Food Distribution Partner Spotlight: Varna Community Center

An interview with Laurie Snyder. Written by Brigid Higgins, March 2022

The Varna Community Center provides a variety of programs and services for residents within the hamlet of Varna in Dryden, N.Y., including after-school care for local students.

 Laurie Snyder, the chairperson of the Varna Community Association Board of Directors, mentors the after-school program and teaches art classes. When asked what she enjoys most about her involvement with the community center, she said, “I enjoy the outreach, I enjoy the children and the young women who teach in our after-school program.”

In addition to her other roles at the community center, Laurie has also been picking up food donations from FDN every Friday since the partnership between the Varna Community Center and FDN was forged in June of 2020. Laurie’s co-chair, Simon St. Laurent made the initial contact with FDN through Mutual Aid Tompkins toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“FDN’s mission is marvelous,” Laurie said.

Food donations from FDN are left in a large white cooler and a blue cupboard set up outside the doors of the community center so that people from the community can come and take what they need.

 “People in the community seem to have learned that Friday is the pickup day. Starting around noon, a steady stream of people begins to come through,” she said.

Laurie loves the concept of reducing the waste that goes into landfills –– in addition to her work at FDN, she’s gotten many things for the after-school program through the ReUse Center –– and enjoys supporting people that need support. She admires what FDN has been able to do: to gather a lot of food that isn’t getting eaten and give it to those who will eat it.

“We live in a society where so much is thrown away. People won’t buy milk because of the sell by date, but an unopened carton could sit for a week past then,” she said.

There are signs in the food cooler outside Varna Community Center that tell food recipients not to assume that food is bad because of the sell by date on its packaging.

Laurie got involved with the Varna Community Center after she retired from teaching photography at Ithaca College, Cornell University, and the Tompkins County Community Center. She moved to Maryland in 1993 to teach at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she never sold her house in Varna. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Varna Community Center used to host community events, from monthly pancake breakfasts to a free Thanksgiving Dinner. Laurie is hopeful that the community center will be able to host a Mother’s Day breakfast this May and begin to revive these community events. 

Laurie supplements the food donations she receives from FDN with groceries that she buys herself from local grocery stores, and she encourages her community members to do the same. In the Varna Community Center newsletter, they write that anyone is welcome to come and bring food, and they do. Laurie appreciates that this community involvement happens organically; there’s no official organization in this process aside from the FDN pick-up on Fridays and the inclusion in the newsletter. 

“Last night the cooler was empty, today it’s full.” Laurie said. “I didn’t do it, and I don’t know who did.”

Photo caption: Laurie Snyder (wearing purple) shown picking up food from FDN with the Friday morning team of FDN volunteers.