Foodlink awarded ‘Rooted in Evidence’ grant funding to evaluate new nutrition ranking system

Foodlink is one of five food banks nationwide to receive grant funding through The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition’s inaugural Rooted in Evidence grant program.

The grant supports food banks currently implementing “innovative and dynamic programming to improve the health and dietary quality of emergency food recipients.” Foodlink’s project includes the evaluation of its new “The Healthy Choice” nutrition ranking system in its network of “Front Door” agencies across its 10-county service area. Funding will help Foodlink understand how improvements to the nutritional quality of the food it receives and distributes will impact pantry- and client-level outcomes.

Funding for this program is provided by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition Foundation.

The Healthy Choice is a new, evidence-based nutrition ranking system adopted by Foodlink that monitors and improves the proportion of nutritious foods distributed to its network of agencies. Foods are placed in green, yellow and red categories based on their nutritional value, and Foodlink aims to build client-facing messaging to encourage the selection of healthier foods. Foodlink is committed to distributing 95% green- and yellow-ranked foods by 2021.

The Healthy Choice is one component of Foodlink’s new Community Healthy Committment, which was established in 2018 as a means to implement nutrition guidelines for the receipt and distribution of food.

Other food banks that received grant funding include: Food Gatherers (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Montana Food Bank Network (Missoula, Mont.), Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee (Maryville, Tenn.) and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (Raleigh, N.C.).

Learn more about the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, and all of the grantees’ projects by visiting: https://www.centerfornutrition.org/rootedinevidence.

Feeding America grants support to Foodlink for government shutdown response

In response to the government shutdown earlier this year, Feeding America garnered support from organizations across the country to help offset costs that food banks faced to meet the rising need in their communities.

In early June, a third round of funding was allocated to various food banks across the network, and Foodlink was generously awarded $70,000 to help with costs associated with its “SNAP Gap” distributions in February. Foodlink, with crucial support from the United Way of Greater Rochester, garnered community support from donors and food providers to hold 14 “SNAP Gap” distributions during school vacation week Feb. 18-22. Some distributions were held in rural areas, and were existing Mobile Pantry sites with additional product. Five distributions, however, were held in the City of Rochester at various locations, and required a substantial amount of resources to pull off.

Several organizations donated to Feeding America during this difficult time, and we appreciate their generosity greatly. They include: BJs Charitable Foundation, California Community Foundation, Health Care Service Corporation, HP Foundation, HSBC Bank USA N.A., JPMorgan Chase, Katzenberger Foundation, PwC Charitable Foundation, Smuckers, Splunk/Doug Merritt, TJX Foundation, United Airlines, and the Visa Foundation.

Foodlink Career Fellowship now recruiting second class

The Foodlink Career Fellowship, a year-long culinary training program and New York State-recognized apprenticeship, is recruiting individuals for its second class set to begin this summer.

The Fellowship aims to train individuals (18 and older) who have lived and worked in poverty for middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. The 12-month program includes nine months as a paid apprenticeship, and provides on-the-job training in Foodlink’s Community Kitchen, and at a regional employer during a three-month externship.

Fellows also learn basic cooking techniques through an online culinary training program (Rouxbe), take field trips, learn from guest speakers, and earn several food industry credentials, including ServSafe levels 1 & 2, Allergen Training, and CPR/First Aid/ AED training.

Anyone interested in applying for the Foodlink Career Fellowship must be nominated by a community-based organization or community mentor.

The due date for all applications is June 24.

Interviews and job shadowing will take place in June, and selected applicants will receive their offer letters by the first week of July. Please contact Career Coach Clayton Waller (cwaller@foodlinkny.org) to receive a nomination packet.

Foodlink’s statement at the NYS Assembly hearing on tenant protections and housing affordability

The following is testimony of Tom Silva, Community Advocacy Coordinator, Foodlink Inc., delivered at the Public Hearing on Rental Housing & Tenant Protections on May 10, 2019 in Rochester.

