Rochester refugees to Foodlink: ‘You have made it a little easier for us’

Foodlink has strengthened its connection to Rochester’s refugee community thanks to its recent engagement with the Office of Adult & Career Education Services (OACES) of the Rochester City School District. 

In March, Finger Lakes Eat Smart New York nutrition educators held and event to introduce themselves to the office and help promote the Curbside Market. After a brief food demo with nearly 300 OACES students, educators Iluminada Vilca (a Monroe County nutritionist) and Margaret Liljedahl (who is based out of Foodlink’s office) began working with a class of adult English-language learners from all over the world. They held six classes that addressed topics such as whole grains, fats and label reading. 

“The students were incredibly engaged and curious during each workshop and always asked phenomenal questions,” Liljedahl said. “I could tell that they were really applying the new information in their everyday lives.”

The food landscape in the United States is far different than most of their native countries, with plethora options — many of which aren’t very nutritious. The class spent time talking about how to carefully select the right foods.

“It was a new and interesting experience for me to be able to help equip people who are pretty new to this country with the skills to discern fact from fiction when looking at food labels and to make sense of the nutrition facts panel,” Liljedahl said.

The class was wholly supportive of Foodlink’s mission, and loved the nutrition classes and visits from the Curbside crew. They ended up writing a lovely Thank You note to the staff, part of which read:

“We are refugees who have a difficult time starting out a new life in the United States, but you have made it a little easier for us. We hope that you will continue this service next year to help those who come after us. Thank you for caring for us.”

Some additional testimonials from class members:

“These nutrition lessons were very interesting. It is good education and a new experience.”

“In my country, the food that’s available is more healthy. Here in America there is so much fat and sodium and sugar everywhere. It is important to know how to pick the healthy foods and I learned how to do that in our lessons.”

“I’ve learned about healthy food and which food is good and how much sugar is bad. Also about sodium and fat and whole grains. Thank you so much.”

“We learned about all food types and how important it is to read the ingredients. We need to eat all kinds of foods including protein, fat, whole grains, etc. but we have to pick the right kinds!”

The Foodlink Kitchen honored, celebrated

Executive Director Julia Tedesco cuts the ribbon for The Foodlink Kitchen’s Grand Opening ceremony on June 14, 2017.

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ROCHESTER – It’s been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home.

Foodlink, the regional food bank for the Rochester area, shared its sizeable heart with the community on Wednesday during an emotional ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new commercial kitchen.  

Numerous state and local officials gathered at Foodlink’s Mt. Read Boulevard headquarters to celebrate the 28,000-square-foot facility, which is designed to accomplish three distinct initiatives that take aim at reducing poverty and hunger.

The Foodlink Kitchen will: (1) Improve health outcomes among Rochester children by preparing thousands of nutritious meals for school lunch and after-school programs; (2) Support the state’s agricultural economy by distributing more local produce through its Value-Added Processing Center; and (3) Lift people out of poverty by training hard-to-place workers for middle-skills careers in the food service industry.

NEWS COVERAGE: 13 WHAM | News 8 | RBJ | WXXI 

“Our founder, Tom Ferraro, would be so proud of this day, and this amazing facility,” said Foodlink Executive Director Julia Tedesco. “The Foodlink Kitchen truly represents our commitment to building the health and wealth of this community and is a tribute to Tom’s innovative spirit and vision for ending hunger in our region.”

Foodlink welcomed more than 200 people, including donors, stakeholders, and public officials to the ceremony, which included self-guided tours through the state-of-the-art kitchen. During Tedesco’s opening remarks, she shared the “breaking news” that thanks to an additional $200,000 gift from The Wegman Family Foundation, the $4.9 million project is now fully funded.

PHOTOS: Check out our Facebook album! (thank you to Matt Wittmeyer Photography!)

Danny Wegman and The Wegman Family Foundation made an additional gift to help Foodlink reach its fundraising goal for its new commercial kitchen.

As attendees mingled and enjoyed refreshments, it was business as usual for Foodlink’s kitchen staff, which was hard at work preparing thousands of healthy meals for after-school programs and slicing apples in its Value-Added Processing Center.

“There is an ancient proverb that says: ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,’” Mayor Lovely A. Warren said. “By creating The Foodlink Kitchen, the people at Foodlink are proving that they can do both. An organization with a long history in the fight against hunger is now expanding the scope of that fight by helping our citizens emerge from poverty by learning to work in the food industry. Foodlink is a valued partner in our community, and I am grateful for all they do for our citizens. They are helping us create jobs, safer more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for our citizens.”

Approximately 20 Foodlink kitchen employees transitioned from the old facility on Joseph Avenue to the expanded kitchen at Foodlink headquarters in early December. Meal production did not skip a beat and continued immediately. The staff prepares and delivers approximately 4,000 meals per day to dozens of after-school program sites across Rochester.

