Nursing students serve up nutrition with community fridge


Residents of Maurice, La., in need of fresh fruit and vegetables, produce, eggs, milk and other perishables essential to their health and well-being can search for them inside a new community refrigerator.

That’s thanks to group of students enrolled in Nursing 340, a community health course at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The course brings second-semester juniors in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences out of typical clinical settings and into communities. Students conduct research and assessments that inform service-learning projects.

This semester, one group of Nursing 340 students repurposed a kitchen refrigerator, installing it outside Landry’s Pharmacy, a local business that assisted the effort. On Tuesday, elected officials, community leaders and residents joined them during a ceremony to officially swing open the door of the community refrigerator. The aim is to provide free perishables for people who lack the means or capacity to access them.

Along with the refrigerator and a place to put it, students will need help making sure it stays stocked, said UL Lafayette’s Dr. Justin Fontenot, an assistant professor in the LHC Group · Myers School of Nursing who teaches Nursing 340. “The community fridge is designed to be self-sustaining via the community, which adopts it and maintains it,” he explained.

Community refrigerators are popping up across the country, including in cities like Lafayette, and towns and rural areas, Fontenot added. Community refrigerators address food deserts, places where some – the elderly, disabled or those without reliable vehicles – have difficulty traveling even short distances for food items. “Food deserts can exist anywhere and food insecurity can affect anyone, especially people who live alone or who have health issues.”

Research conducted by Nursing 340 students backs that assessment. The course, in effect, makes entire communities a “patient.” This semester, 17 students working in four groups adopted Scott in Lafayette Parish and Abbeville, Erath and
Maurice in Vermilion Parish.

In each, students perform assessments similar to one-on-one evaluation’s nurses might conduct during a patient visit. They identify a specific need based on interviews with elected leaders, health care providers and residents.

Mackenzie Lynd, a nursing major from South Point, Ohio, was among the group of students who assessed Maurice. Their observations, and data they compiled indicated the need for a community refrigerator for elderly residents, she said. The service is available to anyone, however, including residents facing financial hardship.

Students concluded that a longstanding population of elderly residents in the town have been joined by an influx of younger families in recent years. According to U.S. Census data, Maurice’s population of 964 residents in 2010 had jumped to 2,118 residents by 2020. Last year, it was officially recognized as a town, a designation for Louisiana communities of 1,000 to 5,000 residents.

“Maurice, because of its proximity to Lafayette, is developing. So, there’s a balance of people who will be able to use the fridge and people who can take care of it, picking up a few things when they’re at the grocery store and dropping them off on their way home,” Lynd explained.

Once students ascertained the viability of a community fridge, the pharmacy was one of several places they approached about serving as a host site for their donated model. “Elderly people getting a ride to pick up medication – or someone who’s running errands for them – can access the fridge at the same time.”

Photo caption: UL Lafayette nursing students have installed a community refrigerator in Maurice, La., that provides free perishables essential to the health and well-being of people who lack access to them. Students, from left, are Payton Miller, Mackenzie Lynd, Zahria Lloyd and Carrington Neveaux. Photo credit: UL Lafayette College of Nursing & Health Sciences