Volunteer Spotlight: Robbie Sanders & Nancy Siegele

By Brigid Higgins, May 2022

As an intern at FDN, I have spent every Friday morning for the last few months volunteering alongside longtime FDN volunteers Robbie Sanders and Nancy Siegele. The Friday morning pick-up has become second nature to them both; watching them work so intuitively is incredibly impressive. Nancy and Robbie know what items each community partner is usually looking for and what they can use, and they sort the donations accordingly. Sometimes, they appear to be coordinated without even speaking. Robbie said that this is something she greatly appreciates about the atmosphere among volunteers at FDN: “a lot of the work is intuitive, organic…many volunteers take it upon themselves to fulfill particular roles.” 

Robbie and Nancy have both lived in Ithaca since the 1970s. Working with them and getting to know them over the last few months, I have developed not only a greater understanding of FDN’s mission and the work of its volunteers, but a deeper appreciation for the Ithaca community and a great respect for those, like Robbie and Nancy, who are so passionate about caring for their fellow community members. 

Both retired teachers, Robbie and Nancy have been volunteering at FDN for 7 years and 5 years, respectively. Robbie has been on the board for 4 years. “Robbie hopes to keep social justice at the forefront of everything FDN does. [Social justice issues] really underlie FDN’s mission and everything we do,” Nancy said. Robbie believes that it is important to remember that FDN is partnered with a diverse community, and says that Meaghan Sheehan Rosen, FDN’s coordinator, has worked towards ensuring that social justice remains a primary focus at FDN.

Nancy said she knew she wanted to volunteer within the community after she retired, and she knew she wanted to do something to help with food security and accessibility within the community. She kept seeing vegetable hubs on lawns around town during the summer and realized she could help by picking up food like that and delivering it to where it was most needed. After doing some research, she found FDN. 

Robbie said she found FDN through a friend who was already a volunteer; what she loved most about it, besides the mission, was the tangibility of the work she was doing as a volunteer. On the first day she volunteered, she filled her station wagon with food from the floor to the ceiling, and she was struck by the immediacy of FDN’s impact. She says that every time she volunteers, she’s amazed at how much food is reclaimed and redistributed. “As a teacher for 40 years, I had to wait 10 to 20 years to see where my students ended up. Here, I pick up some food, I bring it somewhere, and someone who needs it gets it. It’s amazing to get to see the product of your effort so immediately.” 

When asked about her most memorable experiences with FDN, Nancy recalled the changes that FDN had to make so quickly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers had to rethink how they used their indoor space and how they handled food, but FDN never shut down and continued to provide food to the community throughout the pandemic, when many community members needed it most. 

Robbie said there is no one single moment that stands out to her from her time at FDN, but just a “genuine positive feeling” among FDN’s community of volunteers. “FDN is truly run from the bottom up, the volunteers are its foundation.”