Food Distribution Partner Spotlight: Healthy Tuesdays

Groton library’s Healthy Tuesday provides FDN’s donated food and books to its patrons

By Brigid Higgins, July 2022

Every Tuesday at noon, the back room of the Groton Public Library becomes, in the words of one of its volunteers, “a little grocery store.” Food donated through Friendship Donations Network, local farms, and other organizations is laid out on tables, and library patrons and community members are welcome to come and take as much food as they need at no cost. “People can come in and help themselves, like a little farmer’s market.” This back room, including a full kitchen where volunteers routinely host cooking classes, is a new addition to the library. 

The Healthy Tuesday initiative was started by Sara Knobel, the library director, and Ruth Williams, resident of Groton who is invested in grassroots anti-hunger initiatives. When we think of our community libraries, we don’t typically think of food. Sara, who does not have a traditional library background, believes that it benefited her to approach the position “without any preconceived notions of what a library should or shouldn’t do.” She says that when she started working at the library, she “looked around and thought, ‘what does the community need?’ And food is what the community needed.” Groton is a food desert. There are no groceries stores for miles; the only stores in the eastern Tompkins County town where residents can buy groceries are the dollar stores and the gas station.  

Volunteers Carol Jansch, Kathy Howard and Sandy Ferris were all drawn to volunteer for the Healthy Tuesday initiative because they want to help others. Kathy said that reducing food waste was an important issue for her, especially when there are so many in their community who could use that food. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sandy’s concerns focused on families struggling to feed their households. These volunteers believe that they are a team, and each expressed the appreciation for other volunteers supporting the Healthy Tuesday initiative. They expressed their gratitude to Jerry Williams, a community member who drove to the Ithaca Wegmans every week for nearly eight years, and to Camille and Ted and Sylvie and Dalton, two couples who now alternate making the weekly Wegmans trip. 

Every Tuesday, Ryan Black, an information aide and long-time employee at the library, helps set up the tables, keep track of visitors, break down boxes and move leftover food to the fridge or the freezer. Sandy repackages large amounts of food into manageable portions. And all the volunteers shared high praise for Carol’s organization and presentation of the food on the tables. She endeavors to give “a positive experience to someone in need,” and believes it is important that those who aren’t easily able to access food are able to see it displayed nicely so that they have a good experience. “You never know what people are looking for; you could end up having exactly what they needed.” 

Sara says many regulars come to the Groton library’s Healthy Tuesdays. About 25-30 families come each, and many new people are discovering Healthy Tuesdays. Typically, Healthy Tuesdays will run from noon until 2 p.m. Any leftovers are stored in the library’s commercial fridge, freezer or dry pantry. If people can’t make the noon to 2 p.m. hours, they can call ahead, and the Healthy Tuesday volunteers will make up an assorted box of the available food for them to pick up later. Sometimes, for their regulars, the volunteers might have an idea of what they like or what they’re looking for. But in general, Sara says “if they don’t like something they got, they can pass it on.” For Sara and the Healthy Tuesday volunteers, taking care of your community is all about “paying it forward.”