What makes Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen so great? We asked. They answered.

It has been more than two months since Foodlink’s kitchen staff made the move from Joseph Avenue to its new Community Kitchen on Mt. Read Boulevard. This is a dream come true for the entire organization, but especially for the employees who get to work with the new equipment and space each day. It has completely revolutionized the way we prepare food for this community.

Learn more: About the project and how you can help

Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing Supervisor, Moses Ulom, chatted with a few of his colleagues about the new space and what it has meant for their daily routine. The staff was happy to share their experiences since move-in day in December. Here’s what they had to say:

Josh Orsini, Prep Cook

“The new ovens are amazing; they have definitely enhanced the way we prep meals,” Orsini said. “Imagine cooking 1,600 pieces of chicken in one oven in a small amount of time and still maintaining the right texture and taste. It gives me joy to know the kids are receiving good quality food.”

Prep Cook Josh Orsini.

Andrae Lenear, Production Supervisor

“What I love about the new kitchen is the setup, with regards to the flow of food and staff. The white walls represent everything clean and ready to eat. While the orange walls represent any unwashed products. This system helps the staff to know what hallway to use when transporting ready-to-eat meals or unwashed products. It also shows how serious Foodlink cares about food safety and providing the highest quality of products.”

Production Supervisor Andrae Lenear.

Jarques Fitts, Expediting Supervisor

“The fact I could load up 20 pans in one oven, to me, is a milestone. When it comes to what these ovens can do is beyond description. For example, I could cook, bake, and roast chicken with the same oven and still achieve an incredible outcome. To crown it all, these ovens are self cleaning. That makes my job much easier.”

Expediting Supervisor Jarques Fitts.

Mary Cook, Prep Cook

“What I love most about the kitchen is the three-compartment stainless tables and working space. Having the space and the tables makes it easier for me to set up my work station without interfering with the kitchen traffic. For example, my team and I could lay out all the ingredients, condiments, and pans without running out of space or colliding with each other.”

Prep Cook Mary Cook.

Cornelio Edwards, Prep Cook

“I love using the tilt kettles and pots. I like how they are set up next to each other. We could have four people working on different meals at the same time. We could make more than 1,000 meals in less than 2 hours. This has cut production time in half. So, when it comes to mass production, I would say we are on the right track.”

Prep Cook Cornelio Edwards.

Wegmans collects $1.7M in donations across 5 states for hunger relief

Wegmans on Thursday announced the totals from its various hunger-relief campaigns it organized across five states this fall. 

The campaigns collectively raised $1.74 million dollars, and nearly 40 percent of that total was donated to Foodlink! 

“We’re grateful for our customers and employees who demonstrate a shared commitment to making a difference in our communities by giving so generously during this campaign each year,” Linda Lovejoy, Wegmans community relations manager, said in a statement. “Every dollar counts in the fight against hunger, and we can’t thank our customers and employees enough for helping us reduce the hunger that exists right in our own neighborhoods and communities.”

The campaign is known locally as Check Out Hunger, which raised $680,817 for Foodlink this past October and November. Point-of-sale campaigns were also held in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Another Check Out Hunger campaign with Tops and other local grocers is underway now. 

In 2016, all Wegmans stores raised a total of $2.88 million for hunger relief through scanning campaigns, and since these programs began in 1993, Wegmans has raised more than $32.5 million. In addition to money raised for emergency food services in 2016, Wegmans also donated approximately 14.5 million pounds of food to local food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens across all of its market areas. 

Eastman School of Music professor shares personal story of growing up in poverty

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, right, with pianist Kurt Galvan.

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, right, with pianist Kurt Galvan.

He asked the audience to picture someone — anyone — who is likely struggling with hunger.

A pause.

Imaginations throughout the pews at Third Presbyterian Church on Meigs Street went to work. Where would the food they just donated end up? Were they picturing a homeless man or woman at a shelter? A senior citizen at a soup kitchen? Perhaps a child nervously gripping her mother’s leg at a food pantry?

One can’t tell for certain whom everyone chose for this social experiment. But I know one person they likely didn’t. The man standing in front of them. 

