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.

Thank you, Carol!

If Music Be the Food Director Carol Rodland accepts a plaque and flowers from Foodlink as an appreciation for eight years of support.

Last night, Foodlink said goodbye (she promises to visit!) and good luck (not like she needs it!) to Carol Rodland of the Eastman School of Music. 

Rodland has accepted a position at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City and is moving in a matter of weeks. 

She holds a special place in our hearts because she is the founder of If Music Be the Food, a concert series that aims to raise awareness for food insecurity in the Rochester area. Attendees are asked to bring non-perishable items and/or a donation to support Foodlink and are treated to an evening of great music from some of the area’s finest musicians. The event is held three times each year, with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (October & April) and Third Presbyterian Church (January) serving as the venues. 

Rodland started the event in 2009, and it has since spread to other cities to support other food banks and nonprofit organizations. In eight years, she has rallied the Rochester community to give $25,000 and 7,000 pounds of food to Foodlink!

Foodlink presented Rodland, a violist, with a bouquet of flowers and a plaque to honor her for the work she’s done to support Foodlink during her time in Rochester. 

She says the series will continue under the direction of fellow Eastman professor and cellist Mimi Hwang. The next concert is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2017 at St. Paul’s and Rodland said she was putting in on her calendar so she could make a special guest appearance.

Best of luck with the move, and with your new life in NYC! Rochester will miss you!

A view of the crowd and the church at the April 30 If Music Be the Food concert at St. Paul’s.

 

 

Foodlink earns Excellus BCBS Community Health Award

The Lexington Avenue Urban Farm provides gardening space for more than 60 Rochester families — many of whom are refugees from Nepal, Somalia or Bhutan.

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Foodlink was one of 36 organizations across the state to earn a 2017 Community Health Award from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

The support, totaling $4,000, will help Foodlink create a safe and inviting play space adjacent to its Lexington Avenue Urban Farm in northwest Rochester. The farm, which began in 2012, primarily serves the local refugee community with more than 60 families expected to participate this year. There are dozens of raised beds, a 72-foot hoop house, fruit trees, bees and field beds. Many families visit the garden, so the goal of the project was to create a space for children to play while their family members tended to the garden. The area also will be open to children who don’t visit the garden, in an effort to cultivate a better sense of community between refugees and non-refugees in the Edgerton and Lyell-Otis neighborhoods. 

Nine Monroe County nonprofits won 2017 Community Health Awards totaling $27,500.

Foodlink intends to seek input from the community, the gardeners, as well as Common Ground Health’s Healthi Kids Coalition, which aims to — among other things — create a more “playable” Rochester for our children. 

The awards were announced April 20 at the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester. The club will use its $4,000 award to continue a new initiative to help students who have experienced childhood trauma. Two children who visit the Boys & Girls Club on Genesee Street attended the news conference, including Sylvester Carter III, whose mother was fatally shot last year. Carter, 14, gave a measured and eloquent speech about how the tragedy has affected his family and how the club helps him cope with the loss. 

He described his mother as “caring” and someone who would give him “all she ever had.”

“I can’t see that smile no more. I can’t hear her voice no more,” Carter said. “That’s why I thank the Boys & Girls Club. I can come here and get my mind off things, be with my friends, talk … all that pain and suffering is gone. I come here because they give me comfort.”

In total, $110,500 in funds were allocated to the 36 award winners out of approximately 200 applicants in a 31-county upstate region. The other winners from Monroe County who were honored Thursday include: Borinquen Dance Theatre, Inc., Child Care Council, Inc., Mental Health Association, RESOLVE of Greater Rochester, Samaritan Center of Excellence, Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach Prison Outreach and Willow Domestic Violence Center. 

Sylvester Carter III, who frequents the Boys & Girls Club, talks about losing his mother to gun violence last year and how the club has helped him cope with tragedy. (Credit: Excellus BCBS)