How Unity Fridge is growing healthy change in the communities around Ohio State: BTN LiveBIG
Food deserts are a national crisis plaguing the most marginalized communities in our country, as low-income families must rely on cheap and dangerously unhealthy food for survival. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t know about the health risks posed to those who live in food deserts. Until two years ago, that was the case for Ohio State University grad Maggie Griffin.
“One of the issues we learned about in one of my social work classes was food deserts, which is something I didn’t know about,” she explained. “Food is a basic human right, and [food deserts] were literally happening across the street from me. I didn’t feel right turning in my paper and forgetting about it. I knew I wanted to do more.”
This passion drove her to create Unity Fridge, a community garden on Ohio’s Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Lab and Farm that produces over 1,500 pounds of fresh produce to combat healthy food shortages in and around Columbus. Griffin’s idea for Unity Fridge won her the inaugural President’s Prize in 2017, a $100,000 prize given to an OSU student seeking to cultivate positive social change. The honor isn’t lost on her.
“It’s been really incredible. We’re a new organization, but we have the backing of OSU, so we have so many connections for fundraising, donations and volunteering,” Griffin said. “We had a support system from the beginning from the OSU community on campus and through alumni.”
Already making an impact with nonprofit organizations like the Columbus Free Clinic and the Moms2B program, Unity Fridge is expanding to provide produce to three more locations this September on top of the five organizations they already support. Griffin is also looking towards using more of Waterman’s acreage to manage the organization’s growing popularity.
“Right now we have half an acre,” she explained. “Expanding it would be a good first step, and bringing gardens and produce into the communities we serve would be the next step.”
Even before setting foot on OSU’s campus as a student, Griffin knew it would be the perfect place to further her academic career.
“For undergraduate, I really liked that it was different from my hometown,” she commented. “I came from a small town, and OSU offered me bigger and more opportunities, but you can still find smaller communities within campus as well. I found mine through the College of Social Work, which really became my home.”
This strong sense of mutual support and compassion stayed strong after graduating last year. While keeping busy with her work at Unity Fridge, Griffin is pursuing her Masters degree in Social Work from OSU. She knew she didn’t want to be anywhere else.
“What made me stay for graduate school was the College of Social Work,” she said. “The opportunities they gave me and the support they give their students is amazing. I wanted to continue my journey there.”
Thanks to Griffin’s hard work and dedication, Unity Fridge helps bridge the gap between low income communities and affordable healthy produce. Her advice for future OSU students seeking to enter the nonprofit sector is simple.
“Seek out people that inspire you and are experts on the issues you are interested in,” she said. “It wasn’t until I met my project adviser, [Professor] Michelle Kaiser, that I was able to connect to the President’s Award and really seek out the opportunities I needed to grow Unity Fridge. Find that person who inspires you and recharges you.”