Foodlink, Excellus celebrate partnership at Lexington Ave. Urban Farm

Mitch Gruber, Chief Progams Officer at Foodlink, gives an interview at the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm on Sept. 8, 2017.

On Sept. 8, Foodlink and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield celebrated a growing partnership focused on improving food access and health outcomes in the Rochester region.

Excellus and Foodlink hosted a press event at the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm, which will soon be the site of a new, natural play space. Construction will start soon on the area, which received funding through the 2017 Excellus Community Health Awards. 

“Foodlink is grateful that Excellus BCBS has partnered with us to improve food access in our region, both through the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm, and our Curbside Market,” said Foodlink Executive Director Julia Tedesco. “We’re excited to provide dozens of families with a safe space for children to play, and our newest Curbside truck has helped Foodlink distribute even more produce in neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables are less accessible.”

The play space will feature many natural elements, and might not look like a conventional playground. The play space will include logs, stepping stones and “willow tunnels.” Items such as kick balls and hula hoops will encourage physical activity, along with a painted tire play area.

A rendering of the new play space at the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm. Construction will take place this fall.

Excellus also provided crucial funding for the newest vehicle in the Curbside Market fleet. A newer fleet results in more reliable service, which allows Foodlink to reach more sites, serve more customers and sell more nutritious food in low-income/low-access communities. 

The addition of the new vehicle has helped Foodlink increase the number of people it serves through its Curbside trucks by about 35 percent. The Curbside Market made more than 4,100 transactions in July of 2017, compared to almost 3,100 in July of 2016.

“Good nutrition is the key to good health, yet too many people in our communities don’t have access to affordable fruits and vegetables,” said Holly Snow, Director of Community Health Engagement, Excellus BCBS. “As we work to build healthier communities, we must find ways to combat hunger and Foodlink has found innovative ways to do just that.”

Holly Snow, Director of Community Health Engagement at Excellus BCBS, speaks to the media on Sept. 8.

Foodlink sending truckload of food, supplies to flood-ravaged Texas

One could argue that every day is an emergency for food banks around the country.

Many of the people we serve, whether it’s 85 and sunny or 5 below and windy, are in dire need of emergency food. We are their lifeline. Their last resort.

The emergency unfolding in Texas and Louisiana this past week, however, has reached a historic level. Hurricane Harvey’s devastating rainfall has left thousands homeless and wreaked havoc on the Texas emergency food system. 

BLOG: Feeding America’s Continued Response to Harvey

The numbers are staggering. 50+ inches of rain in some areas of Texas … More than 30,000 homes destroyed by flooding … In excess of $125 billion in damage. Some perspective for western New Yorkers: The total rainfall in Texas could equal the volume of water that flows over Niagara Falls … for an entire year

This is why the Feeding America network exists, and Foodlink is proudly assisting in the relief efforts. This week, we are sending a truckload of food and supplies — 30,551 pounds worth — to our food bank partners in Texas. Items include: Water, hygiene products, snacks, crackers and cookies, and juice pouches. 

24 pallets of food, water and supplies, sit in Foodlink’s distribution center, ready for pickup.

As you can imagine, food banks in the disaster area face a deluge of requests in the days following a disaster. This is why Feeding America acts as the central hub for out-of-state food banks offering to help through the donation of food, water or staffing assistance. With so much of the Texas food banks focusing on local relief efforts immediately following an emergency, the Feeding America team helps handle the logistics for donations such as ours. 

Feeding America food banks affected by the storm include: Houston Food Bank, Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, Southeast Texas Food Bank, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, San Antonio Food Bank, North Texas Food Bank and Brazos Valley Food Bank.

Foodlink is not alone in demonstrating our collaborative spirit. Dozens of food banks, from New Jersey to California, have offered their support by sending food, water, supplies, personal hygiene products and more to our friends in Texas. Others are offering personnel support, too. 

How can YOU help? You can click on any of the links above and donate to any Texas food bank, all of which will see a dramatic increase in need in the days, weeks and months ahead. Food banks are just one type of emergency relief organization that need our help. Other nonprofits that serve children, animals, people with disabilities and the homeless are also in need. NPR has done a nice job providing links to a variety of services

>> How to donate safely and avoid charity scams

Foodlink will continue to monitor the situation in Texas, and pray for those affected by this disaster. We wish all of our food bank partners the best in the weeks ahead, as Houston and all cities and towns affected by Harvey, recover and rebuild.

Constellation Brands’ Nourishing Neighbors initiative organizes massive food drive

Constellation Brands, an internationally renowned beverage producer and distributor, understands the importance of giving back locally.

Based in Victor, Constellation Brands launched its Nourishing Neighbors initiative in 2014 to help combat food insecurity. It has partnered with Foodlink on numerous events and projects, and will add one more to the list in the coming months. Throughout the rest of August and September, the beverage company is encouraging patrons to drop off non-perishable goods at participating local restaurants and wine stores in the Rochester area. Constellation hopes to surpass its goal of donating 1,000 pounds of food to Foodlink.

