Paws for a Cause: Meet Eli Zain of Denver Community Fridges

Eli started the Denver Community Fridges as a mutual aid project where people, not institutions, take on the responsibility of caring for one another. Their vision is solidarity, not charity.

Paws for a Cause is a series where we chat with our friends, clients, and peers in our local Colorado community. It’s a chance to check in and see how everyone’s doing in business and life.

Today we’re talking to Eli Zain, Founder of Denver Community Fridges. Since its inception last year, we’ve provided Denver Community Fridges with customized print goods ranging from posters to pamphlets and brochures to checklists.

YellowDog: Hello Eli! Give us the short version of your nonprofit’s mission. What population or cause do you serve? 

Eli Zain: Denver Community Fridges is a mutual aid project aimed at combating food insecurity and reducing food waste in the Denver Metro area. We recognize that food insecurity is intimately linked to other forms of injustice and aim to work collaboratively with community members to meet people’s basic needs. Additionally, we understand that our community members in the most vulnerable circumstances know their needs best. Therefore we do not police how much or how often someone takes from the fridges. There is more than enough for us all. We currently have five community fridges. 

We deeply believe that community work is best done collectively to be successful, so we encourage all community members to engage with the fridges in ways that feel restorative and supportive to them. We are a prison-industrial complex (PIC) abolitionist group that aligns with the movement for Black liberation and restoration of Indigenous sovereignty.

As a side note, a little-known fact is that the Denver Metro area sits on land stolen from the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Ute. 

YD: How and when did your nonprofit start? 

EZ: Our work started with our founder in July of 2020, but we officially opened our first fridge at Mutiny Information Cafe on 12/5/2021.


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YD: What was your journey into your role as founder of this program? How did you get here?

EZ: Though I’m the founder, I don’t think of myself as the head or director of this organization and our work. Every single person is essential to making this program possible. The only reason I have the title of founder is because I decided to start this project. Still, since our group is organized horizontally, everyone has a voice in our decisions!

YD: COVID-19 has been a part of our lives throughout 2021. What have you learned about your organization, and/or how have you adapted in 2021? 

EZ: Our organization was born out of extreme need exacerbated by the pandemic. We began as a crisis intervention service providing packaged and store-prepared meals and fresh produce. Our community wasn’t receiving the service it needed so we stepped in. If this work has taught us anything, it’s that community members can have a lot of agency and impact in their cities if only they put their minds to it! We don’t need anyone to come to save us; we take care of each other. 

YD: What are the top three items on a “wishlist” for your organization?

EZ: We don’t have a formalized wishlist, and we accept many things at the fridges. However, I’d say our biggest hope is that people in our community commit to stopping by the fridges weekly/monthly/every other day (whatever works for their schedule) and make connections with their neighbors.

YD: Describe your organization in three words.

EZ: Dedicated, passionate, and equitable.

YD: Love it! Thanks for sharing your story! 

Now for some friendly rapid-fire questions:

Are you a dog person or a cat person?

I like dogs and cats! Creatures of all kinds 🙂 

Early bird or night owl? 

Definitely a night owl.

Favorite local beer? 

I don’t drink beer, but I love the community events at Goldspot Brewing, and I enjoy all the ciders at Stem!

What’s your best party trick? 

Party trick? Hard to say, but maybe just the ability to store knowledge… haha. I have a lot of fun facts in this li’l noggin’. 

What show are you currently binging? 

The newest season of The Great British Bake Off

Any book you’re currently reading? 

Mutual Aid by Dean Spade and We Do This ‘Till We Free Us by Mariame Kaba.  I recommend both! 

What are you looking forward to most in 2022?  

I’m really looking forward to Denver Community Fridges being over one-year-old in 2022! Our one-year anniversary party is on December 4th at Fort Greene bar from 6-11 pm. Everyone is welcome! 

YD: Thanks, Eli! It has been wonderful to learn more about this fantastic mutual aid project you’ve started! We hope your work continues to spread and thrive throughout the greater Denver Metro area. 

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Jenny Mulligan

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Together with her husband Dan and two labrador retrievers, Jenny wrangles a team of creatives and tinkerers into an award-winning business. She has an abiding love for spreadsheets and designing on Canva.
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