Who We Are

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the vital issue of rent and eviction protections for tenants in New York State.  My name is Tom Silva, and I am the Community Advocacy Coordinator at Foodlink here in Rochester. Foodlink is a community food resource center and the Feeding America food bank serving Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties. Our mission is to leverage the power of food to end hunger and build healthier communities.

Foodlink is the backbone of the emergency food network in Rochester and the ten surrounding counties. We work with hundreds of partner organizations to distribute over 18 million pounds of food annually in our service area. This network of food pantries, homeless shelters, and hot meal programs work to ensure that everyone who walks through their door is fed and nourished. Our community kitchen produces over 3,500 meals every day for low-income children across the city of Rochester. The Curbside Market, our farmers market on wheels, visits over 80 locations every week and conducted over 40,000 transactions last year for fresh produce. The majority of these market sites are affordable housing communities.

Why We Are Here

Despite all of our resources, partners, and programs – the food insecurity rate in our region remains stubbornly high. Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecurity often reflects a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as paying rent, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.


Across our ten county service area, Feeding America estimates that more than 11% of households, or 145,000 people, are food insecure. 92,000 of those households are in Monroe County. Right here in the City of Rochester, the rate jumps to 25%. In the poorest zip codes, such as 14608, that number jumps again to 40%.

At the same time, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, 52% of renters in the Rochester metro area are rent burdened – meaning they spend over 30% of their income on housing. 30% are severely rent burdened – meaning they spend over 50% of their income on housing. This amounts to over 75,000 individuals in the metro area who are in a state of crisis in their housing. Here in the City of Rochester, 65% of residents are renters. These figures are almost exactly the same as the New York City metropolitan area, but Western New York lacks equivalent tenant protections.

The statistics I’ve shared about food insecurity and housing stability are not isolated – they are the same households, individuals, and families. Charitable and programmatic solutions to food insecurity can only do so much if our community members do not have stable housing to store, prepare, and cook their own meals. If we are serious about ending hunger in our community, we must ensure that people have guaranteed tenant protections and access to affordable housing. Without this, we cannot expect people to meet their nutritional needs on a daily basis. We cannot expect people to manage diet related illness without their kitchens. And we cannot expect children to succeed in school without nutritious food at home.

What We Ask

Because we cannot eliminate hunger without addressing the housing crisis faced by our community, we have come to give public testimony today in support of a series of bills and actions to increase tenant protections and affordability. Foodlink endorses the Universal Rent Control platform of the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance. We also strongly support the Home Stability Support proposal (A01620) for expanded rent  assistance subsidies for families receiving public assistance and the rest of the alliance’s End Homelessness platform. Additionally, we strongly support the proposal(A03611) to remove geographic restrictions from Human Services sanctions reform to allow a reconciliation period for individuals who have missed a single appointment before being barred from receiving public benefits. Currently, this policy only applies to New York City, despite Monroe County having one of the state’s highest sanction rates. These sanctions are punitive to the lowest income and most at risk members of our community. When these payments are revoked, it leads to hunger for families and often leads to the commencement of eviction proceedings, which then increases the client’s reliance on the social services safety net due to their need for emergency food and shelter.

Many households in the state will be best served by expanding the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (A7046) to allow counties to opt into rent stabilization for their municipalities. However, this would only apply to buildings with 6 or more units and regions with a vacancy rate below 5%. As the data shows, even in Western New York, tens of thousands of tenants are rent burdened despite a vacancy rate slightly above the threshold for stabilization. Passing new Good Cause Eviction Legislation (A5030) will not necessarily regulate rents, but rather prevent tenants from being evicted from their home at the whim of a landlord. It would require that landlords always offer tenants a renewal lease and forbid the renewal leases to demand an “unconscionable rent.” Under the proposal, a rent would be considered unconscionable if it represented an increase by more than 1.5 times the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index and if the landlord could not provide a reason to justify it. It would apply to all rented houses and apartments – except apartments in two- or three-family houses where the owner also resides. Specifically, it would provide renters in our region with an immediate increase in protection and security in their housing.

