Downtown Phoenix

Phoenix's Community Fridges Provide Food and Water. In the Summer, They're A Lifeline

The fridge by 29th Avenue and Cactus in North Phoenix was packed.
The fridge by 29th Avenue and Cactus in North Phoenix was packed. Mike Madriaga
Metro Phoenix is home to at least a dozen refrigerators where people can grab a cold drink or some food — completely free. The novel concept is much needed during high-temperature months in the Valley.

In 2021, there were 339 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, marking a huge increase of roughly 70 percent from 2019, according to The Guardian. When temperatures frequently top 100 degrees, water is essential.

On August 4, Tammy Broselow and Sheena Williams loaded up community refrigerators in downtown Phoenix.

"Water is the most needed and distributed item," Williams says. "It's tough to function without water in your system."

She and Broselow co-founded Tom's Palms, a nonprofit organization named after and inspired by the giving spirit of their fathers, almost five years ago. The organization works to feed and provide necessities to the homeless population, including water.

"We stock refrigerators at the Social Spin laundromat on Portland Street," she said. "They have two refrigerators outside and one inside."

The laundromat, located at 2418 East Portland Street in central Phoenix, provides cost-effective laundry services and clean clothes for community members.

On May 1, Social Spin connected with Unsheltered Phoenix to create a Heat Relief Program for the summer.

"We are making sure we have our Phoenix location opened up to our neighbors," Social Spin's website says. "We will provide heat relief to our unsheltered neighbors and serve as a drop site for donations."
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The stainless steel fridge at 1245 East Diamond Street
Mike Madriaga
Broselow and their volunteers distribute water and food to this spot, which also serves free meals. The donated meals are served hot, non-spicy, and soft, and provide nutrition for the recipients, which sometimes include families experiencing homelessness. The meals are dropped off before 8:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and feed more than 100 people each week.

Last year, Tom's Palms served more than 6,000 meals and provided toiletries and clothes to those in need. Recently, the organization received a large donation of Delta Air Lines goodie bags to give out. Local dispensaries also contribute.

Nature's Medicines, a dispensary on McDowell Road, provided the nonprofit with a storage space in their parking lot. There, Broselaw meets with food and water donors every Thursday morning.

"We then provide our volunteers with cases of water and food, and our volunteers give the stuff out on the street and in the community refrigerators," Broselaw says.

Some volunteers are drivers for Lyft and Uber, and they pick up and drop off water and groceries at fridges between gigs. Regardless of occupation, Broselaw is always looking for more volunteers.

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Williams speaking with rapper Twista after he performed on stage at the Beat Therapy 2k concert in Flagstaff late last month.
Courtesy of Tom's Palms
Recently, she and Williams attended the Beat Therapy 2k concert in Flagstaff, an event that raised money for the homeless community in Phoenix. Naturally, they handed out water.

At the concert, Williams networked with artists Lil' Flip, MIMS, and Twista. Williams spoke with Twista after he performed his 2004 hit "Slow Jamz."

"I gave him a hug and our Tom's Palms business card," she says. "I'm here to let everyone know about what we do. Lil' Flip might come out to one of our events."

Part of spreading that word includes education. Williams works to inform do-gooders who leave leftovers in the community fridges.

"To protect our volunteers, Tom's Palms helps educate our helping hands with local procedures and laws in place. It is not legal to give home-prepared food to an unsheltered person," she says, explaining the need for a food handlers license.  "You can, however, without a food handlers license, hand out licensed-kitchen prepared food, produce, and perishable items."

Those items can also be placed in any of the community fridges that Phoenix and Tempe have through the Heat Relief Network.

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Williams drops off water and food at community refrigerators by the Human Services Campus at 204 South 12th Avenue in Phoenix.
Sheena Williams
Williams drops off water and food at community refrigerators by the Human Services Campus at 204 South 12th Avenue in Phoenix. The HSC location has two on-campus refrigerators about a mile east of the I-17. In addition, there are four more fridges within a block around the campus.

"There's another one on 1332 East Taylor Street in the Garfield neighborhood," Broselow adds.

We visited two additional community refrigerators last month, which were posted on the Feed Phoenix Instagram page. One was in front of a house on West Wethersfield Road in North Phoenix. The fridge and freezer were packed with both food and water.

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The fridge by 29th Avenue and Cactus in North Phoenix was packed.
Mike Madriaga
Then we visited a stainless steel fridge at 1245 East Diamond Street. It was almost empty. Throughout the Valley, the need for free food and water remains strong.

Phoenix Rescue Mission estimates that in 2022, "more than 9,000 people in Maricopa County have no place to call home." That's a 244 percent increase since 2017.

Broselow estimates the true number is over 10,000.

"We need more water bottles, food, and volunteers for our unsheltered [people]," she says.

Community fridges placed at homes and businesses in publicly accessible areas are one place to start.
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