Volunteer Spotlight: Sondra Wayman’s Food Rescue Journey

Written by Katie Baildon, November 2020

Sondra Wayman began rescuing food from catered events on her college campus and has kept intercepting edible, trash-bound food ever since. While studying environmental science and music at Allegheny College in PA, she was curious about what happened to all of the leftover food from the many catered events, trustee dinners, and dean’s receptions. Discovering that it was thrown out broke her heart and motivated her to personally transport abandoned food to her grateful classmates and neighbors. She recalls that finding a home for some leftover brownies was as easy as calling the local women’s shelter and then delivering her offering by bicycle, waste averted and treats enjoyed.Ten years later, Sondra’s legacy lives on at the college with the student-run Allegany Food Rescue program. 

A passion for food rescue stayed with Sondra through her travels in Southeast Asia, farming in Puerto Rico, studying for her Masters of Science in soil science at Washington State University, all the way back to upstate New York where she was raised. Once in Ithaca, Sondra found a new ally in her food rescue journey, the Friendship Donations Network, “I was ecstatic to find out Ithaca had a food rescue group that had been going on for longer than I’ve been alive, basically.” 

Sondra found all of the moving parts at FDN intimidating at first, but she now marvels at the efficiency of FDN’s operations and the care the volunteers demonstrate for each other and the community, “The thing about Friendship Donations Network, is that it’s an ecosystem that is self sufficient.” 

In her free time between working as a research support specialist in Cornell University’s Crop and Soil Sciences Section, biking, writing, and playing the pipe organ, she does a little bit of everything with FDN. Although living exclusively by bicycle, she sometimes borrows cars and also partners with car-owners to pick up donations from local organizations like the Cornell Dairy and the Ithaca Farmers Market. During the COVID-19 pandemic she has helped to facilitate safely storing donations in FDN’s space at the Just Be Cause center in downtown Ithaca. One of her favorite activities is gleaning surplus tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and most recently 300 pounds of apples from Grisamore Farms in Locke, NY. In the winter, Sondra also enjoys helping FDN’s coordinator, Meaghan, to create outreach materials.  

Sondra shows off the “pop-up pantry” on her sidewalk that she helped set up during Christmas 2019 when there was so much food being donated to FDN that creative outlets needed to be developed to share it all.

While Sondra’s work at Cornell focuses on researching sustainable agriculture practices, she is mindful of the whole food system and how her work links with food rescue.  She recalls, “A couple years ago, I asked one of the labs, ‘what are you doing with all your peppers’ and they’re like, ‘Well, we give them away to other employees. And then, we don’t know.’” After a couple of months, neighboring lab members knew to begin stopping her in the hall to ask her to “make disappear”  200 pounds of tomatoes and other field-trial harvests that may have otherwise gone to waste. With a little creative thinking and the support of the FDN ecosystem, Sondra has rescued thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables to nourish her neighbors throughout Tompkins County. 

Top photo caption: Sondra harvesting surplus tomatoes at Plowbreak Farm

Update from Sondra, 12/11/20:

“An apologetically homespun video to share my experience making cheese curds from all our surplus FDN milk. All you need is the milk, white vinegar, salt, a towel, and a colander. Here it is on YouTubehttps://youtu.be/xTeMYdsyy4U