Progress Report: Community Kitchen update (August)

Inside Foodlink's new Community Kitchen.

Inside Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen.

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For a split second, I lost my tour guide.

While I fiddled with my phone, he walked through a doorway, around a corner and was gone. It was brief and it was uneventful, but it was also telling of recent progress made in Foodlink’s Community Kitchen.

Yes, if you’re looking for a pretty clear indicator of how much our 28,000-square-foot space has transformed in the last month, it’s the fact that one could, potentially, get lost in it. What was once the worst hide-and-seek venue around, is now a maze of hallways, doorways and rooms.

Even better, we’re starting to get a sneak peek at some of the fancy equipment that will help our staff serve up even more nutritious meals and slice more local apples for Rochester’s children. The automated apple-slicing line, simply put, is massive. Although it is still sitting in our distribution center in pieces, one colleague told me it looked like a dinosaur, while another compared it to a dragon. It’s a sight to behold.

One piece of our new apple-slicing line.

One piece of our new apple-slicing line.

The crane at work on Aug. 4 at Foodlink.

The crane at work on Aug. 4 at Foodlink.

And speaking of big, a crane visited Foodlink on Aug. 4 to lift vital pieces of kitchen equipment onto our rooftop. Refrigerator condensers, HVAC systems and other mechanical equipment are now ready to go.

Other new developments include:

  • The construction of our various coolers and freezers, for which 70 percent of the panels have been installed.
  • Most of the walls have been framed, dry-walled and insulated. The last step is what is called “fiberglass-reinforced plastic” (FRP) panels, which are often installed in facilities with a high demand for hygiene and durability.
  • Massive kitchen hoods, which provide proper ventilation, are in place.
  • Ninety percent of all duct work is complete and nearly all of the electrical wiring is done.
The ventilation hoods have been installed in the main kitchen area.

The ventilation hoods have been installed in the main kitchen area.

Foodlink’s Community Kitchen is starting to look like a kitchen. It’s a project that will do amazing things for Foodlink, Rochester, and our neighbors in need. As Chief Program Officer Mitch Gruber put it, “there’s nothing that is more impactful than a kitchen that can serve healthy meals to kids in low-income households and employ people to do that very work.”

(You can listen to those words in the first installment in what will be a series of video shorts from Foodlink staff members on our Facebook page and on Twitter.)

 Watching the Community Kitchen transform month by month since our groundbreaking is a privilege. Even if it means getting lost once in a while.

The opening in this wall is where apples will enter our Community Kitchen. The opening in this wall is where apples will enter our Community Kitchen.

Curbside Market celebrates third vehicle, joins new SNAP incentive program

Chief Program Officer Mitch Gruber discusses the third Curbside Market vehicle and the Double Up Food Bucks program Aug. 16 at Andrews Terrace in Rochester.

Chief Program Officer Mitch Gruber discusses the third Curbside Market vehicle and the Double Up Food Bucks program Aug. 16 at Andrews Terrace in Rochester.

Foodlink’s Curbside Market, which brings fresh, affordable produce into low-income, underserved communities, made a “double” announcement Aug. 16 that will benefit its growing customer base.

At Andrews Terrace, one of the most popular Curbside stops, Foodlink officials and other major stakeholders gathered to celebrate the completion of the program’s third vehicle – a wheelchair-accessible truck that debuted this summer. In addition, Foodlink announced it has joined the nationally recognized program, Double Up Food Bucks, which offers significant savings to customers who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly called food stamps.  

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“The Curbside Market has proven to be the most effective way to make healthy, affordable food available in low-income communities throughout the greater-Rochester area,” said Mitch Gruber, Chief Program Officer at Foodlink. “We are confident that this new vehicle and our partnership with Double Up Food Bucks will allow us to reach more people and provide greater savings to those who need it most.”

After an early-morning downpour, the skies cleared for Foodlink’s announcement, which was moved outside adjacent to the vehicle near the corner of St. Paul and Andrews streets. Many Andrews Terrace residents eagerly listened to the news, as they waited in line for their weekly selection of Curbside’s fresh produce. 

WHERE’S CURBSIDE? Rochester/Monroe County schedule / Outlying counties schedule

Customers get ready to board the Curbside Market on Aug. 16 at Andrews Terrace in Rochester.

Customers get ready to board the Curbside Market on Aug. 16 at Andrews Terrace in Rochester.

The Curbside Market delivers fruits and vegetables into communities that lack access to them. Residents who live in USDA-defined “food deserts” often don’t have the means to purchase healthy food at affordable prices. The market makes weekly visits to more than 60 locations such as affordable housing communities, senior living facilities and federally-qualified health centers. In 2015, the program served more than 15,000 customers and sold nearly 125,000 pounds of produce at 102 sites.

The new truck was funded through partnerships with the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and Citizens Bank.

“We know that our community can only thrive if our residents are healthy,” said Heidi Burke, Senior Program Officer at the Greater Rochester Health Foundation. “This new Curbside Market truck will provide fresh, wholesome food options for even more Rochester families.”

A view inside the newest member of the Curbside Market fleet.

A view inside the newest member of the Curbside Market fleet.

Construction was completed over the summer by M Design Vehicles, which constructs many of the food trucks seen around Rochester. A commercial-grade refrigerator and racking were installed – as was a generator, new lighting and a sink. Customers have access to a wheelchair lift, a wider aisle, and have the opportunity to shop from outside the vehicle for the first time thanks to several outward-facing produce bins.

