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Ipswich’s ‘Green Team’ hopes to grow neighborhood fridges in other communities

Poppy Hone, a 6th-grade Green Team member, collects produce at Three Sisters Garden Project's farm in Ipswich.Katie Hone

A group of Ipswich students that has been taking aim at hunger the past year wants to help young people in other communities mount a similar effort.

A year ago, the Ipswich Middle/High School Green Team launched a “Hello Neighbor Fridge” project to expand local access to fresh produce and other healthy foods during the pandemic. Since then, team members have stocked food weekly in mini-refrigerators and on shelves in public places that people in need can pick up for free.

Now the team, which partners with two local nonprofits on the initiative, is offering to donate two surplus mini-refrigerators to other cities and towns that might want to start a similar project. The team also is offering any guidance those communities might need to set up the program.

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“We are really proud of this project and are looking to inspire and engage other communities that are interested,” said Amy Borgman, co-adult mentor of the Green Team, a sustainability program for Ipswich middle and high school students that is an arm of the Ipswich Education Foundation.

“We want this to spread because it’s been so successful in our community,” said Ella Niederhelman, an Ipswich High School sophomore and Green Team member. “It has given people the ability to anonymously get food when they need it.”

The Green Team conceived of the initiative in the fall of 2020 as a way to help the community during the pandemic. The nonprofit Three Sisters Garden Project agreed to supply produce from its Ipswich farm, while The Open Door Ipswich Community Food Pantry volunteered to provide other foods, both at no cost.

The effort launched with food distribution stations — each with a mini-refrigerator and shelves — at town hall and a downtown coffee shop. When town hall closed to the public last December due to COVID-19, that station moved to the Ipswich Family YMCA.

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A new town hall station was installed when the building reopened last spring. For efficiency, the team last summer consolidated its distribution at the town hall location, a decision that made two of the mini-refrigerators surplus.

In addition to Three Sisters and The Open Door, the Green Team also has provided food for the program — vegetables students harvested from the high school’s garden last summer.

Borgman said the stocked foods are almost entirely empty at the end of each week, evidence the program is meeting a need.

“It’s touched the hearts of Green Team members,” she said. “It gives them the sense that there is hunger in the community.”

Niederhelman said the project “helped open the eyes” of not just students but other community members about food insecurity in town.

“Everyone realized that even those who are their neighbors may be struggling,” she said.

“We’d just love to see the mini-refrigerators in use in other communities because this project has been so impactful in our community,” said Ispwich High School senior and Green Team member Ava Borgman, a daughter of Amy Borgman.

Ava Borgman said being able to “to reach out and collaborate with so many in the community to help the town” is part of what inspired her about the project. She said the team is excited about a community meal it is planning next May to celebrate the program.

“It will be a really cool event. People will be able to hear about our project and enjoy good food,” she said.

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Liz Green, executive director of The Three Sisters farm, said her group sees real benefits to the students’ efforts.

“Our mission is food access, really trying to get local healthy produce to people who otherwise face barriers. We want to see food reaching the community in a lot of creative ways. So the ‘Hello Neighbor Fridge’ is a great additional tool in the toolbox.”

For more information or to contact the Green Team, go to sustainableipswich.org.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.