How a Small Spanish Town is Feeding the Hungry With a Sidewalk Refrigerator

Alvaro Saiz knows what it means to be hungry and he likes to help people. Since April, Alvaro’s project has helped make it a little easier for the hungry and poor of his hometown of Galdakao (a small Spanish city of around 30,000) to get a meal: it’s called the Solidarity Fridge.

Several times a day, deliveries of food from restaurants and goodhearted citizens arrive at the Solidarity Fridge, where those who need food are free to come and take. The pioneering project is Spain’s first communal refrigerator and sits on a city sidewalk, surrounded by a small gated fence so nobody mistakes it for a discarded appliance. It’s open to all to make a deposit or take food.

Alvaro used to run a food bank, but would still see people rummaging for wasted food in the trash. He wanted to find a way to make it as easy as possible for those who were hungry to get food they needed. He had heard of a similar project in Germany where people could go to an online community board and offer up leftover food for the taking, but knew something more low-tech was needed.

He approached the mayor about the idea of a community fridge and instantly had the mayor’s full support and a pledge of $5,000 to get the project running. “When he came to city hall with this idea, I thought it was both crazy and brilliant! How could I say no?” Mayor Ibon Uribe told NPR. “And we granted this fridge a special independent legal status, so that the city can’t be sued if someone gets sick.” No raw meat, fish or eggs are allowed in the fridge and homemade food must be labeled with a date and thrown out after four days.

Javier Goikoetxea is one of the volunteers who helps maintain the fridge and clean it out when food expires, but that never happens. “Restaurants drop off their leftover tapas at night — and they’re gone by next morning,” he said. The fridge even has a group of elderly grandmothers who cook especially for it.

The Solidarity Fridge couldn’t come at a better time for Spain as the country is going through an economic crisis with record of high unemployment. The unemployment rate in Galdakao is around 13 percent, and the fridge is a true lifesaver for people like Issam Massaoudi, an unemployed Moroccan immigrant. “Sincerely, it’s wonderful,” said Issam. “When money is tight, to be able to come here and open this fridge and find really good food — bread, tomatoes, vegetables, meat — it’s amazing”.

The idea of goodwill and good food is spreading, too. Another Solidarity Fridge has sprung up in the Spanish coastal town of Murcia.

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