A grocery store inside a food bank

Produce on display at Foodlink’s redesigned Shop-Thru space.

In an effort to provide a more welcoming atmosphere for partnering agencies that visit Foodlink, a portion of its distribution center is starting to look less like a warehouse, and more like a grocery store. The first phase of renovations is complete for Foodlink’s “Shop-Thru,” the area designated for local agency representatives to pick up food for their programs. 

For years, Foodlink has given agency representatives the opportunity to access free food items — typically perishable goods with a shorter shelf life — while visiting Foodlink to pick up their regular food orders. The accommodations, however, were not ideal. “Shoppers” entered the warehouse and could pick and choose food from several large totes of goods that rested on various pallets scattered near the doorway.

It was, and still is, known as the “Shop-Thru.” But now, Foodlink is providing a better environment in which to shop. 

Non-perishable goods are sold for 49c/lb at Foodlink’s Shop-Thru.

“Our agencies are able to access a wide variety of healthy foods through our online ordering system, however when most people shop, they like to see and feel the food they’re purchasing,” said Partnership Development Manager Phil Daniel, who oversaw the improvements made to the Shop-Thru area. “This space gives agency representatives the opportunity to access other items – such as fresh produce – at little or no cost in a more comfortable space designed to mimic a grocery store setting.”

Daniel wants local agencies to be aware of the newly organized space, which will eventually expand and relocate to a different area of the distribution center. For now, though, agencies should know a couple basics:

  • Most perishable goods are FREE. That includes all produce, bread and dairy on display.
  • Non-perishable goods, and non-food items, are priced at 49 cents per pound.
  • Protein items (chicken, pork, etc.), which are stored in Foodlink’s walk-in freezer but will be on display in the Shop-Thru, will be available for 49 cents per pound, as well. 
  • The Shop-Thru area is open between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is only available to representatives from Foodlink’s network of partner agencies. 
  • In order to access Shop Thru, agencies must send a representative to one of our monthly Shopper Orientation sessions. These occur on the third Tuesday of every month. Please contact Bryan Stephan at (585) 413-4057 (or bstephan@foodlinkny.org) for information about how to sign up.
  • Shopping is permitted by appointment only. To make one, log-in online through the PWW system, or contact Bryan.

The first phase of this renovation was made possible through generous support from the Kraft Heinz Company Foundation through Feeding America. A portion of the funding from our $15,000 award allowed us to purchase much of the shelving and display units seen in the new space. 

Phase II of our Shop-Thru renovation will happen next, thanks to funding from the state’s Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority

Thank you to all the agencies that help us serve those in need, and share our mission of ending hunger and building healthier communities!

Bread is free at Foodlink’s Shop-Thru.

Non-food items are also available for 49c/lb.

Produce bins give shoppers the opportunity to pick up some free produce.

Funding from the Kraft Heinz Company Foundation allowed us to purchase new displays!

 

Foodlink’s Community Kitchen: One year later

Andrae Lenear is Foodlink’s Production Supervisor within the Community Kitchen.

The high-tech, high-speed doors snap upward in an instant. As visitors enter the new Foodlink Community Kitchen, they are introduced to a new way of food banking.

Dec. 5, 2017 marks the one-year anniversary of when Foodlink’s staff moved from its former kitchen on Joseph Avenue to its new facility, which occupies 28,000 square feet of space adjacent to Foodlink’s distribution center on Mt. Read Boulevard. While the traditional model of food banking helps alleviate hunger within Foodlink’s 10-county service area, Foodlink’s leaders know solving hunger requires more innovative tactics that address hunger’s root causes, such as food access, poverty and unemployment.

Foodlink, in operation since 1978, is proud to be one of the oldest food banks in the country. Founder Tom Ferraro had served on the first Board of Directors for Feeding America, which was originally known as Second Harvest. His legacy continues to drive Foodlink’s mission, and the creation of this kitchen had been his dream for decades.

PHOTO ALBUM: The staff that turns our mission into a reality

“Tom had always wanted us all under one roof,” said Executive Director Julia Tedesco, noting that the food bank and kitchen had moved around town several times, but were always in different facilities. “What we’ve built here is a tribute to his incomparable drive to build the health and wealth of this community.” 

Visitors who turn the corner after entering the kitchen are quickly introduced to its three primary objectives:

(1) Healthy Meals. Foodlink opened its first community kitchen in 2001 with the goal of raising the bar on institutional food service. Today, Foodlink prepares more than 4,500 nutritious meals daily, and delivers them to schools and after-school sites in Rochester. A staff dietitian helps guide the newly formed Menu Innovation Committee, and production staff now has the benefit of preparing meals with state-of-the-art equipment that rivals any commercial kitchen in the region. 

Mary Cook, right, is one of the prep cooks in Foodlink’s Community Kitchen.

