Last summer, a couple of caring activists installed a free fridge in Ybor City, during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in Florida.
Much like St. Pete’s community fridge and free fridges across the country, Tampa’s communal fridge took off in popularity and use. But it was shut down by the city in July, shortly after it was established.
The city cited safety concerns because the fridge was outside (which made it accessible to people at all times) and said it needed to be moved inside or removed within 24 hours. Because this was not possible, the project had move during a time when food insecurity, especially among BIPOC, the houseless, and low-income people was skyrocketing.
Luckily, an elementary school in Ybor allowed the fridge to have a home, where it is now regularly filled by the teachers and the school board. Students at that school are now able to access that fridge, but the need for a fridge that could be accessed by anyone in Tampa still remained.
Cassidy Boe had not yet heard about the previous free fridge, but she wanted to help feed people and started asking around.
In March, she reached out to Jany Coyle and another organizer who were at the time feeding people with Tampa Food Not Bombs, and asked if they’d be interested in starting up a new free fridge project.
Coyle contacted an old childhood friend to ask if he knew of any businesses that might be a good fit for the fridge. Little did she know that he was the manager of Yung Ho Martial Arts Center, a dojo that believes in taking care of its community.
Grasso and his teacher GrandMaster Jun were already running a free pantry, so they were enthusiastically supportive of housing a fridge. In April, the crew had one donated and brought it to the dojo lobby. Boe painted fruit all over it with a few friends from school. They started up an Instagram, and Tampa’s communal fridge was reborn.
Yung Ho, located at E Busch Boulevard and N Brooks Street, focuses on Tae Kwon Do. Grand Master Jun founded the center in 1974 and still teaches there every day. He’s a 9th degree blackbelt who grew up in Korea and in remarkable shape for an 85-year-old. He stands by a philosophy based on openness and generosity.
Dustin Grasso, 34, who’s been training under Jun since he was a child, says that families have been greatly appreciative of the fridge. Some families who interact with Yung Ho and the neighborhood surrounding the building were hit hard during the pandemic, so there’s a constant need. The fridge can be accessed during Yung Ho’s hours of 11:30 a.m.-8:30 pm, Monday-Friday.
The fridge is cared for by volunteers and donors. Organizers are asking for volunteer shoppers (funds are provided to the shopper) and they’ve set up a Patreon for monetary support. They’re also looking for people with space in publicly accessible buildings to help place more fridges around the city. They currently have one partner, Nutrition Solutions, that is helping to supply the fridge with frozen meals on an ongoing basis.
The organizers say that a dream of theirs is to have fridges in every community in Tampa that needs one, especially in food deserts, and to have each fridge be a touchpoint for people to interact with and help each other.
“There’s often a lot of red tape between resources and the people who need them,” says Coyle. “So we need as many partners as we can get to make sure they have what they need.”
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