Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Comstock and Vicki Gayle

Written by Brigid Higgins, February 2022

Karen Comstock and Vicki Gayle both began volunteering with FDN about eight years ago when Karen’s friend and FDN board member Carolyn Tomaino asked Karen to join the board. Karen was not familiar with FDN at the time and confessed that she was hesitant to join the board at first. Carolyn promised her that FDN’s board was made up of active volunteers; the board does not simply make decisions for FDN’s staff, they are part of FDN’s volunteer force. As the current vice president and secretary of the board, Karen maintains her appreciation for FDN’s working board.  

“Once she got on the board, you know what was going to happen…I was going to get sucked in as a volunteer,” Vicki joked. They both laughed. “Actually, I couldn’t resist,” Vicki admitted. Vicki said she had been aware of FDN for a long time and knew its founder, Sara Pines, through various Ithaca connections, but she noticed that the nonprofit really grew once the board had been established and developed. Though both Karen and Vicki are retired now –– Karen used to work as an assistant dean at Cornell Law School and Vicki worked as a physical therapist and chiropractor –– they continue to volunteer for FDN. 

Vicki believes that the beauty of FDN’s mission is in its simplicity. FDN has made a huge difference with one very talented part-time director, a swarm of volunteers, and a small budget. The group is nimble and responsive to all kinds of opportunities to rescue food. She says the reward of volunteering with FDN is twofold:  helping divert large quantities of food from a landfill and redirecting it toward people who need it and can use it. Karen agrees that the “tangible aspect” of her work at FDN can be gratifying. Sometimes we all might feel helpless in the face of the injustices that we see in the world, but it is tangible and uncomplicated to take food that is not being used, and turn to someone who needs it and say, “here, eat.” From that perspective, Karen finds it satisfying to be able to provide immediate assistance to people in need. 

Looking back on their eight years with FDN, Karen and Vicki shared some of their most memorable experiences as volunteers, such as gleaning apples at Grisamore Farms in Locke, NY, about a 30-minute drive from Ithaca. “You just grab as many apples as you can carry.” They recalled a pick-up from a Danby farm that had a barn full of some of the biggest squash they had ever seen. A third memorable event was driving home from Taste of the Nation, a local fundraising event to end childhood hunger in our community. For over 30 years, area restaurants cooked immense quantities of food for the gala. After the event Karen and Vicki packed so many stacks of leftovers into their van that the takeaway boxes were stacked on top of the volunteers sitting in the backseat.

In their experience, local chefs and farmers are “grateful because they do all the work to grow it and cook it, so to see it go to waste is heartbreaking.” They’re always willing and cooperative with FDN volunteers. Karen and Vicki say that FDN’s work is a “win-win” for both the nonprofit and its community partners. “The donors are glad to give, the people receiving it are glad to get it, and people get educated in the process. Vendors learn how to deal with excess and people learn that this food is safe to eat.”