The kitchen staff receives a huge round of applause during the The Foodlink Kitchen ribbon-cutting on June 14, 2017.

Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing Center installed its new, automated apple-slicing line in March. This will result in more partnerships with local apple growers and more healthy snacks for children. Foodlink will eventually pilot other types of “value-added” initiatives, such as butternut squash cubes, carrot sticks and cucumber coins.

“It’s clearly evident that Foodlink has placed a greater emphasis on health and nutrition in recent years,” said John Urban, President and CEO of the Greater Rochester Health Foundation. “Healthy food is a powerful building block and has an enormous impact on a child’s life. We are proud to partner with them to help build a healthier community.”

The Greater Rochester Health Foundation’s gift of $650,000 was among the most substantial donations it has ever granted. Empire State Development ($1 million) and The Wegmans Family Foundation ($500,000, plus $200,000 announced Wednesday to close the fundraising gap) were among other high-profile donors for the $4.9 million project.

 

The wall adjacent to the main production kitchen honors Foodlink’s founder, Tom Ferraro.

“For many years, Foodlink has served as the centerpiece in the battle against hunger in the Finger Lakes region,” said Vinnie Esposito, Regional Director for the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office. “We are so honored to help this crucial institution extend its reach even further. The investment that facilitated the expansion of The Foodlink Kitchen will serve to create a hub of regional agricultural activity and job development resulting in a healthier community from which we will all benefit.”

Foodlink’s next chapter, its one-of-a-kind workforce development program, is still in the planning stages, with its first “class” of participants slated for late 2017. The yearlong curriculum will involve a series of intensive trainings designed to prepare an individual for a culinary career. Foodlink aims to welcome in 16 new participants every 12 weeks in an effort to close the skills gap that exists in the Finger Lakes food service industry.

“We know first-hand that there are culinary jobs out there, but there aren’t enough people with the required skills to meet those needs,” said Danny Wegman, Chairman of Wegmans Food Markets. “Foodlink’s state-of-the-art kitchen rivals any commercial kitchen in our region, and the folks who will participate in this program will be well-equipped to fill those job openings.”

Mayor Lovely Warren speaks during The Foodlink Kitchen’s ribbon-cutting on June 14, 2017.

State awards Foodlink $200K to help strengthen, support local agriculture

The Shop-Thru area inside Foodlink’s distribution center will be renovated in the coming year.

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced more than $1 million in state funding to support agricultural development in the Genesee Valley and across the state, with a large portion of that money headed to Foodlink’s Mt. Read Boulevard headquarters. 

The funding approved by the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority includes seven projects, including Foodlink’s proposal to purchase equipment and make renovations that will enhance value-added processing operations at its regional food hub.

“Produce has been an exciting and deliberate area of growth for Foodlink in recent years and we’re honored to receive grant funding through the Market Authority so we can continue to move more fresh, local fruits and vegetables into our underserved communities,” said Mitch Gruber, Chief Programs Officer at Foodlink. 

Foodlink’s application, more specifically, included improvements to the “Shop-Thru” area of its distribution center, where partner agencies visit to pick up their food orders. Foodlink’s goal is to renovate the space and make it more welcoming with the look and feel of a produce section at a grocery store. By doing this, Foodlink hopes to move more, local produce out the door, to agencies that serve clients in need. 

The funding will also help Foodlink invest in more slicing equipment for the Value-Added Processing Center in its new commercial kitchen. Foodlink already has a robust apple-slicing operation underway, but aims to diversify its products in the coming years. By doing this, Foodlink is supporting the local, agricultural economy by opening up new markets, and processing more healthy food and snacks for underserved communities. 

“Agriculture remains a core pillar of New York’s economy, and the greater Genesee Valley region is one of our most vibrant agricultural areas, supporting thousands of farms and agribusinesses,” Governor Cuomo said. “These strategic investments in research, facilities, and training are a key part of the Finger Lakes Forward and Southern Tier Soaring blueprints and are essential to the success of the agricultural industry and its future growth.”

Agriculture supports thousands of jobs in the Genesee Valley, and is one of the key areas of investment in both the Southern Tier Soaring and Finger Lakes Forward regional economic development plans.

The Authority has awarded more than $7.5 million to 67 projects in the Genesee Valley through the Agriculture Development Grant Program since 2011.

Other recent project winners this year include: Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station ($260,000); New York Wine & Culinary Center ($250,000); New York Wine & Grape Foundation ($200,000); Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park Corporation (The Technology Farm) ($84,527); Northeastern Juice Cooperative ($50,000); Western NY Maple Producers ($37,323).

