Inaugural President’s Prize winner to highlight Unity Fridge project through ‘takeover’ of President Drake’s Twitter

On a small plot of land marked by brightly painted tires used as planters, Maggie Griffin tends to her crops that soon will fill the tables and bellies of central Ohio’s hungry.

Griffin is cultivating her crops – along with her own green thumb – as part of her Unity Fridge program. Griffin’s proposal to create Unity Fridge won the 2017 President’s Prize and its accompanying $100,000 startup funding and faculty support.

The College of Social Work graduate ‘17 will spend her first year as an Ohio State alumna building the program designed to bring food security to some of the area’s most food insecure populations. She plans to strategically place refrigerators in recognized food deserts and regularly stock them with fresh produce for the community.

President Michael V. Drake created the President’s Prize in 2016 to encourage soon-to-be graduates to think boldly about how they can effect positive social change on a local, national or global scale. Two graduating seniors are chosen each year for the prize, which provides recipients with a $50,000 living stipend and up to $50,000 in startup funding to implement their innovative projects.

Griffin was inspired to create Unity Fridge after an experience at a convenience store opened her eyes to food deserts. Further research into food security issues solidified her desire to help and prompted her to submit her application for the President’s Prize last July.

Nearly a year later, with her diploma in hand, Griffin spends a portion of each day at the university’s Waterman Farm, located on the northwest side of the Columbus campus. Waterman Farm is home to the Turfgrass Foundation Research and Education Facility, the Waterman Dairy Facility, the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Research Laboratory and acres of irrigated and non-irrigated plots, among other endeavors.

The Unity Fridge garden sits close to the Ohio State Master Gardener Volunteers garden, for which Griffin said she is thankful for the program's continuous guidance.

Griffin and her volunteers harvested their first crops of the season in mid-May and distributed them to patients at the Columbus Free Clinic on North High Street during the evening on May 18. Sixteen families were given bunches of kale and chard, among other fresh vegetables and fruits, and were provided recipe cards for easy meals containing five or fewer ingredients.

Distributions at the Free Clinic will continue while Griffin works to secure other partners and sites around central Ohio. With the help of public and nonprofit partners, she plans to place five refrigerators, donated by the Hillphoenix company, at strategic areas around the city.

Griffin’s Unity Fridge program has had to be flexible as it has grown; the initial proposal called for the refrigerators to be placed at schools in low-income areas where residents lack access to fresh foods. She has expanded her reach to other nonprofits and organizations and hopes to have the new distribution sites open soon, since her summer crops – squash, tomatoes, peppers and watermelons – are now in the ground.

As Griffin continues to cultivate Unity Fridge, applications for the 2018 President’s Prize are being accepted. Two virtual information sessions are scheduled this month prior to the July 14 application deadline. For more information and to RSVP for an information session, click here.