check the fridge’s contents and clean the space twice a day. Based on a similar project in Innisfil, Odlozinski predicted the required staff time will be about 20-30 minutes per day.

“In terms of the food safety … the fridge will be checked twice daily to ensure all the items comply with the safety and guidelines, and the guidelines will be posted right on the fridge,” he said.

In preparation for his presentation to council, Odlozinski also spoke with officials in Innisfil about their community fridge project. He also spoke to Coun. Tim Lauer, Chris Peacock from the Sharing Place, and researched other similar initiatives.

The community fridge in Innisfil cost roughly $5,000 to build, the OSS student said.

Council responded enthusiastically to Odlozinski’s presentation, and directed staff to prepare a report outlining the feasibility, costs, and logistics surrounding the project.

“A lot of people do complain within our community, but don't come to the table with solutions – and that's exactly what you're doing,” said Coun. Mason Ainsworth.

“Not only are you saying ‘Hey, I have a solution to do this,’ but you also went and looked at other solutions that are happening now. You've looked at the facts, looked at the information. You've said this is possible, and it's actually working in other places," added the Ward 3 councillor.

“I love the research you've done on this and provided to us. As a council rep on the Orillia Food Committee, I know firsthand this is something that's really needed,” said Coun. David Campbell. “I'd love to see it go forward … and I would be more than happy to provide the shelving when we get to that stage, so keep that in mind. If need be, if you're looking for community members, I've been known to swing a hammer from time to time.”

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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