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Fight against hunger in Tompkins County accelerates during holiday season

Photo from this year's Selfless Elf event

Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Just Ithaca, a magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.

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Initiatives to fight hunger in Tompkins County experience notable increases in donations during the holidays due to heightened awareness during the winter season.

Of the more than 101,000 total county residents, an estimated 13,280 are food insecure, according to The Food Bank of the Southern Tier 2013 data. The World Health Organization defines food security as “including both physical and economic access to food that meets people’s dietary needs as well as their food preferences.”

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier is one of the leading organizations in the local movement to feed the hungry. It has 162 member agencies across six counties, including Tompkins. Last year, the food bank distributed $1,777,423 worth of food through its 21 Tompkins County member agencies.

“The holiday season is a very important time at the Food Bank of the Southern Tier,” Jonathan Fuller, the food bank’s community and public relations manager, said. “Like many nonprofits, we receive a significant portion — more than 50 percent — of our annual donations in the fourth quarter.”

The food bank’s holiday season fundraising programs include the Selfless Elf 5K Run/Walk, a Virtual Turkey Drive and a Venison Donation program.

Photo from this year’s Selfless Elf event (Courtesy of the food bank.)

“Each raises funds to help build and sustain hunger-free communities in the Southern Tier,” Fuller said.

Loaves and Fishes is one of 13 food bank-affiliated agencies in Ithaca. While the nonprofit serve daily free meals all year, Loaves and Fishes also organizes some holiday initiatives, such as the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair, held at the First Presbyterian Church and the First Baptist Church on Dec. 6.

Catholic Charities Tompkins Tioga was one on the 56 groups that had a table set up at the event. Although there were five types of gifts that attendees could give to Catholic Charities, the group also works to address food insecurity throughout the year.

“As far as food insecurity in Tompkins and Tioga Counties, we have two employees that are working, and there’s kind of two focuses,” Joshua Clark, director of development for Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga, said. “One is facilitated in SNAP [supplemental nutrition assistance program], which is formerly known as food stamps.”

Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga also facilitates a nutrition education outreach program.

“People think of ‘I have SNAP benefits, you know, I gotta go to el cheapo store,’ but I mean you can go to farmer’s markets, you can go to all these places,” Clark said. “It’s surprising what you can actually make from food that you buy from SNAP, so we help people do that.”

In addition Loaves and Fishes hosting the event, other organizations that work to alleviate hunger in the area attended, including: Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga, GreenStar Community Projects, Ithaca Kitchen Cupboard and the Friendship Donations Network.

Not all local hunger initiatives receive food from The Food Bank of the Southern Tier.

Friendship Donations Network is an Ithaca-based nonprofit that diverts nearly 1,000 pounds of food from the landfill each day and serves about 2,100 people each week. FDN, located in the Just Be Cause Not-for-Profit Development Center, is open 364 days a year.

“Christmas is the only day when the stores are closed, and therefore the only day when we do not pick up donations,” Meaghan Sheehan Rosen, program coordinator at Friendship Donations Network said.

“During the holiday season community groups often hold food drives to collect non-perishable items. We distribute those items to food pantries and other free distribution to people with limited income. We also receive food donations from Ithaca College and Cornell University, food from the dining halls that won’t last until after winter break,” Rosen said.

Past holiday donations from the universities, she said, have included truckloads of fresh dairy and produce.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.