Friendship Donations: Most Sustainable Act in Town

Tompkins community lends helping hand
Network of charities distributes food, clothes, more

By Stacey Shackford • • December 24, 2009, 8:25 pm

When the phone rang, Sara Pines was ready.
Although she spent days waiting in anticipation, she had only half an hour to act when the call from Cornell University’s Dining Services finally came last Friday. A big truck full of food was ready, and several more were on their way, carrying thousands of pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, juice, bread and even pie.
It was then her job to contact her network of local food pantries, who sent representatives to collect the generous end-of-term donation.

After 21 years at the helm of the Friendship Donations Network, Pines is a pro.

“We have no trouble distributing huge amounts of food,” she said.

And in Tompkins County, she’ll have no trouble getting huge numbers of donations.

One day, it’ll be 55 cases of organic yogurt donated by a local store. The next day, it’ll be 1,500 pounds of squash brought in by a nearby farmer. Supermarkets are regular donors, as are many restaurants and the colleges.
If it wasn’t for her group, manned and funded primarily through volunteers, most of the food would be thrown out. Instead, it is rescued and distributed to 26 hunger programs throughout Tompkins County, serving around 2,200 people per week.

Pines estimates they save 700,000 pounds of food a year, worth at least $2 million. Then there’s the $45 per ton it would have cost to dump the food into a landfill.

“We are the most sustainable act in town,” Pines said.
Not only is the food used to stock emergency pantries, volunteers also take boxes to trailer parks, elderly housing units and low-wage work sites.

“Due to the effects of the recession, many more are unable to afford the basic necessities,” Pines said. “Some rural families that FDN serves were surviving on cat food until they found a pantry. Many children ate only one nutritious meal a day, their school lunch. Seniors had to choose between paying for food, rent or medicine until they found a pantry.”

Tompkins charities looking ahead to another tough year
By Liz Lawyer • • December 30, 2009, 6:55 pm

Aid agencies that have seen a sharp increase in demand for their services this year expect to see the need continue or increase in the new year.

Many agencies providing food, housing or other aid services in Tompkins County were met with more requests for aid in 2009 than in 2008. However, many said they have been able to keep up with the demand.

Nationally, the 400 largest charities expect giving to decline by a median of 9 percent this year, according to a survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a trade publication.

Sara Pines, founder of Friendship Donations Network in Ithaca, said need has gone up dramatically, but her agency has been able to keep up with it thanks to generous donations. But with low-wage jobs, possible more layoffs, rising food costs and lack of rural transportation, hunger will continue, she expects.
“I see the need increasing enormously (in 2010) because the economy is in shambles,” Pines said. “Fifty million people are currently poor,” Pines said. “In the Tompkins County economy there are many, many low wage jobs … consequently, we have a hunger problem. The poor in rural areas can’t afford to get transportation to food pantries and to work. Cornell is talking about more jobs that will be lost, and industry is talking about jobs that will be lost. We’re heading into a very sad situation, and food costs are rising. So more and more people who never visited a pantry, don’t want to visit pantry, and feel that it’s a tremendous indignity are not going to have any choices.”