For these reasons, Foodlink urges you to pass Good Cause Eviction protections throughout New York State, as well as the other bills supported by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance. Thank you for your time today.

Impact story: Meet Michael Washington

As part of Walmart’s 2019 “Fight Hunger. Spark Change” campaign, we wanted to share with you one perspective from a food pantry client of Rochester Family Mission — one of the 200+ emergency food providers in Foodlink’s network.

Michael wanted to share his story, and tell us how grateful he was for the support of the pantry, as to tries to get back on his feet. Here is what he had to say:

“When we have good people that help people by the grace of God and the spirit of God, they try to help the community, and give more than what they have to give … This church here is a blessing and I thank you for listening to me and having the patience to hear me.

“I’m staying with a friend right now, and my friend has three kids. I don’t want to take food out of a child’s mouth. I’m just blessed that they let me stay there until I can find a job. I’m a hard-working man and I don’t ask for nothing and I work for everything I get. But I come here so I can get help as I look for a job, to help myself — that means a lot.”

City, Foodlink celebrate grand opening of Public Market’s Nutrition Education Center

Foodlink’s nutrition educators took center stage at the City of Rochester Public Market on Thursday, helping to mark the grand opening of the market’s new Nutrition Education Center.

The new kitchen space, located inside Shed B, will host a variety of community nutrition and culinary programs, including Foodlink’s weekly Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables workshops. Each Thursday and Saturday morning (9 and 10 a.m.), Foodlink educators Marcy McMahon and Desiree Bass share recipes, nutrition lessons and shopping tips to encourage market patrons to adopt healthier eating habits with a limited budget.

The City of Rochester and Foodlink were key partners in this venture, along with Wegmans Food Markets, the Friends of the Public Market, State Sen. Joe Robach, and Summit Federal Credit Union. Mitch Gruber, a City Council member and Foodlink’s Chief Programs Officer, has long been a fan of the market, both for its rich history and for what it has evolved into today.

“This is the biggest market in the entire nation when it comes to SNAP transactions — formerly food stamps — by a significant margin,” Gruber said. “There’s no market that comes close to serving as many people with SNAP benefits, which is why it’s so important for us at Foodlink to come here and give people the skills to cook.”

Just Say Yes is one of three nutrition education programs delivered by Foodlink throughout the Rochester area. Cooking Matters is a six-week course that caters to various age groups, while Finger Lakes Eat Smart New York is a program designed for SNAP recipients that focuses on eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing consumption of sugary beverages, and exercise.

Mayor Lovely A. Warren said the market’s new Nutrition Education Center “adds value to the Public Market, making it a place where you can buy healthy, affordable food, learn how to prepare it, and enjoy being a part of a community that’s excited about good food.”

Annual ‘Map the Meal Gap’ report released with updated food-insecurity data

Feeding America this week released its annual Map the Meal Gap report, which shows food-insecurity data for every county in the country.

Within Foodlink’s 10-county service area, more than 145,000 people — about 11.5 percent of the population — live in food-insecure households, according to the report. Of those people, approximately 48,000 are children.

MAP: Explore the data from the ‘Map the Meal Gap’ report

In Monroe County, 12.4 percent of the population — more than 92,000 people — are food-insecure, which the USDA defines as “a lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.”

Among the other nine counties in Foodlink’s service area, the food-insecurity rates, from low to high, were as follows: Ontario (9%), Wayne (9.8%), Yates (9.9%), Seneca (10.3), Genessee (10.5%), Wyoming (10.5%), Livingston (10.9%), Orleans (11.8%), and Allegany (12.4%). The average meal cost ranged from $2.47 in Yates county, to $3.29 in Allegany County.

The study also shows a large portion of the population that is considered food-insecure, yet are not eligible for federal nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Those rates range from 22% in Yates County to 39% in Livingston County.

Nationally, Rural and Southern communities are disproportionately impacted. Eight of the top ten states with the highest percentage of child food insecurity are all located in the South. Additionally, 84% of the counties with high child food insecurity rates are rural.

