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.

Foodlink Fellows win friendly competition before leaving for Wegmans

The final day at Foodlink was a victorious one for the inaugural class of the Foodlink Career Fellowship.

To cap off the third quarter of Foodlink’s new culinary training program, the kitchen hosted a friendly competition between the Fellowship and Foodlink’s full-time kitchen staff. “The Great Foodlink Cooking Showdown was held in conjunction with the annual healthy potluck, where staff members prepare and share healthy dishes to celebrate the culmination of National Nutrition Month.

The teams had about one hour to prepare two dishes apiece. A judging panel then sampled each dish, provided feedback and determined the winner. The “Broccoli Tots” created by the Fellowship received the highest praise.

The Fellows have completed nine months of intensive training at Foodlink, both in a classroom (170 hours) and hands-on training (860 hours) preparing meals in the Foodlink Community Kitchen. They have also spent time (62 hours) developing their soft skills as they prepare for the next steps in their careers.

The final quarter of the year-long program, which was recently approved as the first official Cook Apprenticeship in the state, takes place outside of Foodlink. The inaugural class interviewed for, and all received internship positions at area Wegmans locations. The Fellows started on April 1.

On Saturday, the Fellows attended orientation at Wegmans’ flagship store in Pittsford, On Monday, they start their 3-month internship.

Report shows nearly one-third of New York adults eat no fruits or vegetables

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) recently announced the release of a new report that showed about one-third of adults (31.2%) in New York consume no fruits or vegetables per day.

The report, Percentage of Adults Who Consume No Fruits or Vegetables in New York State by County, was based on data from the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and presents data on no daily consumption of fruits or vegetables by county. The percentage of adults who consume no fruits or vegetables per day varies by county from 19.5% to 42.4%.

The findings illustrate how barriers to healthy food access are prevalent in many communities around the state. High cost is a deterrent to many, while limited access prevents many others from purchasing the fruits and vegetables that many families may take for granted.

Dietary guidelines recommend eating fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk for diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity.

Jefferson County (north of Syracuse) had the highest rate in the state at 42.4%, while Columbia (south of Albany) and Essex (North Country) tied for the lowest at 19.5%. The 10 counties within Foodlink’s service area had the following rates of adults who reported no daily consumption of fruits and vegetables:

Allegany: 28.6%

Genesee: 33.3%

Livingston: 30.7%

Monroe: 27.5%

Ontario: 23.8%

Orleans: 32.6%

Seneca: 20.6%

Wayne: 33.3%

Wyoming: 24.5%

Yates: 21.0%

‘SNAP Gap’ distributions reach more than 12,000 people

Last month, Foodlink partnered with the United Way of Greater Rochester and several community partners to hold additional food distributions to help those impacted by the federal government shutdown earlier this year.

The early release of February SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits in mid-January resulted in a “SNAP Gap” for thousands of families in the Rochester region. Foodlink and the United Way — with key funding support from the ESL Charitable Foundation, United Way of Greater Rochester, Rochester Area Community Foundation, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, and Max & Marian Farash Charitable Foundation — held 14 “SNAP Gap” distributions during the week of Feb. 18-23. The distributions provided 180,000 pounds of food to more than 12,000 people throughout Foodlink’s 10-county service area.

Foodlink provided food to 3,412 households — 52% in the City of Rochester and 48% in rural/outlying counties. Overall, approximately 7,000 adults and 5,000 children were served and the distributions provided nearly 140,000 meals. Three of the highest 5 zip codes served during the week were among the most food-insecure zip codes in the entire state.

The week leading up to the distributions required plenty of coordination as food arrived in Foodlink’s distribution center from around the region. More than 500 volunteers helped pack 40- to 50-pound bags of product — and dozens more assisted at several distribution sites. The City of Rochester helped set up distributions at four city R centers, and the Salvation Army also stepped up to host an additional distribution. The other nine distributions were held at pre-scheduled Mobile Pantry sites outside of Rochester.

More than 78,000 pounds of product were donated by local companies including: Barilla (pasta), Bonduelle (frozen vegetables), General Mills (cereal), Kreher’s (eggs), LiDestri (marinara sauce), Regional Distributors (supplies), Seneca Foods (canned goods), Perfect Granola (granola bars), Orbakers Fruit Farm (apples), and Wegmans Food Markets (bread).

From everyone at Foodlink, and all of those whom we served, thank you to all of the volunteers, donors and community partners who helped pull this off. Your support means the world, and our neighbors were appreciative of our collective efforts.

Fellows land externships at area Wegmans

The inaugural class members of the Foodlink Career Fellowship were notified Monday of their acceptance into externships at various Wegmans stores and restaurants.

After a lengthy interview process on March 6, seven Fellows received their official acceptance letters when they arrived at Foodlink on Monday morning. They will finish up work within the Foodlink Community Kitchen in March, then begin their new roles on April 1.

The Fellows will be working at stores in Brockport (Jenna), Canandaigua (Kristen), East Ave. (Jehmel & Anthony), Pittsford (LaRhonda & Bre’Onn), and at Next Door Bar & Grill in Pittsford (Gloria).

After three months at Wegmans, the Fellows will graduate from the program and seek full-time work in the regional food industry. They began their journey in July, and have since completed a rigorous online training course (Rouxbe), and have hundreds of hours of hands-on experience preparing meals in the Foodlink Community Kitchen. Along the way, they have picked up six industry-recognized certifications to add to their respective resumes.

The interview process, which took place at Wegmans’ flagship store in Pittsford, included interviews by a Regional Chef, Human Resources representative and the Executive Chef at Next Door. Each interview lasted approximately 45 minutes. Fellows prepared resumes, cover letters and a portfolio featuring photographs and their various certifications.

