What happens when you return a fridge? For one company, it becomes a donation to a food bank

A blond woman reaches into an open refrigerator

In the past couple of years, unsettling details about where merchandise goes after it’s returned have surfaced, causing many consumers to think twice about their purchases. 

In fact, returns have a major impact on the planet; up to 24 million metric tons of carbon emissions are attributed to e-commerce returns each year.

But sometimes, you really do need to return something because it doesn’t fit your needs, or might even be damaged or out of order.

For some companies — especially those who sell large products or appliances — there must be a different way.

A two-door silver refrigerator. The left door is open and shows shelves full of fresh produce. The right door is closed and has a magnet that reads "Feel Good Fridge: Whirlpool"
Photo courtesy of Whirlpool

Whirlpool has been testing the waters with its Feel Good Fridge program since 2021, which takes damaged or returned fridges, refurbishes them, and provides them to food banks and agencies in need of storing perishable goods.

According to Whirlpool, the fridge units in the Feel Good Fridge program are sourced from customers who return a refrigerator to a store, or from warehouses where an appliance may have been damaged in transit or at another point in its early life cycle. 

These fridges undergo testing, minor repairs, and cleaning, and are then distributed to area food bank programs. Sometimes, parts will be taken from a damaged unit for future use.

A diagram that illustrates the Whirlpool Feel Good Fridge program. Text: How it works: Step 1: Whirlpool Corporation receives returned refrigerators and refurbishes them at our Return Centers, making them look and work like new. Step 2: Feel Good Fridge team works with Feeding America food banks to find local nonprofits and schools all over the country to host these refrigerators. Step 3: With the help of local volunteers, the refrigerators are stocked weekly with fresh, healthy food from Feeding America and other food partners. Step 4: Members of the community visit Feel Good Fridge locations to receive free, fresh food!
Photo courtesy of Whirlpool

Since the program launched, it has donated more than 900 refurbished refrigerators and delivered more than 250,000 pounds of food to partner agencies, reaching more than 25,000 families.

Feel Good Fridge started as a local initiative in Dallas, Texas, but in a new partnership with HelloFresh and Total Quality Logistics (TQL), the program will expand into more cities across the country: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Orlando, Phoenix, and West Michigan.

“Across the U.S., 44 million people, and one in five children, face hunger,” said Pam Klyn, Whirlpool’s executive vice president of corporate relations and sustainability.

“We launched Feel Good Fridge to fight food insecurity in a sustainable way, and collaborating with HelloFresh and TQL allows us to expand our impact in the communities that need it most.” 

A man in a HelloFresh shirt loads groceries from a car to a cart
Photo courtesy of Whirlpool

Together, they have a goal of placing 3,000 refrigerators in the aforementioned cities by 2030. These locations are chosen by prioritizing food-insecure areas with a high concentration of needs.

“Increasing the availability and accessibility of fresh produce and ingredients is a key part of HelloFresh’s mission to fight food insecurity,” said Jeff Yorzyk, the senior director of sustainability at HelloFresh, in a statement. 

“We’re proud to partner with Whirlpool and TQL to help alleviate food insecurity by meeting communities in need where they are.”

TQL will transport the appliances, while HelloFresh will join Feeding America to help fill them with fresh ingredients. 

A palette of HelloFresh boxes is picked up by a forklift
Photo courtesy of Whirlpool

“We started Moves that Matter with the goal of aiding nonprofits by taking the complexity and expense of logistics off of their plate,” TQL president Kerry Byrne said in a statement. 

“It is an honor to be a part of this collaborative effort… to bring more fresh, nutritious food to communities struggling with food insecurity.”

Aside from the helpful donations, Whirlpool also provides service calls to these food bank locations free of charge, or will replace any units that have seen too much wear or damage. 

Very few units in the program have been used in a home or have seen regular usage, though some “factory-blemished models” may be delivered to partnering food banks, according to Whirlpool.

Two silver refrigerators sit side by side, covered in colorful magnets. Beside them is a sign that reads "Thank you Whirlpool donation champions. Your giving keeps it cold"
Photo courtesy of Whirlpool

But the aesthetics don’t matter nearly as much as the impact.

“I cannot emphasize the great impact the donation of the refrigerators have made,” a statement from Stone Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Church reads on the Whirlpool website.

“Our agency is increasingly serving more people and the addition of these refrigerators have enabled us to meet the increasing needs. It truly is a blessing to have them.”

Header image by Kevin Malik/Pexels

Article Details

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