“Our employees really embrace this ongoing partnership with Foodlink and understand how hunger can have a devastating impact on the Rochester community,” said Tom Kane, Chief Human Resources Officer at Constellation Brands. “Plus, with September being Hunger Action Month nationwide, we felt it was an appropriate time of year to bring this serious issue to the forefront once again.”

According to Feeding America, more than 156,000 people in Foodlink’s 10-county service area are considered food insecure, which means they lack reliable access to a sufficient amount of healthy food. In the four years since Nourishing Neighbors was launched, Constellation Brands has donated more than 200,000 pounds of food to area food banks and employees have volunteered more than 9,000 hours of their time.

Food donations will be accepted at the following locations:

Participating local wine & liquors stores include: Chateau Liquor, Irondequoit Wine and Liquor, Liquor box, Latta Long Liquor, Georgetown Liquor, Fowler’s Canaltown Wine and Spirits, Lisa’s Liquor Barn, Hoffend’s Liquor Store, Pinnacle Liquor, Basin Wine and Spirits, 5 O’clock Somewhere, Chili Liquor, Country Club Liquor, Ryan’s Wine and Spirits and Bombace Wine and Spirits.

Participating local restaurants include: Cottage Hotel, Grappa, Mr. Dominick’s at the Lake, Mr. Dominick’s Fairport, Trata, Remington’s, Jojo Bistro & Wine Bar, 6×50 Victor, Warfield’s Bistro, Pomodoro Grill, Cottage Hotel, Pane Vino and Signature’s.


Exhibiting warmth and compassion through thousands of frozen meals

Three pallets of Project LeanNation meals sit in Foodlink’s 5,000-square-foot freezer.

It’s always nice to hear about local start-ups that not only find business success, but also give back to the communities that have supported them along the way. 

This week, 4,440 healthy, frozen meals were delivered to Foodlink as a donation from Lean Life Manufacturing. Based out of Henrietta, the startup company is less than 11 months old, but has already donated more than 5,000 frozen meals to Foodlink. 

“We look forward to growing and working with partners that help us give back to the Rochester area,” the company said. 

Thank you for your support of Foodlink and the people we serve! 

Foodlink urges members of Congress to support TEFAP

Various photos showing TEFAP foods in the Foodlink warehouse.

This past week, Foodlink has contacted the six representatives (2 Senators and 4 House Members) in its 10-county service area to convey our concern that food purchases made through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) are currently below adequate levels. 

TEFAP foods provided by the USDA are an important part of the food our network relies on to help feed hungry Americans. Foodlink sent letters and made calls to the offices of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Louise Slaughter, Rep. John Katko, Rep. Chris Collins and Rep. Tom Reed to urge them to make sure the USDA make additional purchases before the Sept. 30 deadline. Without additional purchases, there will be a 43% drop in purchases for FY 2017, which would greatly impact the Feeding America network of 200 food banks. 

We hope they get our message! We must raise our voices in support of TEFAP. About 20% of the food we distribute to hundreds of emergency food providers comes from this important program.


Foodlink gets national press with NPR article

A screenshot of the NPR story published Aug. 1 that features Foodlink.


Many kind words flooded social media Wednesday and Thursday after the publication of an NPR story that detailed the work we’re doing at Foodlink.

The crux of the article, titled, “Beyond Pantries: This Food Bank Invests in theLocal Community,” touched on the evolving landscape of food banking, and how Foodlink is leading the charge through several innovative programs. We still collect and distribute food, but the development of food access and nutrition education programs, our brand new commercial kitchen, food processing and workforce development initatives is where the future lies. 

After explaining Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing goals, the article says:

“It’s outside the realm of what most people think of when they think of a food bank,” says Julia Tedesco, the executive director of Foodlink. But this aligns with the organization’s mission, she adds. By investing in the local economy, the organization has been able to tackle the root cause of hunger – poverty.

Foodlink has nearly doubled its staff since it started investing in local produce, therefore creating new jobs for the community. At the same time school children are eating more nutritious scratch-cooked foods. It’s a way for Foodlink to “nourish this community by nourishing the economy and the individuals in it,” says Tedesco.

Aside from Tedesco, others quoted in the story include Janet Poppendieck, a senior fellow at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute; and Andy Fisher, cofounder of the non-profit Community Food Security Coalition and author of Big Hunger: the Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups.

Thanks to all who have reached out to us on social media to offer their congrats!

JSY Healthy Pantry Initiative to be nationally recognized

Exciting news for our Nutrition Education team!

Our Just Say Yes! to Fruits and Vegetables program’s Healthy Pantry Initiative will be recognized by the American Public Health Association and presented at its annual conference in November! The initiative helps local food pantries “nudge” clients to choose healthier options through increased signage, nutrition education and small merchandising improvements.

Congrats to our team from Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables — a statewide SNAP-ED Nutrition Education program. What an honor!

Keeping busy at the Lexington Ave. Urban Farm

This week, Foodlink’s Lexington Avenue Urban Farm welcomed about to 50,000 bees to the farm with help from our friends at Sweet Beez, a local nonprofit.