(2) Value-Added Processing. Foodlink feeds people, but also acts as an economic engine thanks to this growing social enterprise. A Cornell University study confirmed in 2011 that children would overwhelmingly prefer to eat sliced apples, rather than whole ones (Many adults do, too!). Foodlink took on this Value-Added Processing (VAP) initiative the following year to help many local farms reach new markets, and provide healthier snack options for local students. Soon, our sliced apple operations will pave the way for Foodlink to pilot other processing needs, such as carrot sticks and cucumber coins. 

Earl Whitaker is a production assistant in Foodlink’s VAP Center.

(3) Workforce Development. How do we best serve those in need? By making sure families no longer need us. The best social program we can offer food-insecure people, as Ferraro was fond of saying, is a living-wage job. Foodlink aims to meet this need by launching a one-of-a-kind culinary training program, created to meet targeted workforce needs in the Finger Lakes region. The first class of participants is scheduled to begin training in April of 2018.

A quick loop around the kitchen addresses these main objectives, and visitors are typically led back into the distribution center to finish up the tour – once again through those impressive doors that amaze third-graders and business leaders alike.

“Touring community partners and stakeholders through our kitchen allows them to see first-hand how far we’ve evolved as a food bank,” Tedesco said. “While racks of food several stories high is still an impressive sight in our warehouse, we hope our kitchen has transformed the way people think about Foodlink as a regional food hub that serves this community.”

Quanmain Harmon is a kitchen driver tasked with delivering meals safely to dozens of sites around Rochester.

VP Supply makes $20K holiday gift to Foodlink

This holiday season, VP Supply Corp felt compelled to step away from a decades-old tradition in order to maximize its long-standing commitment to good will.

Their annual turkey giveaway was always a hit with customers of the Rochester-based wholesale plumbing, HVAC, renewable energy, kitchen and bath supply company. This year, however, VP Supply wanted to redirect those funds to help more families in need. They turned to Foodlink.

Secretary/Treasurer Louis Curwin toured Foodlink on Nov. 7, and within a week had already selected a day to join his colleagues for a day of volunteering, and committed to donate $20,000. On Wednesday, VP Supply employees spent the morning at Foodlink to present the check and sort food during a volunteer shift.

“We’ve been around more than 50 years, and my dad, Elliot, and his partner Marv Miller — from the very beginning — had always emphasized the importance of giving back to the community,” Curwin said. “We did our homework and know that Foodlink is a wonderful organization committed to helping those in need and we’re honored to partner with them this holiday season.”

VP Supply Corp has more than 15 locations across New York State, which includes its corporate office in Rochester, and operations in Dansville and Holley – both of which are in Foodlink’s 10-county service area. For sites in other parts of the state, VP Supply has identified nonprofits such as the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York (Albany), the Calvary Food Pantry (Auburn) and the Open Door Mission (Glens Falls) for additional donations.

Foodlink’s purchasing power and 90,000-square-foot warehouse allows it to leverage VP Supply’s donation, and distribute more than 60,000 meals during a critical time of year.

“This is an impressive act of kindness,” said Heather Newton, Foodlink’s Director of Development and Community Engagement. “We are grateful for VP’s support during the holiday season and look forward to growing this partnership in the years to come. We’re also especially thankful for their volunteering help – as we’ve received numerous food donations in recent weeks and need all of the helping hands we can get to make sure it’s sorted, inspected and ready to distribute to those in need.”

It’s butternut squash season! Here’s what you need to know

By Martha Wasserbauer
Foodlink dietetic intern from Cornell University 

With the fall season in full swing, a variety of colorful squashes, gourds, and pumpkins can be found at most markets in the area. Winter squash and pumpkins are often used as decorations to celebrate autumn, but did you know that many varieties are edible and are a great source of nutrition?

Winter squash are high in alpha- and beta-carotene, both of which are forms of vitamin A that support eye, skin, and immune system health. They also contain high levels of vitamin C, which fights free radicals and supports cell healing and repair. Most winter squashes provide around 6 grams of dietary fiber per cup, which provides about 25% of most people’s recommended daily needs. Squash and pumpkins are good sources of folate, potassium, and antioxidants, which help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Edible pumpkins and squash are easy to store and have a long shelf-life, due to their tough and protective skins. They do not need to be refrigerated, but should ideally be stored in a cool, dark environment to give them a shelf-life of at least one month.

When purchasing winter squash and pumpkins, choose squash that have a hard, intact skin without bruises, cuts, or mold. 1 pound of raw squash or pumpkin will yield about 1 cup when cooked and/or mashed.

There are a variety of methods for cooking edible squash and pumpkins. To boil or steam, peel and cube squash, place in a pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil or put in a steamer basket and cook until soft. Try baking squash by cutting in half lengthwise, removing the seeds, and placing in the oven on a baking sheet at around 400 degrees F.