Anthony Dean Griffey is an American tenor and Eastman School of Music professor who shared his talents at Sunday night’s If Music Be the Food concert to benefit Foodlink. He also shared a moving personal story about growing up in poverty and benefiting from the emergency food system. Griffey, a native of North Carolina, said his parents worked hard in factory jobs, but struggled to make ends meet. He said getting that box of donated food each week was “like Christmas.”

Griffey’s point was clear. Hunger affects people of all walks of life and food banks and other emergency food providers play vital roles in crafting a promising future for millions of children. His professional bio lists an array of awards won, countries visited, performances given, educational attainment and more. He said it doesn’t mention his full journey, so when he gets a chance, he likes to tell it.

And after the storyteller with a gentle voice finished, the tenor with thundering vocals began. He sang Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs and was accompanied by pianist Kurt Galvan. He showed his stunning range, and his sense of humor.

And he showed everyone that the face of hunger sometimes starts somewhere in a food pantry, but may just end up in his home state’s Music Hall of Fame.

Visit the website: IfMusicBeTheFood.com (Next concert: April 30)

 More photos from Sunday night’s performance:

Bonita Boyd (flute) and Nicholas Goluses (guitar) were the first to perform.

Bonita Boyd (flute) and Nicholas Goluses (guitar) were the first to perform.

Third Presbyterian on Meigs Street hosted Sunday night's If Music be the Food concert to benefit Foodlink.

Third Presbyterian on Meigs Street hosted Sunday night’s If Music be the Food concert to benefit Foodlink.

Violist Carol Rodland, right, and a string quintet perform Sunday night. Rodland has organized If Music Be the Food for the past eight years.

Violist Carol Rodland, right, and a string quintet perform Sunday night. Rodland has organized If Music Be the Food for the past eight years.

Busting a few myths about SNAP

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LISTEN: Visit the Connections website to hear Thursday’s conversation

By Eric Lintala

How are SNAP benefits spent in our grocery stores? Do people take advantage of the system? Are recipients eating healthy?

These questions have been the subject of controversy since SNAP, also known as Food Stamps, were permanently re-instituted in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. On Jan. 13, the New York Times posted a front-page story with the headline, “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda.” The article argued that a recent USDA report proved that SNAP households take advantage of the program to buy a disproportionate amount of soda and sugary drinks.

Many articles, including Food Stamp Fables by Joe Soss, were quick with a rebuttal, saying the Times piece was a “political hack job against a program that helps millions of Americans feed themselves.” Many people criticized the photo used to illustrate the story … a shopping cart full of 2-liter bottles of soda (18 of them, in fact) — and not much else. 

On Jan. 19, the SNAP debate reached Rochester when Connections — a WXXI program that airs daily from noon to 2 p.m. (AM-1370, FM-88.5) — devoted an hour of the show to discuss the topic. Host Evan Dawson invited Mitch Gruber, Chief Program Officer for Foodlink, Mike Bulger, Healthy Communities Coordinator for the Healthi Kids program at Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency (FLHSA), and Leverett Copeland, a SNAP recipient and healthy living ambassador to talk about the issue. 

During the conversation, Copeland shared his experience as a father providing for his wife and two growing boys. When asked about SNAP, he said that he is not able to purchase much food from his local corner stores and said that his limited budget impacts his decision of quality vs. quantity. For Copeland, SNAP is for purchasing foods that are needed for the month, not for junk food.

Our newest Curbside Market truck at Foodlink headquarters this winter. The program now runs year-round.

Our newest Curbside Market truck at Foodlink headquarters this winter. The program now runs year-round.

Bulger and Gruber added to Copeland’s point that “The issue is not how people use SNAP benefits … it’s the food landscape.” The food landscape in Rochester is full of food deserts, a USDA term defining “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.” This creates a food supply problem where SNAP households, who want to purchase healthy foods, are not able to because federal legislation has enabled cheap, sugary foods to flood the market. Gruber said one possible solution to this problem is to “have a mission-driven organization trying to help people access food, not a profit-driven one.”

