[Main photo, above: Students conducting coursework on the Hudson River]

Barnard students have a long-standing practice of public service, from caring for sick animals to working toward ending food insecurities through programs like Barnard Engages New York (beNY). In 2018, the College launched a campaign to reduce food waste that included a new waste collection and compost system. Most recently, with the help of Access Barnard and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Barnard set a goal to build the nation’s first “Circular Campus,” a holistic approach based on circular economy principles designed to reduce waste, emissions, and costs; transform consumption patterns on campus; and increase access affordability for our students.  

Delaney Michaelson ’24 and Maia Robinson ’22 are two of the students who have picked up the mantle to encourage sustainable practices around food. Michaelson, who is interested in environment and sustainability, as well as political ecology, has been addressing food waste and single-use plastic packaging on the Barnard and Columbia campuses for a BUILD project through Barnard’s ThirdSpace@ program. “I decided to tackle the issue by developing a food redistribution program, where I collected all produce — perishable and nonperishable — from students to reallocate the food to community fridges and food pantries in the greater area,” said Michaelson, noting that Harlem is one of the City’s most food-insecure communities.

Halfway across the country, sociology major Robinson focused her attention on her hometown of Evanston, Illinois, after being inspired by the refrigerators that Chicago’s The Love Fridge planted around the West and South sides of the city last summer. “I really loved what they were doing and wanted to do something similar in Evanston,” Robinson said. Robinson teamed up with a fellow Evanston resident to research, fundraise, and form a network of people who helped them to prepare the fridges for the public.

On this Stop Food Waste Day (April 28), read more about Michaelson’s and Robinson’s community fridge projects, below, and how they’re working to help close the hunger gap.  

Delaney Michaelson ’24: Harlem, New York 

Delaney Michaelson ’24

“The idea is that if students can purchase their own, more sustainable and plastic-free products, they can donate all packaged food to people experiencing homelessness who cannot purchase sustainable products. Additionally, I have noticed the food donation program on campus is limited, which adds to the increasing amounts of food waste in the nation, [which is at] 40%. One hundred and thirty-three billion pounds of food and $161 billion worth of food is wasted yearly, and more food reaches the landfill than any other material in our everyday trash, according to the FDA. 

“For the future, I want to extend my project to Columbia’s environmental club EcoReps — where I am the co-chair of the Dining Committee — to continue redistributing and reducing food waste on a community level, through expanding compost programs and food collection to send to community fridges and pantries. In addition, I am developing a website for the greater Manhattan region, where all environmental businesses/programs, from sustainable restaurants to food pantries and composting sites, will be posted on an interactive map to help New Yorkers have access to the City’s sustainable programs in a more accessible format. 

“Overall, my goal is to reduce food waste and make environmentalism more inclusive to everyone. Mitigating the climate crisis needs to be a collective action, and I want to make it as accessible as possible to all community members.” 

Maia Robinson ’22: Evanston, Illinois 

Maia Robinson in front of community refrigerator

“Community fridges are important because they are tangible representations of community care and abolition. They are a resource that shows that community members can help each other, and we don’t have to depend on institutions or the government to do that. Food is a right, and with community fridges we get closer to less food insecurity for everyone. It is also important for abolition, because it puts a sense of trust in the community — like, yes, we will eat this food that is in a public fridge and we trust that this food is safe, because we trust one another. 

“Finding a host for the fridge is always the most challenging part of the process. Many people love the idea of a community fridge, but they don’t want to be the one to offer their space. So we spent months emailing all types of businesses and organizations in Evanston to ask them to host the first fridge. After five months of searching, we finally found Childcare Network of Evanston. Secondly, when a car crashed into our community fridge, that was a low point, because of the months of work that got destroyed so quickly. We were set to open 48 hours after the crash. But the community turned around so fast and has helped us even more than before with managing this fridge. 

“Now we have one fridge that is in use by the community in the 2nd Ward. We have a second one that will be on Howard Street, which is the border of Chicago on the North Side, and a third one coming in the 5th Ward in Evanston, which is a historically Black neighborhood. The second and third fridge will be up and running by early summer.” 

To learn more about sustainability at Barnard, visit:

Watch a video and view photos of campus members, below, from a recent Morningside Park cleanup event, co-hosted by Friends of Morningside Park, Barnard Sustainability, and the Office of Community Engagement and Inclusion.

Earth Day 2021 at Barnard