How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash

1. Using a heavy chef’s knife, cut off 1/4 – 1/2 inch from the top of the squash at the stem end.


2. Cut off about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the squash. 

3. Use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the squash. *If you do not have a sharp peeler, you can go to the next step and cut the squash in half. Then, use the knife to slice off the peel while standing each squash up vertically.  


4. Lay the squash on its side and cut it in half at the neck where the squash begins to curve.


5. Place each squash half on its flat end and cut in half vertically. You should end up with 4 squash quarters. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds.


6. Lay the flat side of each squash quarter on the cutting board and cut into 1/2 – 1 inch slices. Repeat with each squash quarter.


7. Cut the slices crosswise into cubes. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will cook. 

RECIPE: Holiday Roasted Butternut Squash

Serving Size – Serves 6, ¾ cup per serving

Ingredients

• 2 pounds butternut squash

• ¼ cup walnuts

• 2 tablespoons canola oil

• 1 teaspoon dried sage

• ¼ teaspoon salt

• ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

• 1 tablespoon butter or canola oil

• ¼ cup dried cranberries

• 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup

 

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Rinse and peel squash. Cut off ends and discard. Cut squash at the neck, creating a narrow end and a round end. Cut round end in half and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Cut both ends into ¾-inch, even-sized cubes.

3. Coarsely chop walnuts. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, add squash. Toss with oil, sage, salt, and ground black pepper.

5. Spread squash evenly on a baking sheet. Roast, stirring once until tender, about 35 minutes.

6. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt butter or heat oil. Add walnuts and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cranberries and maple syrup.

7. Gently toss cooked squash with cranberry mixture.

References

Winter squash. United States Department of Agriculture website. Updated November 8, 2017. Accessed November 9, 2017. 

Swartzendruber K. Enjoy the taste and health benefits of winter squash. Michigan State University Extension website. Published September 24, 2012. Accessed November 9, 2017.

How to peel and cut a butternut squash. Gimme Some Oven website. Published November 29, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2017.

Lucarelli K. Holiday roasted butternut squash. Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters website. Accessed November 9, 2017.

Annual produce & protein distribution: By the numbers

Onions and sweet potatoes line the racks of Foodlink’s distribution center in early November.

Each year, Foodlink provides a free holiday produce and protein distribution to about 100 local emergency food providers. Our warehouse is filling up with mountains of hearty, fall produce and we’re ready to start delivering orders. 

Here’s a breakdown of what we’ll be distributing throughout November and December to 110 pantries and soup kitchens in our service area:

PROTEIN

  • 23,233 roaster chickens

PRODUCE

  • 17,549 bags of apples
  • 18,055 bags of onions
  • 18,328 bags of potatoes
  • 13,840 bags of sweet potatoes
  • 1,825 cases of squash

 

Foodlink provides welcome baskets for families that fled Puerto Rico for Rochester

When a natural disaster strikes, it’s common for food banks to mobilize to meet the rising food needs of a community as rebuilding efforts get underway and lives get pieced back together. 

The devastation in Puerto Rico has resulted in a full-scale effort by the Feeding America network to help the island clean up in the wake of Hurricane Maria. For some, staying on the island was not an option. Rochester, home to an already strong Puerto Rican community, became their new home — at least temporarily. 

The Rochester City School District is trying to welcome these families — about 35 of them –with open arms by inviting them to Saturday’s Latino Parent Conference, an event organized by the district’s Office of Parent Engagement and the Bilingual Education Council. Foodlink was approached with the opportunity to provide basic food items for these families, and delivered those baskets to the David F. Gantt Center on Friday afternoon. 

Volunteers from The Arc of Monroe helped us assemble the baskets on Friday morning.

“We would like to provide some of the families with a few needed resources and we would like them to feel welcome to our district and community,” said Maria Encarnacion with the RCSD’s Office of Parent Engagement.

Foodlink baskets included several staple items, such as cereal, pasta, sauce, peanut butter, raisins and other snack items. Blankets and Wegmans gift cards were also included. Volunteers from The Arc of Monroe helped assemble the baskets on Friday morning at Foodlink’s distribution center. 

“Helping these families was a no-brainer for us,” said Chief Programs Officer Mitch Gruber. “We can’t imagine the hardships that so many Puerto Rican families have faced this past month and we hope these baskets allow our newest neighbors to adjust to life in Rochester a little easier.” 

Since Maria caused widespread devastation in Puerto Rico and Dominica, Foodlink has engaged with local groups’ hunger relief efforts, and has sent food and supplies to both areas. 

Saturday’s event is at 11 a.m. at the Gantt Center (700 North St.), where Latino parents can learn ways to support their children’s education. There will be student performances, door prizes, food and a raffle. Transportation and child care is available if requested. Contact the Office of Parent Engagement for more information: (585) 262-8334.