As it turns out, there are mission-driven organizations in Rochester that are fighting for greater access to healthy food. A few years ago, Foodlink started a summer farm stand on the corner of Clifford and Conkey with Project Hope to bring fresh produce to the neighborhood. FLHSA got on board soon afterward, and the two organizations have been working with other non-profits, markets, neighborhoods, nutrition educators, and individuals passionate about bringing healthy food to Rochester and the surrounding county to combat this problem.

Foodlink’s Curbside Market, a year-round farm stand on wheels, was born from this drive and served over 25,000 people throughout Rochester and the surrounding eight counties last year.

It seems unlikely that any drastic change is going to come to the national food system soon. According to Gruber, healthy change is going to be generational. People and organizations are fighting back though. Don’t be afraid to get into the ring.

Curbside Market schedule: Where do we stop?

Helping people avoid ‘Tough Choices’

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For those that struggle with hunger in this country, fulfilling basic needs unfortunately becomes balancing act. 

Do I pay the bills or pay for groceries?

The Feeding America “Tough Choices” campaign this winter (January and February) helps raise awareness by drawing attention to some of the more startling statistics within our network of clients who access emergency food services. 

Among them:

  • 66% of households choose between food and medical care
  • 57% of households choose between food and housing
  • 69% of households choose between food and utilities

Our network of more than 200 food banks across the country helps provide meals so that those in need can avoid this “either or” scenario. 

TCs_housing

Feeding America has an interactive “Facts and Faces” graphic available on its website that tells the story of four people of different ages and backgrounds and how they are affected by hunger. Read more about Jessica, Alicia, Martin and Harold here.

The 2014 Hunger in America study — the largest research of its kind — was localized through funding from the United Way. Other statistics we learned from OUR service area included: 72% of households bought inexpensive and unhealthy foods as a coping strategy to avoid hunger; and 20% of clients had to choose between buying food or medical care EACH month. 

 

When you support the Foodlink, you not only help put a meal on a table, but you also take a hard decision off someone’s plate.

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Curbside Market celebrates its loyal volunteers

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Foodlink could not carry out its mission without the help of so many outstanding volunteers that live among us. They help us sort food in our distribution center, they help out at fundraising events, and they help out with our innovative programs that venture out into the community. 

The Curbside Market, Foodlink’s mobile farmers market, is one of those programs. Foodlink’s “produce aisle on wheels” visits USDA-defined food deserts and other locations that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and sells them at wholesale prices. Foodlink has several staff drivers, but once a truck pulls into a busy location, we could always use some extra hands to assist our enthusiastic clients.

SIGN UP: Volunteer with Curbside!

“I felt it was a good opportunity and there’s no down time,” said Bonnie Crawford, a retired nurse. “You feel very needed and appreciated both by the staff and the consumers.”

When Gary Larsen retired, he started volunteering in Foodlink’s distribution center at the recommendation of a friend. Then he heard about Curbside, and he wanted to hit the road. Now he volunteers Tuesdays and Thursdays and travels to the outlying counties in our service area.

“It’s a lot more rewarding because you get to meet the people that are actually getting the food,” Larsen said. “My favorite places are the senior centers because I got to know a lot of the people that are the regulars. They’re very friendly and kind and appreciative of the products we bring and sell to them every time we show up.” 

Foodlink welcomed Gary, Bonnie and seven other of its most loyal volunteers to its headquarters on Jan. 5 to both thank them and collect feedback about their experiences. Lunch was served, a focus group discussion was held, and a tour of our distribution center and new Community Kitchen followed. The full roster included Crawford, Larsen, Carrie Hoey, Saqrah Houck, Michael Hagelberg, Jean Fleche, Kevin Heberle, James Bonsignore and Patricia Mendicino.

“The Curbside Market would not be able to make a significant, lasting impact in our community without the help of our dedicated volunteers,” said Eric Lintala, Foodlink’s Markets and Gardens (Americorps) VISTA who helped coordinate the focus group.

Lintala said the nine volunteers who visited have logged more than 700 hours of service combined. 

Mendicino said she’s been doing food prep for most of her adult life and got involved because she enjoys getting out into the community, visiting new places and connecting with people. 

“It’s making me feel like I’m doing something good and gives me a purpose,” she said. 

