Thursday, 02 August 2012 14:51
By Meaghan Sheehan Rosen
On any given day, 364 days a year, dedicated volunteers in and around Ithaca visit numerous local food outlets and producers. They fill their cars with nutritious food and deliver it within hours to food pantries and other sites and programs nourishing local people in need. During August, GreenStar members have a special opportunity to support this effort, which is the work of Friendship Donations Network.
Friendship Donations Network (FDN) supplies food to 29 programs, reaching 2,100 people each week in six counties. Those programs include 14 pantries, 11 outreach sites (including low-wage work sites, mobile home parks, senior housing, and after-school programs), and four free meal programs. Most of these programs rely on donations through FDN for 100 percent of their food — only six of the 29 programs purchase food from regional food banks to supplement what is supplied through FDN donors. Typically, it's the bigger pantries and meal programs that purchase food from the food banks to ensure a supply that meets the needs of their large number of visitors.
The donations that FDN volunteers retrieve daily vary greatly, making it difficult to predict what type and quantity of food will be available from day to day. On average, FDN rescues and distributes 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of food per week, and more on holidays. During the bountiful growing season in the Finger Lakes Region, many farmers generously donate excess produce to FDN programs. Each weekend, at the close of the Ithaca Farmers Market, vendors donate their unsold produce, ensuring that their valuable harvest will end up on somebody's plate, whether at Loaves and Fishes or through a food pantry, rather than in a compost heap.
The mission of Friendship Donations Network is to rescue fresh, nutritious food that would otherwise be thrown away from local stores and farms and to redistribute it to our neighbors in need. FDN strives to provide food that is a healthy alternative to cheap, processed foods high in salt, sugar, fat and artificial ingredients that so many struggling people find themselves buying. By sharing resources with Cornell Cooperative Extension, and thanks to a grant from the Service League, FDN currently provides Veggie ID Cards to pantries in order to make potentially unfamiliar foods more accessible. The cards offer suggestions for how to store and prepare a variety of vegetables. FDN also purchased numerous copies of "A Food Pantry Cookbook," created by the Caroline Food Pantry, to disseminate to other pantries and programs. The goal is to provide people with the tools they need to try new foods — especially the local fruits and vegetables that grow abundantly in this region — so that more people get to enjoy the tastes and benefit from the nutrients even as waste is diminished.
Ithaca visionary Sara Pines founded Friendship Donations Network in 1988 to alleviate hunger and increase access to healthy food for low-income people in the community, while at the same time keeping huge amounts of good food from ending up in the landfill. FDN uses a simple model, one that has been proven to work after 24 years of successful operations. This success is thanks to the dedication of volunteers and donors in the community and is a truly community-driven effort.
Whether you're looking for an ongoing commitment or prefer one-time or on-call volunteer opportunities, Friendship Donations Network is happy to find a place for you! Opportunities include: joining a Working Committee (Operations, Development, Facilities, Public Relations; helping find new food donors (stores, farms, CSAs); starting a gleaning team to harvest unpicked food from farm fields; helping to pick up food donations; helping with the FDN newsletter; or joining our Board of Directors.
During the month of August, GreenStar shoppers will have the opportunity to donate to FDN when they check out at the registers, in any amount from $1 to $100! All of the funds raised will be used to support FDN's efforts to rescue food and reduce hunger in the region. The goal is to raise $5,000, with GreenStar matching a portion of all funds raised this month.
Beyond August, you can help any time of year — you may have already noticed the FDN bin for non-perishable food donations in the entryway of the West-End store. These donations are used to help supplement FDN pantries on days when donations from regular donors are light. Since this ongoing collection began at GreenStar in November of 2011 (thanks to the initiative of General Manager Brandon Kane), community members have contributed an estimated 1,500 pounds of wholesome food.
Home gardeners and CSA members with an overabundance of fruits and vegetables can donate surplus directly to FDN — the fresh produce will be much appreciated at our food pantries. To arrange for pick-up or drop-off of excess produce, call 607.216.9522 or email FDN. FDN can also accept monetary donations directly, as it was granted 501(c)3 status as of July 2012 and is now legally and officially a tax-exempt organization. "Many thanks to Social Ventures for hosting and carrying FDN under its umbrella for the past three years," says Judy Dietz, current FDN board president. "We are very appreciative of Social Venture's support through the years."
Thank you, GreenStar Community, for the ongoing support that you provide to Friendship Donations Network!
Meaghan Sheehan Rosen is Program Coordinator for Friendship Donations Network. Find out more about FDN's work and community food pantries at http://friendshipdonations.org.
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