“We’re proud to partner with Foodlink and are excited to see this new, state-of-the-art truck getting on the road and serving our community,” said Paul Taffe, President of Citizens Bank, New York. “Curbside provides a vital service that so many families in our community rely on and we’re happy to play a role in its growth and success.”

Many of the SNAP-eligible customers who shop at the new Curbside Market vehicle will benefit greatly from the Double Up Food Bucks program, a Michigan-based program created by the Fair Food Network that was introduced into western New York by the Field & Fork Network through a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the USDA. The program doubles the value (maximum of $10 per day) of federal assistance dollars spent at participating farmers markets. The program has now expanded into 19 states.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Foodlink and their Curbside Market program to bring our successful nutrition incentive, Double Up Food Bucks, to the Rochester community,” said Lisa Tucker, co-founder and Executive Director of the Field & Fork Network. “We believe access to affordable fresh foods should be available for everyone. We look forward to what we hope will be a beneficial partnership for the entire Rochester community.”

An enlarged view of a Double Up Food Bucks coupon.

An enlarged view of a Double Up Food Bucks coupon.

Curbside Market, which now operates a year-round schedule, began as a Rochester-centric enterprise, but has now expanded into eight of the 10 counties in Foodlink’s service area. It made its first stops in Seneca and Yates counties this summer. Produce options rotate based on the season and the truck often accommodates requests for special appearances at festivals, fairs and pilot sites. 

“On behalf of the citizens of Rochester, I thank Foodlink for providing even more resources that will give residents greater access to healthy foods, fresh produce, and good nutrition,” Mayor Lovely Warren said. “As we work in Rochester to create safer streets, more jobs for our citizens and better educational opportunities for our children – increasing access to a healthy lifestyle is key to these efforts. Foodlink is making our community stronger by bringing much-needed services to areas of need.”

The market also welcomes Foodlink’s nutrition educators to various sites, so customers can gain tips on saving money and preparing delicious, nutritious meals. The current schedule, which can be found at www.foodlinkny.org, runs through November before it is altered for the winter months.

“Today’s announcement represents not only our vision of a healthy, hunger-free community, but about how far Foodlink has come in recent years,” said Executive Director Julia Tedesco. “Foodlink is our region’s food bank, but we consider ourselves a community food resource center and a public health organization tasked with improving the lives of our neighbors by leveraging food to build the physical, social, and financial health of our region.”

For more information about the Curbside Market, visit www.foodlinkny.org. For more information about the Double Up Food Bucks program in New York, visit www.doubleupnys.com.

 

The new vehicle, middle, pictured with the other two Curbside trucks at Foodlink's headquarters on Mt. Read Boulevard.

The new vehicle, middle, pictured with the other two Curbside trucks at Foodlink’s headquarters on Mt. Read Boulevard.

Celebrating National Farmers Market Week

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Foodlink is joining a chorus of agriculturally-conscious organizations across the country in celebration of National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 7-13).

In recent years, Foodlink has strategically aimed to distribute more local produce to our network of human service agencies and through a multitude of food access programs. Initiatives such as the Curbside Market, Urban Farm Stands and our Garden Project have all contributed to this movement’s success.

Foodlink is also a member of the Rochester Farmers Market SNAP Collaborative, which promotes the use of SNAP benefits at area farmers markets. The Curbside Market joins the City of Rochester Public Market and the Westside, South Wedge and Brighton farmers markets in this important initiative that incentivizes SNAP users to buy healthy, local food. 

This year, the week-long celebration is highlighting five key ways in which farmers markets benefit our country. Farmers markets:

  • Preserve America’s rural livelihoods and farmland
  • Stimulate local economies
  • Increase access to fresh, nutritious food
  • Support healthy communities
  • Promote sustainability

According to USDA statistics, there are more than 8,500 farmers markets nationwide – a 60 percent increase since 2009. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed a proclamation declaring National Farmers Market Week, saying:

“Farmers markets are an important part of strong local and regional food systems that connect farmers with new customers and grow rural economies.”

For more information about how Foodlink promotes farmers markets in its 10-county service area, visit the Food Access page on its website. And get out there and support our local farmers markets!

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Coolcan to show off soccer moves Aug. 20 at Rhinos Stadium

Coolcan relaxing during Iced Coffee Day in May.

Coolcan relaxing during Iced Coffee Day in May.

ROCHESTER — Foodlink confirmed on Tuesday that Coolcan, the coolest can in Rochester, would take his talents to Rhinos Stadium Aug. 20 to participate in the team’s annual Mascot Night

The Rochester Rhinos host the Pittsburgh Riverhounds that Saturday night and will also welcome in dozens of the area’s best mascots. Coolcan, of course, will represent Foodlink and said he’s looking forward to the big game.

“It’s an honor, really,” Coolcan said earlier this week in the Foodlink break room. “I’m probably going to have to do some light jogging, calisthenics and such. But come August 20th, I’ll be ready to rock.”

This is the first of two Foodlink appearances at Rhinos Stadium in a span of a few weeks. On Sept. 10, we have been invited to participate in Charity Night for the Rhinos’ game against Red Bulls II. For each tickets bought via the Foodlink promotional code, $5 will be donated to Foodlink.

For the Aug. 20 game, Coolcan and other mascots will greet fans before the game and participate in a soccer game at halftime. Coolcan is rumored to have moves like Messi. We’ll have to wait and see.