One rather large family recently joined the 60 existing Rochester families that tend to the land at Foodlink’s Lexington Avenue Urban Farm. 

Tens of thousands of bees — all sisters! — moved into their new digs this week at the farm, which provides local refugee families with a space to grow their own food. The Lexington Avenue Urban Farm also serves as a small commercial growing operation for Foodlink’s kitchen, and its Curbside Market program.

The bees will help pollinate all of the nearby crops, and eventually produce enough honey to sell to our Curbside customers. 

The newest bees at the Lexington Avenue Urband Farm are all sisters.

Local nonprofit Sweet Beez picked up our new bees from Pennslyvania for us and “babysat” them for a few weeks while we prepared a space for them. We ordered three “nucs,” which are essentially small “nuclues colonies,” each coming with several pieces of honeycomb. The bees were transferred to Lexington’s larger hives on July 19.

It’s hard to say how many bees are in the three hives at the moment, but a healthy hive can have about 50,000 each. So it’s possible we’ll have a total population of 150,000.

“They’re now cleaning out their new homes, buzzing around and pollinating crops and we’re looking forward to being able to harvest the honey — probably by next spring — for our Curbside Market,” said Nathaniel Mich, who oversees the farm as Foodlink’s Member Services Programs Coordinator.

The bees live in the back area of the farm adjacent to our new fruit trees. Find out more information about the Lexington Avenue Urban Farm on their Facebook page.    



Summer Meals … on wheels

When it came time make sure the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester could go mobile, the growth of one Foodlink program helped the growth of another. 

When the Curbside Market added a new vehicle to its fleet, we took one of the older trucks out of the rotation. Perfect timing, it would seem, as the partnership was seeking a way of delivering more meals in neighborhoods that did not have a nearby Summer Meals site. 

The partnership’s mobile initiative took aim at a handful of neighborhoods and found locations where kids naturally gather over the summer. Summer Meals On Wheels was born. Two sites were piloted last summer (local libraries), and now we have seven sites on board (four daily sites and three more that are rotating).

Foodlink hired a driver for the program (Welcome, Silvia!) and retrofitted the Curbside Market vehicle and turned it into our Summer Meals on Wheels mobile vehicle. Now, we’re off and running.

See below for our full mobile schedule. And visit the Summer Meals website for a complete schedule of our regular sites. 

11 – 11:30am – Conkey Corner Park (92 Conkey Ave.)

11:50am – 12:20pm – Rotating schedule*

12:40 – 1:10pm – Lincoln Library (851 Joseph Ave.)

1:30 – 2pm – Arnett Library (310 Arnett Blvd.)

2:20 – 2:50pm Maplewood Library (1111 Dewey Ave.)

* Monday/Wednesday at Lyell Library (956 Lyell Ave.)

Tuesday/Thursday at Phyllis Wheatley Library (33 Dr. Samuel McCree Way)

Friday at Susan B Anthony Park (540 W. Main St.)


Citizens Bank, supporting the Curbside Market since 2013

Citizens Bank executives and Foodlink staff talk about the Curbside Market program at the Courtyard by Marriott on West Ridge Road on June 29.


Citizens Bank Chairman/CEO Bruce Van Saun, in Rochester for a organizational Town Hall meeting at the Marriott on West Ridge Road, jumped aboard the newest Curbside Market vehicle on Thursday. 

Citizens Bank has supported the program, known as a “produce aisle on wheels,” since its inception in 2013. It presented Foodlink with a check for $25,000, which partially funded the newest vehicle in the Curbside Market’s fleet. Some of that funding will also help kickstart Foodlink’s new workforce development program later this year. 

The new truck has already visited a few sites, and will be running full-time when the Curbside Market’s summer schedule begins on July 5. 

From left, Paul Taffe (New York President, Citizens Bank), Bruce Van Saun (President/CEO of Citizens Bank), Mitch Gruber (Chief Programs Officer at Foodlink) and Beth Crow (VP/Senior Market Manager, Citizens Bank) celebrate the Citizens Bank-Curbside Market partnership June 29 in Greece.

The Curbside Market began with one route in the City of Rochester in 2013 and close to 3,500 customers. Now, there are three trucks on the road making stops in eight of the 10 counties in Foodlink’s service area — reaching close to 30,000 customers annually. In 2016, the program made $195,000 in sales and distributed 341,500 pounds of produce. 

Its goal is to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into communities dubbed “food deserts” — those that lack grocery stores, farmers markets and/or any reliable access to produce. Food is purchased from local farms and sold at wholesale prices, and the truck makes stops at places such as low-income housing complexes, health centers, senior-living facilities and YMCAs. The program also accepts SNAP benefits (formerly called “food stamps”), and allows SNAP customers to get double the value through a national incentive program called Double Up Food Bucks. 

The Curbside Market visited a Citizens Bank conference on June 29 in Greece. Citizens Bank has been a major funder of the program since its inception in 2013.