Celebrating another Muffin Day at Foodlink

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What’s Muffin Day?

I realize that almost everything on Earth has a “Day” associated with it. We hear about it on Facebook, or on the local news whenever a quirky or abstract one appears on the calendar. And truth be told, there is a Muffin Day (multiple ones, actually, because Blueberry and Oatmeal apparently couldn’t share).

But here at Foodlink, Muffin Day is more significant. It represents the day — in 1978 — that our founder Tom Ferraro made a public plea for excess food to support Rochester’s local food pantries. The kind folks at Thomas’ English Muffins responded and off went Tom to the factory to pick up a few muffins. 

The donation, however, was larger than he expected. He had to return to the facility with a borrowed school bus, loaded it up, and the rest is history. Abundance was shared. 

So Dec. 19 isn’t just a day to enjoy a muffin or two (although we certainly did), it’s a day to recognize our founder’s vision and legacy. And nearly 40 years later, it’s a day to celebrate how far Foodlink has come as an organization. 

 

Sen. Gillibrand lends a hand at Foodlink

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined Foodlink staff members and volunteers in our distribution center on Dec. 16, 2016.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined Foodlink staff members and volunteers in our distribution center on Dec. 16, 2016.

With hundreds of bags of fresh produce to pack for our partner agencies during the holiday season, several Foodlink staff members joined volunteers Friday to ensure the job got done.

And they got an extra set of helping hands from a U.S. Senator. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stopped by Foodlink Dec. 16 to help pack the bags, which included fresh apples, carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage. The bags are assembled this time of year by volunteers and then delivered to more than 100 of our partner agencies. In November and December, Foodlink fulfills orders for more than 17,000 bags.

It’s one example of how Foodlink is emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables and trying to increase the amount of nutritious food we distribute to our network. Gillibrand, well aware of our recent growth, spoke to the media after volunteering. 

“In just a few short years, they went from half-a-million pounds of fruits and vegetables and now they’re at 5 million pounds, which is incredible,” Gillibrand said. “So they are really making a difference and it’s exciting to be part of something that really cares about people.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand volunteered at Foodlink Dec. 16 by packing holiday produce bags for our partner agencies.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand volunteered at Foodlink Dec. 16 by packing holiday produce bags for our partner agencies.

With the exception of the carrots, all of the produce packed into each bag, which weigh approximately 14 pounds each, are locally grown. 

With the help of staff and volunteers from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 850 bags were packed in the span of just a few hours. 

Before Gillibrand packed bags, she was given a quick tour of Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen. The kitchen staff officially moved from Joseph Avenue to Mt. Read Boulevard on Dec. 5. The senator was particularly interested in our Value-Added Processing program, in which we slice apples for distribution to local children. 

“It’s really exciting how much they’re augmenting the work they do, and getting fresh fruits and vegetables to families,” Gillibrand said. 

Gillibrand said the holiday season is a great time to volunteer, but the need exists year-round. She encouraged everyone to sign up for a shift at Foodlink at some point throughout the year. 

“It makes a difference for families who are food insecure to have this resource here,” Gillibrand said. “It makes all the difference, especially around the holidays.” 

 

Sen. Gillibrand speaks to the media Dec. 16 at Foodlink.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to the media Dec. 16 at Foodlink.

Community Kitchen: One roof, at last

The welcoming committee created this "family tree" and hung it in the new kitchen staff break room prior to their big move.

The welcoming committee created this “family tree” and hung it in the new kitchen staff break room prior to their big move.

 

Foodlink’s operational headquarters and our commercial kitchen have moved around quite a bit through the years. 

Just not at the same time, and never at the same place. 

That all changed, officially, on Dec. 5 when more than 20 Foodlink kitchen staff members began meal production in their new home at 1999 Mt. Read Blvd. For the first time in history, the kitchen staff will work under the same roof as their food hub colleagues. 

After construction wrapped up on Nov. 18, our staff spent time learning about the new equipment and going through an orientation, which included a tour of the entire facility (offices, warehouse and all), on Dec. 2. 

On Monday, Dec. 5 … it was showtime. 