Foodlink’s Lexington Avenue Urban Farm vandalized

Some plants, such as the eggplants pictured above, were damaged inside the hoop house at the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm Oct. 13-14.

Foodlink staff, volunteers and gardeners are assessing the damage done this past weekend to the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm, Foodlink’s community garden in northwest Rochester. 

Between Friday night and Saturday morning (Oct. 13-14), vandals apparently broke in and vandalized the 1.3-acre garden that provides food for many refugee families in the neighborhood, as well as some of Foodlink’s programs. Sections of the fence were damaged, sheds were broken into and some gardening equipment was stolen, including a weed wacker. The exterior walls of the hoop house were slashed, and several fruit trees were damaged. Foodlink has estimated the cost of the damage at $1,000, however it’s too early to tell just how many of the trees won’t survive. 

HOW TO HELP: Donate to the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm
(On Foodlink’s online donation page, you can designate your gift directly to the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm.)

  

“While we’re discouraged about this weekend’s vandalism at the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm, we still remain very committed to supporting urban agriculture in this community,” said Mitch Gruber, Chief Programs Officer at Foodlink. “This farm will yield more than 5,000 pounds of food for dozens of low-income, refugee families by the end of the growing season. This incident will not deter us from our mission of improving food access for vulnerable populations and building healthier communities throughout Rochester.”

The incident got a significant amount of media attention, which has led to several inquiries from community members about how they can support the farm, and help Foodlink make the necessary repairs. Foodlink is also exploring new security measures, such as cameras, to deter any future incidents. All monetary donations can be made through our online donation page by selecting “Lexington Avenue Urban Farm” in the designation menu.

For those interested in volunteering or if any businesses are interested in donating fruit trees, you can reach out directly to Nathaniel Mich at nmich@foodlinkny.org. 

MORE PHOTOS: Visit the farm’s Facebook page

 

Foodlink partners with MCC, Chamber for workforce training program

Forklift training in Foodlink’s distribution center began Sept. 25, 2017.

MCC’s Corporate College, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Foodlink have teamed up to provide power industrial vehicle training and evaluation this fall to better prepare folks to advance their careers or obtain employment in regional warehouse and manufacturing positions.

Sept. 25 marked the first day of class, which was taught by Foodlink’s Shawn Poutre (Director of Distribution Center Operations) and Nathan Boor (Safety and Facilities Supervisor). Ten participants attended the class. 

This full-day training included both hands-on and classroom instruction and evaluation. The program also includes support with resume development and job search training.

The program and partnership is made possible through an America’s Promise grant through the United States Department of Labor. America’s Promise grants are designed “to accelerate the development and expansion of regional workforce partnerships committed to providing a pipeline of skilled workers in specific sectors.”

We’re looking forward to assisting with this exciting opportunity, and further Foodlink’s involvement as a local leader in workforce development!

The program was made possible through a partnership with MCC and The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Monroe County announces partnership with the Curbside Market

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo gets ready to speak at a news conference on Sept. 20. to announce a new partnership between the county and Foodlink.

***

One mission of the Curbside Market, aside from providing healthy food at affordable prices, is to seek out those with SNAP benefits and educate them about the program. 

In seeking out new sites to host the program — and there are now more than 80 in the regular rotation — one building on Westfall Road makes perfect sense. The Monroe County Department of Human Services, where many residents go to apply for and receive SNAP benefits, will soon host the Curbside Market in its parking lot on a regular basis. 

News coverage: Foodlink Curbside Market coming to county DHS offices on Westfall Rd. (WHEC)

“By regularly hosting Foodlink’s mobile market at our central DHS campus, we can help make fresh, healthy, affordable foods accessible to local families who need it most,” Monre County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said in a statement.

The county and several Foodlink staff members made the announcement at the DHS campus on Sept. 20 in conjunction with Hunger Action Month. 

Officials from Monroe County join Foodlink employees Sept. 20 for a Hunger Action Month photo at the Department of Human Services on Westfall Road.

Curbside customers who frequent the Curbside Market are not only eating healthier, they’re stretching their food budgets through the Double Up Food Bucks program. For every dollar spent (up to $10) at the market, customers will get an extra dollar in return to purchase more fresh produce. 

“Your health is everything,” Dinolfo said Wednesday. “Health is the foundation — the key to success in this community. We want to make sure that when our kids go to school, they’re not hungry. That when our families come home, there’s food on the table. We want to make sure that our families have the ability to put their best foot forward, and having fresh, healthy food is certainly a key component to that. We can’t do this alone, and we have to make sure that we identify great community partners, like Foodlink, to get the job done.”

Foodlink and Monroe County are working out the logistics of the optimal day and time to host the program, and the partnership will be up and running this fall. 

 

Curbside Market Manager Flo Clemmons shows Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo the newest vehicle in the fleet.