The East Johnson Street mainstay provides free fresh food, but complaints put its future in doubt.

When Madison Community Fridges installed a refrigerator filled with free fresh food near the intersection of East Johnson and Brearly Streets last summer, their goal was to feed community members who’d taken an economic hit from the pandemic. But now the grassroots group is scrambling to find a new home after anonymous complaints prompted city citations that hold the mutual-aid upstart to the same standards as established organizations with property. 

The first Madison Community Fridge, a local branch of a national grassroots campaign to simultaneously reduce hunger and waste, received citations from the City of Madison’s Building Inspection division in late March. City officials charge that the wooden shelter around the refrigerator doesn’t meet building codes, and that distributing food in a residential area violates city zoning. The original notice from the zoning department allowed one week to move the fridge, but the city granted a 30-day extension on April 8.The citation was issued just days after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate and emergency order, effectively cutting $50 million of monthly supplemental federal food aid beginning in May. However, Evers has since struck a deal that affords Wisconsin $70 million a month in aid. 

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