The number of Americans identified by the USDA as food insecure fell significantly in the past seven years in the wake of the Great Recession. The national rate peaked at 50 million in 2009 to 40 million in 2017 (the most recent year for which data are available).

“The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks is investing in our nation’s future by helping to provide over 146 million meals to children every year,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, chief executive officer of Feeding America. “Still, Map the Meal Gap highlights that more must be done. Together food banks, corporations, policymakers, donors, volunteers and advocates can solve hunger.

“I encourage everyone to visit the website, map.feedingamerica.org to find out what hunger looks like in their community and get involved to be part of the solution,” Babineaux-Fontenot continued. “One way is to tell Congress to invest in kids during Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation and increase access to food for kids during the summer. Your voice matters and we can make a difference.”

‘Fight Hunger. Spark Change’ campaign nears goal of 1 billion meals

One in eight Americans in communities across the U.S. struggle with hunger, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including nearly 150,000 people in the Rochester region. To raise awareness and combat the issue, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Feeding America® have launched its sixth annual “Fight Hunger. Spark Change.” (FHSC) campaign, which will run from April 22 to May 20.

In partnership with Foodlink, the regional food bank that serves 10 counties in western New York, Walmart and Sam’s Club are inviting area shoppers to help fight hunger in their local community. There are three ways to participate – purchasing a participating item in-store or online, donating in-store or donating on Feeding America’s website.

With 749 million meals donated over the last five years, the Rochester-area community can help the Feeding America network secure its goal of 1 billion cumulative meals. They can track the number of meals by visiting www.walmart.com/fighthunger.

• For every participating product purchased at U.S. Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs or on Walmart.com during the campaign, the supplier will donate the monetary equivalent of at least one meal ($0.10) on behalf of a Feeding America member food bank, up to applicable limits.

• Customers can donate money to a local Feeding America food bank (Foodlink) at participating Sam’s Club and Walmart stores in the U.S.

• Customers also can donate online at feedingamerica.org/Walmart.

Walmart began the campaign with a $3 million donation to Feeding America and member food banks. A purchase of one of the 267 participating items helps secure the equivalent of one meal. Each Walmart and Sam’s Club will partner with at least one Feeding America local food bank, and the 18 participating suppliers include: Bush Brothers, Campbell’s, Conagra Brands, Cliff Bar, General Mills, Gold Peak Tea, Great Value, Hidden Valley, JM Smucker, Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, McCormick, Motts, PepsiCo, Post, Uncle Ben’s, Nature Nate’s Honey and Unilever.

“As we go into our sixth year of the ‘Fight Hunger. Spark Change.’ campaign, it’s exciting to approach the 1 billion mark in terms of charitable meals secured for Feeding America over the life of the program,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer for Walmart. “Food insecurity continues to affect communities across the United States. Working with Feeding America, our customers, members, associates and suppliers, Walmart and Sam’s Club aim to be part of the solution.”

To learn more about the campaign, visit www.walmart.com/fighthunger.

Volunteer Spotlight: Anne Palumbo

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Month, we’re spotlighting one of our devoted nutrition education volunteers who has been with us for more than 8 years!

Meet Anne Palumbo …

How long have you been a Cooking Matters volunteer?

I have been volunteering with Cooking Matters since 2011– 8 fulfilling years! I heard about the program through my college-age daughter. We wanted to volunteer together and she found the opportunity on social media. Although, unfortunately, she was unable to participate, I was immediately drawn to the program and have been volunteering ever since!

What does volunteering mean to you?

Volunteering with Cooking Matters is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, on so many levels. Since I am keenly interested in nutrition and healthy cooking, it gives me great joy to see the immediate impact of what we teach and encourage. From young children exclaiming, “I want to be a chef!” to pregnant mothers lamenting “Oh, I had no idea there was so much fat in fast food,” to adults struggling with high blood pressure saying, “I never thought to look at the sodium content of canned soup before,” it is truly gratifying to see how this incredible program causes light bulbs to go off, and to know that I’ve played a role in someone’s journey.