Brendan Tydings, Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority Administrator, said, “The Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority is dedicated to supporting local agriculture. This is a really positive program and we are thrilled to invest in important projects that will benefit the agricultural industry.”

Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing Center.

Foodlink retains 4-star Charity Navigator rating

Once in a while, it’s good to give ourselves a little pat on the back. 

Charity Navigator, the country’s largest independent charity evaluator, recently notified Foodlink that it has achieved a score of 91.26, which translated to a 4-star rating. The annual ratings take into account the financial health, and accountability and transparency for a nonprofit organization.

This is the 9th year in a row that Foodlink has achieved a 4-star rating.

A letter from Michael Thatcher, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, provided some context for the honor. 

“This is our highest possible rating and indicates that your organization adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way. Attaining a 4-star rating verifies that Foodlink exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in your area of work. Only 2% of charities we evaluate have received at least 9 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Foodlink outperforms most other charities in America.”

Kudos to the 80+ employees at Foodlink who made this possible! And thanks to all of our supporters that continue to believe in our organization and our mission.

 

Foodlink and RTS partner to promote healthy living

Foodlink was back at Regional Transit Service headquarters today on East Main Street on Friday as guests of the RTS Employee Wellness Program. 

RTS is a finalist for the RBJ’s 2017 Wealth of Health Awards and Foodlink has partnered with them through our Nutrition Education and Curbside Market programs. 

On Friday morning, two nutrition educators gave a food demo (summer squash and white bean salad) and offered up tips on how to properly store produce. 

A little later, the newest Curbside Market vehicle rolled in and employees were given $5 vouchers to purchase some fresh fruits and vegetables ahead of the weekend.

“Earlier this year, RTS received some grant money from Common Ground Health to help improve blood pressure and education among employees and one of the pieces of that was to partner up with Foodlink and make healthy fruits and vegetables accessible to employees,” said Renee Elwood, Manager of Wellness and Benefits at RTS. 

Celebrate Iced Coffee Day and support Foodlink!

Once again, Foodlink is partnering with Dunkin’ Donuts to celebrate National Iced Coffee Day!

On Wednesday, May 24, Rochester-area Dunkin’ Donuts are donating $1 for every iced coffee sold. Last year, the one-day campaign raised $16,000! There will be a check presentation this Friday at the Rochester Red Wings game. 

The weather looks promising. As of now, it looks to be partly cloudy, with temperatures reaching the low to mid 70s. Cool down with an iced coffee at Dunkin’ and help Foodlink fight hunger!

 

Canstruction Rochester takes over Tower280

Canstruction Rochester’s 10th annual design-build competition officially begins this weekend.

Six local teams will construct giant sculptures made entirely out of canned food with a “Fantasy & Fairy Tales” theme on Saturday, May 20 in the lobby of Tower280 at Midtown (280 E. Broad Street). The exhibit will go on public display starting Sunday.

Presented by Buckingham Properties, Canstruction Rochester benefits our regional food bank, Foodlink, and provides a fun way for local companies, architects, engineers, and students to team build. Since its inception in 2006, the competition has donated more 300,000 pounds of food for local families.

The sculptures will remain up for public viewing through June 2. Viewing the sculptures is free, but guests are encouraged to bring a can of food to donate.

A panel of local judges reviews the sculptures and will present awards in several categories.

Fans of Canstruction Rochester on Facebook can vote for a People’s Choice Award. Winners then go on to compete internationally. For additional event information and photos of past competitions, please visit www.canstructionrochester.com.

Another successful Day of Caring at Foodlink!

Foodlink was once again a host site for the United Way’s annual “Day of Caring” event, a community-wide volunteering effort. 

Foodlink is quite accustomed to handling hundreds of volunteers each week, but that’s not to say organizing more than 100 of them on a single day is a breeze. Volunteers were assigned to our three typical volunteer opportunities — the two food sorting stations and our BackPack Program assembly line. But other volunteers also got their hands dirty by helping us paint and get our urban garden ready ready for the growing season. 

At the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm, volunteers from Paychex, Xerox and Kodak planted veggies (cucumbers, eggplant, sweet potato and more) in our hoop house, and helped set up our drip irrigation system. 

Thank you to those companies, and the others who helped out in our distribution center. They included: Kodak Alaris, Teksystems, M&T Bank, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc., Neilseon, Monroe Co. DHS, Nielson and Harter Secrest. 

Hope to see you soon!

PHOTO ALBUM: View photos from the event on our Facebook page.

 

NY Beef Council urges farmers to give back

This May, the New York Beef Council is leading beef industry awareness month with the return of the “Farm to Food Bank” initiative to combat hunger.

