In the back of Bennett’s Books in Deep River is a small pink fridge stocked with milk, eggs, cheese, juice, and frozen burritos and spring rolls, free for anyone who might need them.
Colin Bennett, the owner of the store, got the idea for the fridge after hearing about Freedge, a worldwide network of community refrigerators. The refrigerators are stocked with food donations and are left outside for individuals to take food when they need to.
Bennett aired his idea on social media platforms and started to receive donations from “random people.” He received the donated fridge in March, but because of COVID he wasn’t able to get it set up until recently. Frannie Leigus, who has been working at the bookstore for two and a half months, painted the fridge with the words “Free Food” and “Everybody Eats!” and pictures of vegetables. To surround the fridge, Bennett constructed a wooden shed with a roof and some shelves for storing non-perishable foods.
Bennett said a fridge like this would allow people to supplement the once-a-week food distributions from the Deep River Food Pantry.
“The idea is to fill the need of folks that might be struggling at their convenience,” said Bennett.
The economic downturn caused by COVID has led to a nationwide increase in food insecurity, and Connecticut is no exception. According to data from Feeding America, New London County had a food insecurity rate of 11.8 percent in 2018. This year, that rate is projected to reach 17.8 percent.
Bennett said that in May of this year they collected more than 300 pounds of food for the Deep River food pantry. People who bring canned or non-perishable foods to the store get a discount on books. He also keeps a small wooden cabinet, called the “Little Free Pantry,” at the side of the store, where people can donate or pick up dried or canned goods.
Bennett said that right now, he is keeping the fridge stocked himself, but he hopes to receive donations from community members. They are also looking for volunteers to help monitor the fridge daily, to make sure that none of the food in the fridge spoils.
The store is located at 171 Main Street in Deep River.