Tara Murphy, Mat Keel and John Lewis at the Baton Rouge Community Fridge. Photo by Collin Richie

Cold comfort: Give and take is the goal at the Baton Rouge Community Fridge

A new feature on Government Street has garnered statewide attention as a form of radical mutual aid. 

But its creators don’t view it that way. To them, it’s simply an act of being a good neighbor. 

Located in the parking lot of the collaborative arts space Yes We Cannibal, the Baton Rouge Community Fridge allows anyone and everyone free access to food, drink and supplies from a climate-controlled site that’s accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Inspired by a similar concept in Lafayette, a group of service-minded Baton Rougeans including Emily Bordeaux, Mat Keel and the student advocacy organization Cooperation Rouge had been conceptualizing the Capital City’s first community fridge for a few months. When Hurricane Ida devastated the state, they were quickly pushed into action. 

“Storms in Louisiana always have the potential to bring the precarity in which people live into much greater focus,” says Keel, who also cofounded Yes We Cannibal. 

During Ida’s aftermath, Keel and others collected scrapped and fallen wood from around the community and designed an asymmetrical structure to cover a donated refrigerator, spending an additional $350 on equipment and hardware. About two days later, on September 16, the group officially opened the Baton Rouge Community Fridge’s black metal doors to the public, and they haven’t slowed down since.

Today, with the help of about 30 organized volunteers and anonymous donations from the community, the fridge is stocked and cleaned multiple times each day. Some days it is filled with bagels and veggies; others, it offers homemade meals and yogurt. And essentials like tampons, pet food and masks line the covered shelves on the side. 

The rules are pretty simple: Give what you’d feed your own family—sans raw meat, eggs and alcohol. And take whatever and however much you need. “It’s not exactly meant to be a project by those of us who are privileged for those of us who are not privileged,” Keel says. “It’s really for all.”

Still, many of the fridge’s visitors live in poverty and struggle with food insecurity. “We are located here in a neighborhood that is gentrifying very rapidly on one side of Government Street,” Keel says. “The other sides are poor. And there’s extraordinary food insecurity. We felt we were in kind of a perfect location to
do this.” 

Keel says he has noticed that repeat visitors have gained weight and appear healthier. Others are relieved to have an easy meal to feed their children after a long day of work—and to know there will be more food available the next day. Still, it’s many of those same people who are helping to restock the fridge when they can, he says. 

“There are a number of people who live in the neighborhood with very little money who donate to the fridge,” he says. “They may use it or they may donate, but this is not the rich giving to the poor by any stretch. There are all kinds of people who give and want to help each other. You have to surrender some of your expectations or preconceived notions.”

Next up, the group plans not only to beautify its current location with artwork by Ronni Bourgeois, but they are also working on a second fridge location at The Red Shoes, further down Government Street near Baton Rouge High. 

Too, they’re hoping to see a human impact. “Hopefully it also builds begins to build a culture,” Keel says, “where people trust more in each other and want to support each other.”

The Baton Rouge Community Fridge is located at 1600 Government St. Find out how to help at brcommunityfridge.com.