What do you love most about volunteering with Foodlink?

What do I love most about volunteering with Foodlink? It’s hard to pick one thing! The organization itself is a gift to our city, and the tireless effort they make to ensure the success of Cooking Matters is another gift altogether. Having been with Cooking Matters since the beginning, I’ve watching it evolve over the years, and it has only gotten better. I have loved getting to know all ages of class participants that I would have never rubbed shoulders with had I not signed up to volunteer. And I especially love knowing that our message is getting across when they excitedly tell us they’re shopping better, eating healthier, or that they made a dish we taught in class. I also really enjoy volunteering alongside the talented, knowledgeable Foodlink team, as well as the other volunteers. Every 6-week session is unique!

Interesting in volunteering? Learn more about the program at www.FoodlinkNY.org and sign up for an upcoming course!

Foodlink submits public comment in opposition to proposed SNAP changes

Foodlink submitted the following public comment on a proposed rule by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would limit states’ ability to waive time-limits connected to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Federal law already requires that states limit SNAP eligibility to just three months out of every three years for unemployed and underemployed adults without dependent children unless they can document 20 hours of work a week. Now the USDA has proposed to make those time limits even harsher. USDA’s proposed rule would undercut states’ ability to waive these strict time limits in many areas where there are too few jobs. The USDA estimates its proposal would eliminate SNAP benefits for an additional 755,000 adults and cut SNAP benefits on a ten-year basis by $15 billion.

The following is Foodlink’s statement in response to this proposed rule:

Foodlink strongly opposes the USDA’s Proposed Rule on SNAP requirements and services for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs). The proposed changes would cause serious harm to low-income individuals and families in the Rochester region – and across the country.

Foodlink is the regional food bank serving Rochester and the Finger Lakes region of New York that provides over 18 million of pounds of food to hundreds of partner organizations every year. We efficiently connect food to people in the most innovative ways, however for every meal that the emergency food system provides in our area, SNAP benefits provide 12. In addition, for every dollar spent with SNAP benefits in our region, $1.79 is generated in the local economy. Foodlink’s Curbside Market (a mobile farmers market that serves low-income communities) recorded over 40,000 transactions and redeemed over $60,000 in SNAP benefits alone. If this rule change went into effect, the charitable sector would not be able to make up the gap in the benefits for individuals, and local businesses and agriculture will suffer. Hunger, diet-related illness, and poverty will increase in our region as a result of a proposal that Congress already rejected in bipartisan fashion during the Farm Bill negotiations of 2018.

SNAP currently imposes a 3-month time limit on receipt of benefits by individuals between the ages of 18 – 49 who aren’t raising minor children in their homes. The USDA also currently grants waivers to states and regions with persistently high unemployment, including eight counties in Foodlink’s service area (Allegany, Genesee, Monroe, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates). If the proposed rule change were approved, those areas would no longer qualify for waivers under the new unemployment floor (at least 6%), which would deny thousands of individuals access to food on a daily basis.

Although most counties in our service area have an unemployment rate under 5%, those numbers do not take into account significant barriers to employment in our region. African Americans and individuals without a college degree have an approximately 10% unemployment rate, and many more individuals are underemployed or work in seasonal industries. Despite the fact that the majority of SNAP recipients are employed, it is extremely common to experience a reduction in hours that would place them below 20 hour/week minimum to qualify for food assistance. Limited transportation and deindustrialization also present barriers to employment that will not be overcome in the short term. By the federal government’s own admission, if the rule change were implemented, two-thirds of ABAWDs currently receiving SNAP would become categorically ineligible for a waiver and would be removed from the program. Without the addition of new jobs and effective workforce training programs, this would result in a significant increase in the number of individuals in need of emergency food resources.

We commend the 47 senators and numerous organizations across the country that have signaled their opposition to this proposed rule change, and we urge you to withdraw this rule from consideration.