Breakfast was served before the team's first shift Dec. 5 in their new kitchen.

Breakfast was served before the team’s first shift Dec. 5 in their new kitchen.

“Moving into Foodlink’s new community kitchen was an important day for us,” said Chrys Baldwin, Foodlink’s Director of Kitchen Operations. “With careful planning, we were able to transition without missing a meal delivery to any of our almost 70 community partner locations.”

You read that right. On Friday, we delivered meals to dozens of sites out of our Joseph Avenue kitchen. On Monday, we picked up where we left off at Mt. Read. If you’re familiar with working in an office setting, perhaps you’ve moved cubicles or offices at least once in your life. Maybe you recall the annoyance of emptying drawers, going through old files and packing up personal belongings. Wires, most likely, were everywhere. 

Moving from one commercial kitchen to another (the latter of which is 28,000 square feet), however, is a SLIGHTLY larger endeavor. 

“Our staff was well-prepared and excited about the transition, and the entire Foodlink workforce pitched in to make it all happen,” Baldwin said. “Now the hard work continues as we settle in, learn and get adjusted. It’s an exciting new beginning for Foodlink!”

Although the move represents a significant step forward for our Community Kitchen, the project itself is not complete. So far, we have raised more than $4.4 million of the $4.9 million needed to fully fund the Community Kitchen. Learn about how you can support this project on our website

Once all funding is secured, Foodlink — and the entire Rochester community — can begin to realize the full potential of this facility. We will:

  • Prepare and serve more healthy meals for Rochester’s children
  • Promote economic development through an improved Value-Added Processing program
  • Develop a one-of-a-kind workforce development program aimed at hard-to-place workers interested in culinary training. 

Our “one roof” goal was met on Dec. 5. It was one goal of many associated with this amazing project. We look forward to setting and meeting more in the years to come. 

Employees get prepared for their first shift Dec. 5 inside Foodlink's new Community Kitchen.

Employees get prepared for their first shift Dec. 5 inside Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen.

Progress report (November): Community Kitchen construction is complete!

The kitchen’s main meal production room is ready to go.

It’s the time of year to be thankful. And our staff here at Foodlink is certainly thankful that there’s a new rule in place inside our new Community Kitchen.

Hard hats …. Optional.

The construction phase of this transformative, $4.9 million project officially ended Friday. Crews are still around tidying up and tying up some loose ends, but otherwise, the keys are ours. It’s amazing what came together in just under seven months.

Foodlink’s kitchen staff now awaits the first day of production – slated for Dec. 5 – at their new Mt. Read Boulevard digs. Our sliced apple operations (Value-Added Processing) will be on hold briefly as the staff settles into their new surroundings, but it shouldn’t be long until our new VAP equipment is humming along.

Call me crazy, but I think our apple-slicing line is about to replace our walk-in freezer as the highlight of every kid’s tour. Yes, the freezer had a good five-year run. But this equipment, which seems to go on for miles, is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

More: Learn more about the project

A peek inside the Value-Added Processing room at Foodlink's new Community Kitchen.

A peek inside the Value-Added Processing room at Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen.

The third focus area of our new kitchen, workforce development, comes later. We’re thankful to Wegmans Food Markets for guiding us through that process and we’re hopeful that eventually a lucky group of culinary enthusiasts will find our new home as welcoming and promising as we already do.

We tout these three ventures — meal production, value-added processing and workforce development — at every opportunity. Each will no doubt help our regional economy, as well as our region’s most vulnerable populations. But the simple fact that all of Foodlink finally will reside under one roof is particularly meaningful to our staff.

About 20 members of the “Foodlink family” will join us each day at Mt. Read Boulevard. We’ve always needed to schedule two staff meetings (one for the kitchen, one for Mt. Read) to accommodate our staff. That changes next month.

Watching the kitchen transform from a vacant warehouse to this high-tech, mission-driven kitchen has been awe-inspiring. If you don’t remember what the space formerly looked like, check it out here … and here

The construction phase of the kitchen is “done.” But the work, really, has just begun.

 

More state-of-the-art equipment inside the Community Kitchen.

More state-of-the-art equipment inside the Community Kitchen.