Now entering its second year, the Freezer Project is an initiative that provides a portable freezer containing 30 homemade frozen meals —and the occasional ice cream bar or eclair — to individuals who have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS).
The project, started by trans activist and community agitator Elizabeth Tyler in 2008, is a free service open to both trans men and trans women. It fills a critical gap for people who may not have other options in terms of household support post-surgery.
“The freezers typically go out to folks who are living alone or who are low income.”
The project began after Tyler observed an acquaintance recuperating from a bilateral mastectomy. His recovery was a painful and difficult one.
“After the surgery, he couldn’t open his pain medication. He couldn’t use the can opener to open a can of beans. He even had trouble taking the top off of spaghetti sauce,” Tyler says.
“That’s how the Freezer Project was born. I thought, ‘Hey, someone should do this.’ Then I thought, ‘I guess that person is me.’ It was easy to take action on.”
Prior to surgery, Tyler meets with clients to understand their preferences and needs. They discuss whether the individual has any food allergies or restrictions, such as a vegetarian diet, and they work out the month-long menu together.
Tyler drops off the freezer after the client returns from the hospital and then picks it up in 30 days’ time. In the meantime, the client simply takes a Tupperware container out of the freezer each night, lets it thaw and the food is ready to be heated and eaten the following day. No additional prep is needed.
When it comes to potential clients, Tyler says that she goes on an honour system and wants to keep it that way.
“If someone wants to be a recipient of [a] freezer and feels that they need it, I do my best to arrange it for them. I would not turn anyone down, and so far, the service has not been abused.”
Although Tyler is the one who initiated this project, the wider Ottawa community is now getting involved in the process of cooking and assembling the meals for each freezer.
“The Freezer Project engages the community — it gives folks a chance to help out in a simple and easy way,” Tyler says.
How does it work? Tyler typically rounds up seven other volunteer cooks and asks each person to make a large pot of a specific dish, like chili or stew. They each divide their dish into four portions, which equals a month’s worth of food. A little bit of effort ends up making a huge difference in someone’s recovery.
For the freezer that’s about to be assembled, one of Ottawa’s roller derby teams has volunteered to cook everything and put it together. Amazingly, the food, the freezer and the Tupperware containers come entirely from donations and the person receiving the freezer does not pay for the service.
Beyond it being free, Tyler believes that the Freezer Project offers benefits that services like Meals on Wheels does not.
“[With] Meals on Wheels…there is not as much choice,” Tyler said. “And [they] deliver at lunch time, which is not always the most convenient for people. With the Freezer Project, you create your own menu and have more variety. And we try to keep the contents nutritious.”
Given that SRS is now included under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) — a move made by Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in June 2008 — more people will be able to undergo SRS. And the Freezer Project will undoubtedly grow as a result. In fact, in the last year, the project has served five clients in the Ottawa-Carleton region and more are requesting the service. Tyler is working on expanding the Freezer Project beyond Ottawa.
“The hope is to see the project take off in other cities — I’m trying to spread the word far and wide. I think the program could be applied to many different situations; I concentrate specifically on trans men and women because…there is a need for it, and it is close to my heart,” said Tyler.
“I’m not aware of any other such projects in the world. It is very simple to run, and it doesn’t cost a thing.”
So far, the feedback Tyler has received from clients has been tremendously positive. She has received thank you cards in the mail and heartening comments from recipients.
“People appreciate that it is free and think it’s a wonderful project.”