Forest Park Community Fridge opening on Saturday March 25, 2023 | Todd A Bannor

In her online invitation, Forest Park Health & Safety Commissioner Maria Maxham said the grand launch of the Forest Park Community Fridge would take place on March 25, at 1 p.m., “rain (or snow) or shine.”

And, indeed, light snow didn’t stop Mayor Rory Hoskins, the entire village council, Forest Park School District 91 board member Monique Cotton-Yancy and mayoral candidate John Doss, among other notable Forest Parkers, from gathering at the nook on the north side of Mohr Community Center, 7640 Jackson Blvd. The refrigerator is made up of two parts – the actual refrigerator that contains perishables such as milk, bread and eggs, and the pantry containing nonperishable items. 

Maxham said that, while she expects many homeless individuals to take advantage of it, the fridge is open to anyone who is struggling to put food on the table. The village is working with District 91 to let Forest Park families know about the fridge. 

The community fridge was something that grew out of a Facebook discussion among Forest Park parents and other residents. Maxham previously told the Review that the makeshift group – which is calling itself the Forest Park Fridge Volunteer Group – was inspired by similar fridges in Forest Park and Maywood.  Rachell Entler, Hoskins’ executive secretary, and Mohr Community Center director Karen Dylewski got involved as well.

Joe Byrnes, Jessica Voogd, Maria Maxham, Mayor Rory Hoskins, and Ryan Nero inspect the community fridge at the Mohr Center. Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Volunteers will regularly restock the fridge, but anyone can drop off their own donations as well. Aside from the usual pantry nonperishables, residents can donate fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, cured meats, prepackaged bread and pastries, pasteurized milk, yogurt, fruit juices, cheeses and  other packaged foods. All donations must be unopened and unexpired, and residents can’t donate any products containing peanuts, raw milk cheeses, home prepared foods, raw meat and fish products, alcohol and “unlabeled multi-ingredient items.” 

Maxham said that after the Forest Park Library and District 91 “very politely” declined to put the fridge on their properties, Dylewski suggested the community center. Kevin Hibbitts, owner of the Forest Park-based McShane-Hibbitts and member of the Forest Park Planning and Zoning Commission, built the pantry section and the enclosure for free with his son. Volunteers secured the materials.  

Hoskins reflected that the community center, which already helps many “unhoused” residents, was a logical choice for the site.

“We learned during the pandemic that there are a number of people in Forest Park who are unhoused,” he said. “The community center has always done an excellent job, doing a lot with little.”

“I’m really excited,” Maxham said at the unveiling. “The only concern I’ve heard [was] – ‘we’re going to attract homeless people and that’s terrible.’ But that’s kind of what we want to do. But there are also families in schools that can’t afford [to put food on the table].”