A new student-run fridge stocked with fresh produce was introduced to the Lehigh community after months of planning and finding funds.
Students Diana Nguyen, ’25, and Maeve McGowan,‘25, pioneered the project by partnering with the Health and Wellness Center and the Southside Permaculture Park. The fridge offers fresh produce to Lehigh students at no cost, located on the 3rd floor of Johnson Hall.
“The variety of produce we have available at Lehigh isn’t awesome, (and) the options at the dining halls seem to be repetitive, so it’s nice to have a space to change things up,” McGowan said. “Also, many students do not have the money to buy fresh groceries, but it’s important to eat healthy.”
Nguyen said they were inspired by the Health and Wellness Center’s student resource center/pantry which provides students with free access to items including condoms, COVID tests and snacks.
Nguyen said she and McGowan felt students could be provided with even more resources.
Even though the pantry in the Health and Wellness Center is well stocked with health-related items, McGowan said there are a limited number of food items available.
“We thought putting a fridge would allow students to have healthier choices that they might not have access to, or might not have been able to afford,” McGowan said.
Emma Clopton, ‘25, is a Lehigh Social Impact Fellow who is on the team responsible for the Permaculture Park. She said the fridge gets restocked weekly from the garden on 232 Summit St.
Clopton said members of the Permaculture Park are responsible for putting the produce grown that week in the fridge. So far, the team has provided tomatoes, jalapenos, basil, beans, squash and eggplants.
“While our harvest may not really be the most plentiful, we’re just so happy to be able to offer what we can for the Lehigh community,” Clopton said.
Clopton said Nguyen and McGowan reached out to the team last spring semester to ask if they would be interested in putting produce in the Health and Wellness Center.
Nguyen said she and McGowan came up with the idea for the fridge while they were both participating in Lehigh’s “sophomore pLUnge” program.
The program accepts a small group of sophomores to actively participate in connecting and applying high-impact experiences to the Lehigh community.
Those who spend the second semester of their sophomore year exploring their leadership potential and developing their project will receive funding, according to the program’s website.
Nguyen said McGowan and Nguyen initially applied to the program with separate ideas. During the brainstorming process, they both came to one idea: the promotion of healthy eating and sustainability on campus through a student-run fridge.
Yen DeBellis, the assistant director of the Health and Wellness Center, said Nguyen and McGowan reached out and proposed their idea midway through last spring semester.
DeBellis said she already helped to oversee the student resource center/pantry in the Health and Wellness Center, so she took on the project.
“Bringing the fridge into the space would help to expand the Health and Wellness Center’s student resource/pantry area and hopefully get more students into using the space,” DeBellis said.
She said Nguyen and McGowan did most of the work, while she was there to aid communications between them and the Health and Wellness Center, including a project outline and timeline.
The most challenging part of the process was getting funding. Nguyen said they applied to the Lehigh Sustainability Grant, however, it took a lot of back-and-forth conversation until the project finally received that grant.
The project also was able to get funding from the Office of First Year Experience.
Clopton said as the colder months approach, the harvests of the Permaculture Park will become less abundant, but those responsible for the Permaculture Park are currently testing if the plants will transplant and do well in their greenhouse.
In the meantime, Clopton said the team is currently planting seeds for cold-hearty crops in hopes they can be another source of produce for the winter months.
Nguyen said she hopes there will still be a connection between the Permaculture Park and the Health and Wellness Center to provide fresh produce to students after she graduates.