by Ronnie Estoque
This article was originally published on Aug. 25, 2023. In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, we are republishing a series of inspiring articles and op-eds that highlight the incredible ways in which community giving, generosity, and compassion have transformed lives. These stories are not just narratives; they are testaments to the strength and compassion that flourish in our community when we support each other.
For nearly 18 years, South Seattle resident Juli Cummings has dedicated her time as a volunteer at food banks across Seattle. She’s lived in the Columbia City neighborhood for two decades, and in the past year, she has organized a mutual aid community fridge outside her home for neighbors who are experiencing food insecurity.
“I had the opportunity to start picking up sushi from Costco. We were frequently ending up with extra sushi. And it could be a challenge to find places to put it. So that’s when my partner said, ‘Why don’t we put this fridge in here?’ And so he built the shelter for me,” Cummings said. “We had this opportunity with the sushi and the fridge, [and] we ended up getting an opportunity to get a Whole Foods pickup on Mondays.”
Currently, her mutual aid group, Emerald City Pantry Community Fridge, receives fiscal sponsorship from Sustainable Seattle to help assist in operation costs, which largely come from Cummings. Volunteers in the group often drive to pick up food from local grocery stores, such as PCC, and assist with distribution.
“We started out by distributing a lot of food, and down into South Park there were a lot of immigrants who had fallen through the cracks and were not getting enough food,” Cummings said. “We were able to help out in that area with some pop-up food banks, and they had a couple of community fridges there.”
(A list of mutual aid community fridges in Seattle, which are operated separately from Cummings’ location in South Seattle, can be viewed here.)
Rebecca Corpuz, one of the volunteers, lives a few blocks away from Cummings. She dedicates her time on Monday to help process the Whole Foods delivery around noon, and she watches the fridge throughout the afternoon as people in the community arrive to pick up. She is also currently assisting Cummings in fundraising and grant writing.
“So with all of those rising costs, food insecurity is getting bigger and bigger. … A lot of the people are working and can’t afford food,” Corpuz said. “I mean, the food is fine, and it’s going away. It’s just ridiculous.”
Other volunteers within the mutual aid group are also giving their garage space for food that doesn’t have to be distributed immediately to people in the community. Currently, Cummings, Corpuz, and other lead volunteers within the mutual aid group have contemplated forming a 501(c)(3) organization.
“That all takes time. And it takes money,” Cummings said.
According to Cummings, the mutual aid group is actively distributing food to 20 different nonprofits and schools in the area, including the North City pantry in Shoreline. A few weeks ago, they started picking up food from Krispy Kreme Doughnuts seven days a week.
“We also do a lot of pickups on holidays and when other other organizations are shut down. We’re out there doing the pickups, and we take it, we take the food all over the place,” Cummings said.
Last Saturday, Cummings and other volunteers set up food distribution at the Rainier Arts Center, which included donations from the Madison Market and PCC Community Markets as well as additional pet food and supplies from Mud Bay.
Cummings’ day job operating her own cleaning service has been difficult to balance with the on-call responsibilities of food pickup and distribution. She is hoping that community members can support her efforts by hosting their own community fridges to expand their outreach, or by making financial donations to help offset the cost of electricity and maintenance for the fridge and its shelter area. She has several other refrigerators located on her property for storage of extra food that requires refrigeration.
“I’m digging into my pocket for a lot of these expenses, you know, and the gas money and the insurance. I mean, to go do these pickups, I’ve got that big old 1976 Chevy pickup there, and it sucks gas,” Cummings said. “I have backstock refrigerators so that when we get a load that won’t all fit in there, which is frequent, we have a place to store it. So there’s a lot of expenses involved, and I don’t have the time to do more of my day job to make more money.”
Cummings’ community fridge is located at 5040 30th Ave. S. On Mondays at noon, Whole Foods delivers donated food, and volunteers assist in the collection process while the community fridge is closed. According to Cummings, monitor volunteers assist in ensuring that food is equitably distributed among as many community members as possible, as there had been multiple incidents where the fridge had been emptied following a food delivery. The community fridge is open all hours and days following a food delivery, and relies on an honor system when monitors are not present.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: Juli Cummings opens one of the community fridges to show the stored food. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)
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