The New York Beef Council, in partnership with Empire Livestock Marketing, Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange, Inc., Hosking Sales, Northern NY Farmer’s Marketing Coop, Inc. and NY Beef Producers Association, are encouraging beef and dairy farmers to donate cattle sale proceeds for the sole purchase of beef to the regional food banks that serve all 62 counties in New York State.

From April 24 through May 31, auction markets throughout the state will assist NYBC in promoting the Farm to Food Bank Initiative. Beef and dairy farmers will have two levels of donations from which to choose, or can designate their own dollar contribution. A single $50 donation can provide meals for 150 people. Each $50 donation will allow the food banks to purchase more than 300 pounds of beef. The donations generated will help ensure more protein will reach families and individuals in need.

In addition to collecting donations, the New York Beef Council will be spreading the message of beef’s role in a healthy diet by providing trainings for food bank staff on how to economically utilize and prepare beef donations. Beef is a high-value protein and often underutilized by low-income families, despite its nutrient-dense value.

Peter Ricardo, Product Donations Manager for the Food Bank of CNY, said: “We continue to be humbled and impressed by the generosity and compassion in our community. We thank you on behalf of the many families and individuals that have a need for our services.”

Find out more at www.nybeef.org. 

Study: Food insecurity rate remains flat in Rochester region

 

While there are slightly less food insecure people in the Rochester area, those who struggle to put food on the table are finding it less affordable to feed themselves and their families, according to a report released Thursday.

Foodlink announced the release of Map the Meal Gap 2017, the latest report by Feeding America® on food insecurity and the cost of food at both the county and congressional district level.

The overall food insecurity rate in Foodlink’s 10-county service area dipped slightly from 12.5 to 12.4 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. Child food insecurity showed marked improvement by decreasing from 20.9 to 19.4 percent. The study also finds, however, that people currently facing hunger are likely falling further behind as they continue to struggle to buy enough food to meet their needs. Food-insecure individuals in the Rochester area now face a food budget shortfall of $514.25 per person each year, up from $492.92 last year.

MORE: Check out the interactive map

READ: Feeding America explains the annual study

Foodlink serves the counties of Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates. Food insecurity ranged from a low of 10 percent of the population in Ontario County up to 13.2 percent in Monroe County. Overall, 156,530 people, including 52,780 children, are considered food insecure in Foodlink’s 10-county service area. The national food insecurity rate is 13.4 percent.

“While it’s encouraging to see numbers improve in some areas, we know there is plenty of work to be done to assist the more than 150,000 people in our region still struggling to put food on the table,” said Foodlink Executive Director Julia Tedesco. “Our mission is to end hunger. We will continue to serve this community until everyone has reliable access to healthy food.”

Food insecurity is defined as a household’s limited or uncertain access to adequate nutritious food. It is assessed in the annual Current Population Survey (CPS) and represented in USDA food-security reports.

Using data from the CPS, the study finds that nationally, on average, food-secure individuals report spending $2.94 per person, per meal. This is a slight increase from the average of $2.89 as reported in Map the Meal Gap 2016. Locally, that number rose from $2.79 to $2.87 based on Nielsen data that factors in the local cost of food and assigns a “cost-of-food index” to each county. That index rose in 8 of the 10 counties in Foodlink’s service area.

The report also shows that 32 percent of the food insecure population in Foodlink’s 10-county service area has a household income higher than the threshold to qualify for SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. 

“That is particularly troublesome,” Tedesco said. “We all know the benefits of federal nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP, and knowing that one-third of our food insecure clients cannot access this vital program is alarming.”

Map the Meal Gap 2017 uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen.

Foodlink is one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network that collectively provides food assistance to 46 million Americans struggling with hunger. Last year, Foodlink distributed more than 19 million pounds of food, including more than 5.7 million pounds of fresh produce. It supports approximately 500 member agencies and offers dozens of innovative food access and nutrition education programs.

“It is disheartening to realize that millions of hardworking, low-income Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves and their families at the same time that our economy is showing many signs of improvement, including a substantial decline in the number of people who are unemployed,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America. “This study underscores the need for strong federal nutrition programs as well of the importance of charitable food assistance programs, especially the food pantries and meal programs served by the Feeding America network of food banks.”

CountyFood insecurity rateEstimated # of food insecure individualsChild food insecurity rateEstimated # of food insecure children
Monroe13.298,83019.131,060
Allegany12.66,07022.82,290
Orleans12.45,25021.81,890
Livingston11.67,54020.32,510
Seneca11.54,03019.51,400
Genesee11.26,65020.32,540
Wyoming11.24,64020.21,670
Yates11.02,78021.11,230
Wayne10.69,81019.64,080
Ontario10.010,93017.74,110
TOTAL12.4156,53019.452,780

A screenshot of the interactive map that details Foodlink’s service area.