Food Distribution Partner Spotlight – Village at Ithaca

Interview by Nicholas Jayne, April 2021

Partner Organization: Village at Ithaca

Interviewee: Meryl Phipps, Executive Director

Location: 401 W Seneca St, Ithaca, NY 14850

Partner Background:

Village at Ithaca was founded in 2002 on the belief that it takes a village to raise a child. Today, its mission is to advocate for educational equity and excellence for all students within Tompkins County, particularly those who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latinx, come from low-income households, or are otherwise underserved. The organization works toward its goals through strategic community relationships, assessment of local practices and policies, and responsive programs and services (including academic tutoring, emergency financial assistance, and youth identity groups).

For a comprehensive list of the programs and services Village at Ithaca provides, please visit its website.

What is the greatest challenge in achieving your mission?

“Even as we’re doing really good work on the local level and on the individual level, (we) are encountering larger systemic macro barriers to our work,” Meryl says. “All the (philanthropic work) in the world is not going to change the various capitalist structures that are keeping our families and students in poverty, so I think sustaining local commitment and vision in the face of that can be challenging.”

How has the pandemic impacted your organization?

“We’ve actually expanded rapidly in the face of the pandemic,” Meryl says. “We’ve added a youth employment program, we’re currently running a virtual support that we call Village School for kids who are engaged in hybrid learning, we really just took everything (that we had) and started trying to plug the gaps for families and our communities.”

How did Village at Ithaca get involved with FDN?

In March of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Village at Ithaca partnered with FDN to start a weekly food distribution program. The program grew steadily over the spring and summer months, and has proven greatly successful in reducing food insecurity throughout Tompkins County.

What do you enjoy about being an FDN partner?

“FDN is so easy to work with, and they’re so supportive,” Meryl says. “They’re doing the work, meeting their mission, open to partnership, open to collaboration… they really are just a shining example of a local organization that is benefitting our community.”

Memorable FDN experience:

“I think one of the best things about FDN is their network of volunteers,” Meryl says. “Because it is a small community, a lot of those volunteers are volunteers I know from other contexts. So then (I) see them at FDN and (I’m) like ‘of course you’re an FDN volunteer’… that sense of community and that sense of togetherness in supporting our neighbors is really special.”

Little known fact about Village at Ithaca:

Village at Ithaca has long put racial equity at the front of its mission. In recent months, however, other local organizations have reached out to express their interest in learning to work toward this goal themselves. Village at Ithaca is excited to partner with those who share a similar community vision.