ITHACA, N.Y. — Diners arriving for a free meal at Loaves & Fishes of Tompkins County in downtown Ithaca this summer have been greeted with a welcome surprise — air-conditioning.
For the first time in its 36-year history, the soup kitchen in the social hall of St. John’s Episcopal Church has been air-conditioned this summer. The cool air was not only a relief for patrons but also for the volunteers who prepare 140 lunches or dinners each day.
“It has proven to be a godsend during the recent heat,” said Rev. Megan Castellan, the rector at St. John’s. “The air-conditioning has allowed each guest to cool down, eat and feel like a different person.”
The $30,000 project wouldn’t have happened without the help of Sandy True, who learned last fall that Loaves & Fishes was requesting funding from Community Foundation of Tompkins County to install four commercial ceiling fans.
Directors of the soup kitchen were seeking money to buy the fans because they thought that air-conditioning was cost-prohibitive.
True and her husband Jay, owner of True Insurance, however, decided to contact Loaves & Fishes to explore the possibility of going a step further to assure a more comfortable environment for patrons.
“We thought, ‘What if we look at air-conditioning and fans?’ ” True said. “And that started the ball rolling.”
While the soup kitchen went ahead with installing fans, thanks to donations from several local organizations, True started calling her friends, and within three weeks, she had raised the full amount needed to install air-conditioning.
“There are a lot of people in Ithaca who are very philanthropic if they hear the story and hear the need,” True says. “This was easy. We’re feeding the needy and we’re taking care of our elderly. If people are able to, they step up.”
Since 2003, Sandy and Jay True have had a donor-advised fund at Community Foundation, which allows them to respond directly to funding requests submitted by local nonprofits. Through their fund, they donated $5,000 to the project.
“Nobody thought we could come up with the money for the air-conditioning,” said Rev. Christina Culver, executive director of Loaves & Fishes. “Then along comes Sandy, who said, ‘I can raise enough money to do this.’ We are very grateful for Sandy’s efforts and for the remarkably generous individuals whose gifts made our 36-year dream to cool the dining hall and kitchen come true.”
Until the fans and air-conditioning were installed, Rev. Castellan said it was “insufferable” in the social hall, where temperatures would reach over 80 degrees in the summer because the small stained-glass windows around the room could only be partially opened. “There was no air flow through there, and the kitchen heats up,” she said. “So especially for the kitchen workers, it was pretty awful.”
Besides the help from donors, True added that the air-conditioning project wouldn’t have happened without two local contractors that offered discounts for its services — Pleasant Valley Electric, and HSC Associates, Inc., which provided the air-conditioning. In addition, Claudia Brenner Designs donated its services to develop a plan for the air-conditioning project.
Amy LeViere, chief philanthropic services officer for Community Foundation, said the air-conditioning project shows how Community Foundation uncovers needs in the community and shares funding requests with its donors. “This is one more example of reaching our mission —improving the quality of life in Tompkins County by inspiring and supporting enduring philanthropy,” she said.
Featured image: Provided photo.