Wetting your whistle in withering weather

Some communities are rallying around those who have to work outdoors during the current heatwave. Good Samaritans are setting up refrigerators offering free drinks.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A young man carries a dozen bottles of water to a refrigerator set outside a Lawson store near Caoyang Road Metro Station in Putuo District on Saturday. The fridge was offering free drinks for people who had been working under the scorching sun.

Shanghai is enduring a July scorcher. The mercury hit 35 degrees on Saturday for the fifth consecutive day.

Gao Mingli, 56, a city sanitation worker, felt the heat like everyone else as he parked his bike near an exit of the Caoyang Road Metro Station. He walked to a Lawson convenience store, grabbed a bottle of refrigerated water and left without paying. About the same time, several bicycle deliverymen came to the refrigerator and likewise left with free water.

Their savior is a refrigerator that appeared last Wednesday outside the shop, after word spread online about a shop in the city of Hangzhou that was offering complimentary free drinks for deliverymen, sanitation workers and traffic police forced to work in the heat.

“I saw the video last Tuesday and thought it was really a good idea,” said Wang Chongjun, one of the organizers of the free water. “Why can’t we do something similar?”

Wang and a group of volunteers found a secondhand refrigerator, bought about 800 yuan (US$118) worth of cold drinks to fill it and got the permission of the Lawson store to install outside there. A fried chicken eatery granted power to the refrigerator.

Wang and his team posted a video of the free drinks refrigerator online, and the information went viral. By Saturday, the original video his team filmed and posted on a WeChat account was viewed more than 10 million times.

At the end of the first day, all free drinks in the refrigerator had been taken, and people were showing up to restock it with donations.

Good Samaritans came from across Shanghai to bring water, including second-grader Du Yichen and her grandmother from Minhang District. The young girl even gave a bottle to an old woman hobbling past.

The refrigerator quickly became a symbol of community compassion. People took pictures and posted them on social media.

On Friday, a Shanghai Daily reporter went down to the site at around noon. While there, he saw more than 20 deliverymen take drinks from the refrigerator within an hour. Each took only one bottle.

“A bottle of water doesn’t save me much money,” said Chen Chunlin, a take-out deliveryman with Ele.me, “but I am grateful that people care about us.”

“We went to district market authorities and did the paperwork to make this project totally legit,” Wang explained.

He told Shanghai Daily that his team originally meant to leave the refrigerator unattended, but that became a problem when well-wishers also started bringing soup and congee to put in it. That raised food-safety concerns, so volunteers took turns tending the fridge.

Wang Li, who works in a nearby bank, said she donated a bottle of orange juice.

“When I went back later in the day, I saw it was gone,” said Wang. “I’m glad someone took it.”

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A deliveryman grabs bottled water on Saturday from the refrigerator outside Changning Raffles City, while a police officer peers into the donated appliance. The air temperature that day reached 35 degrees.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The idea caught on. More refrigerators appeared around the city. On Friday, outside Changning Raffles City near Zhongshan Park, staff from the shopping mall put water and watermelons in a refrigerator they commandeered.

Zhang Yanbo from Raffles City said some restaurants in the shopping mall were also offering free mung bean soup and lemon juice to deliverymen.

The staff left a blackboard next to the freezer, where people could write whatever they were thinking. Donors praised the “hard work” of deliverymen, sanitation workers and police. Liu Lian, a deliveryman who has just picked up a slice of watermelon, wrote “shank you” in misspelled English.

“Sometimes people treat me badly if I didn’t deliver their meals on time,” Liu said. “But this proves that most people are very kind-hearted.”

In suburban Jiading and Jinshan, people are also setting up refrigerators with free drinks for those who have to work outdoors.

Of course, there are those who take advantage of the goodwill. On Saturday morning, a Shanghai Daily reporter saw a teenage girl take four bottles of different drinks from the freezer at Raffles City, stash them in a backpack and ride off on a BMX bike.

Lian Pei, another organizer of the refrigerator, said such misuse minimal, and it’s hard to keep a close eye on people all the time. He also said his group had to accept a refrigerator donated by a convenience store after the one they originally were using broke down.

Some netizens have begun to question the motives of the free-drink phenomenon after videos posted on social media seemed to favor certain drink brands.

Wang shrugged off the suggestion of a commercial motive. His biggest worry now, he said, is the volume of donated drinks that are piling up. There’s no place to store all the bottles.

“I received calls from as far away as Hubei and Guizhou provinces, asking me for advice on setting up similar refrigerators,” said Wang. “I told them it would probably be more effective if companies installed their own fridges downstairs.”

Both Wang and Lian said they aren’t planning to make the refrigerators a business and will end the practice later this week, though forecasts still predict temperatures in the 30s.

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