Friendship and Feeding the Community

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Tompkins Weekly 12-16-13

By L. B. Myers

Friendship Donations volunteers bring fresh food daily to where it’s needed most. Here’s why they do it.

Every day thousands of people in our community who might otherwise have gone hungry are enjoying bountiful meals made with fresh, healthy food thanks to Friendship Donations Network and its crew of 235 dedicated volunteers.

These volunteers “rescue” about 1,500 pounds of food every day from participating supermarkets, stores and farms. Wilted, torn, or otherwise considered not saleable, the food might have been trucked to local landfills had it not been for the work on FDN’s founder, Sara Pines.

Twenty-five years ago Pines recognized that many neighbors could not afford to feed their families. Eventually she persuaded Wegmans and other local stores and farms to donate their day-old food instead of throwing it away. She then worked with local food pantries to develop a strong network of volunteers to pick up and redistribute it.

Today FDN is run by a board, and has a part-time paid coordinator, Meaghan Sheehan Rosen. But it remains low-key, low cost, and highly focused on the best ways to do its important work of reducing food waste and alleviating hunger.

About 2,100 people a week and their families depend on the food that FDN volunteers collect and distribute daily to 30 food pantries and other meal providers in our area, including community hot meals, children’s programs and outreach programs to homebound seniors and the rural poor.  For many, FDN is the only food resource.

“Carrying on the work of FDN affirms for me that I live in a community that cares about our most vulnerable neighbors,” says organization president Jane Mt. Pleasant.

“It’s very satisfying to be doing something you know is meeting someone’s need,” says Holly Henry, who assists with the weekly food pickup from the Wegmans loading dock and its distribution. “I’m fortunate to be helping and lucky to be part of the Friendship Donations program.

Phyl Brown, who at 85 is one of FDN’s oldest volunteers, also picks up food weekly from that loading dock with her husband, Archie, says: “We enjoy being part of the local ‘food chain,‘ and it’s a good way for us to contribute to the community.”

FDN’s youngest volunteer, Talya Champion, 15, helps sort weekly donations of perishable and non-perishable food to be stored in FDN’s new space in the Just Be Cause Center at 1013 W. State/MLK Jr. St., and distributed later, as needed. She wants to spread the word about how important alleviating hunger in our community is and how essential volunteers are to FDN’s success. “There’s always something that can be done, if you want to help out,” she says.

Paul Van Leuken picks up and distributes food donations weekly and also is on call to collect unexpected donations. “One time I had 17 crates of chocolate milk and orange juice in my car,” he recalls.

Rescuing food and preventing it from going to waste by taking it to where it’s needed makes him feel good. “I can’t save the world, but together we [volunteers] might have an impact,” he says.

Linda Storrer, another volunteer who sorts food on the Wegmans loading dock and delivers it to area pantries, says: “I’ve always been opposed to the waste of food in our society, but I didn’t know about FDN until I read about it in the paper a few years ago.”

She now also serves on FDN’s Operations Committee. “It’s very fulfilling,” she says. “Everyone has such dedication, and people consistently come up with great ideas, such as our Neighborhood Food Hubs.” The program allows backyard gardeners to donate their excess produce to food pantries by dropping it off at convenient collection points during the growing season.

FDN board member Mike Charnoky has hosted a food hub on his Fall Creek home’s porch and set up FDN’s telephone system — a single phone number that reaches each volunteer on call. He also built and manages the organization’s web site. “Volunteering with FDN makes me feel like I’m contributing to the greater good,” he says. “Plus I enjoy the amazing people I meet through it.”

New this December is an extension of the Neighborhood Food Hubs program, Holiday Hubs, which helps people donate food during the holiday season. Any food they grow or purchase, with the emphasis on “fresh,” is welcome – from turkeys to cranberries to sweet potatoes. Drop-off dates are Saturday, Dec. 14, through Monday, Dec. 23, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 222 East Falls St. and 411 North Cayuga St., Ithaca.

Questions? See, call (607) 216-9522 or email <>.

L.B. Myers is a Friendship Donations Network volunteer.

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