Jes Scannell, Director of Career Empowerment Initiatives at Foodlink, and Clayton Waller, Career Coach, spent long hours preparing the Fellows for the interview process. They, along with the kitchen’s full-time staff members who have served as mentors to the Fellows for the past eight months, were applauded during an all-staff meeting at Foodlink Monday.

Foodlink’s educators ready to celebrate National Nutrition Month

Need some motivation to eat healthier? This Friday marks the start of National Nutrition Month – an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to highlight the value of nutrition education and making informed, healthy food choices.

Foodlink, the regional food bank that hosts nutrition education workshops, classes and demonstrations around the community on a daily basis, has once again planned a month full of fun activities to help promote the annual awareness campaign.

DOWNLOAD & PRINT: Our 2019 National Nutrition Month Calendar

“Foodlink’s dedication to nutrition is apparent year round and is a shared value across the entire organization,” said Margaret Liljedahl, Foodlink’s Nutrition Education Manager. “This March we are using National Nutrition Month to highlight the evolution that the field of nutrition has undergone in the last 40 years, mirroring the evolution of Foodlink as we celebrate our 40 years of serving the community.”

To kick things off, Foodlink’s Executive Chef, Casey Holenbeck, will host a cook-off demonstration with Don Harter, the Regional Chef for Wegmans Food Markets for Rochester and the Southern Tier. This Food Network-inspired event – similar to the hit show, “Chopped,” will feature Holenbeck and Harter demonstrating their culinary creativity by creating dishes from mystery ingredients, including fresh produce from Foodlink’s Curbside Market. Each chef will have assistance in the kitchen from participants in the Foodlink Career Fellowship – a culinary training program launched this past July.

Foodlink operates several distinct nutrition education programs – all with similar goals of empowering people to make healthy choices – especially for those with limited food budgets. Educators with Cooking Matters, Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables and Eat Smart New York share healthy recipes, nutrition lessons, shopping tips with a wide range of audiences in the Rochester area. A new initiative, Edible Education, teaches children about gardening and making healthy meals with fresh produce – all while connecting schools to other Foodlink resources and programs.

After the kickoff event, other highlights for National Nutrition Month include:

March 6 – TV Time! A different Foodlink nutrition education program will be featured each Wednesday on Good Day Rochester. Tune in at 8:40 a.m. to learn more about how our programs are building healthier communities!

March 8 – Cooking Matters at the Store! This interactive grocery store tour gives shoppers tips on how to shop for healthy foods with a limited budget. We’re bringing the tour to the Tops at 450 West Ave. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

March 20 – Trivia Night! Join Foodlink’s staff at Three Heads Brewing on March 20 (7 p.m.) for a nutrition-themed night of trivia.

March 21 & March 28 – JSY at the Market! Our educators will return to the City of Rochester Public Market to give free, weekly demonstrations in a brand new kitchen space in the Winter B Shed. Join us for weekly workshops at 9 and 10 a.m.

Foodlink announces additional food distributions to address ‘SNAP Gap’

Foodlink this week announced the times and locations of 14 food distributions next week to assist food-insecure individuals and families who have been impacted by the federal government shutdown.

These special “SNAP Gap” distributions will serve approximately 3,500 households (250 per site) on a first-come first-served basis during the week of Feb. 18-23. Thousands of local families received their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for February weeks early due to the shutdown. As these families await their March benefits, many have had to stretch their food budgets or rely on Foodlink’s network of emergency food providers to help put food on the table. Federal government contractors who lost pay during a 35-day stretch from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25 also continue to feel the effects of the shutdown.

MORE: State announces that “many New Yorkers will see next month’s benefits appear approximately a week earlier than their normal schedule.”

SNAP GAP SCHEDULE: All sites | Rochester sites

“While it appears we have avoided another government shutdown this week, thousands of our neighbors are still feeling the effects of the first one,” said Foodlink President/CEO Julia Tedesco. “To help those who are facing a real crisis at home, we have collaborated with the United Way and other community partners to coordinate these extra distributions to address the increased need in our region.”

Foodlink strategically chose the week of Feb. 18 to schedule extra distributions for two reasons: (1) SNAP benefits were last distributed Jan. 17-20, meaning that most families would have used their monthly allotment by now; and (2) School vacation week (Feb. 18-22) puts an additional burden on families that now have to provide two additional meals per child each day.

The United Way of Greater Rochester has been a vital partner throughout this process, providing funds, and recruiting additional volunteers for this community-wide effort. Other contributors included the ESL Charitable Foundation, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation and the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

“What I’ve seen over the past few weeks is what Greater Rochester does best—neighbors rallying together to help neighbors,” said Jaime Saunders, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester. “Nonprofits, businesses, the City of Rochester and Monroe County came together to lend support. Volunteers have been working tirelessly to sort and bag critical food for families. Our community has truly demonstrated the incredible good we can accomplish when we’re united. Thank you to our partners at Foodlink for leading this charge so that hundreds of people could come together to help thousands more.”

City of Rochester R Centers, as well as the Salvation Army, have agreed to host five Rochester-based distributions throughout the week.

“We appreciate Foodlink, the United Way and others stepping up to help Rochester families who are at risk of going hungry this month,” said Mayor Lovely A. Warren. “With school out of session, I’m glad our City R-Centers can contribute to this effort to ensure children get the nutrition they need.”

Foodlink reached out to its many food vendors and distributors to solicit donations to help fill pre-packed pantry boxes for those in need. Contributing organizations include: LiDestri Foods, M Fellinger, Bonduelle, Perfect Granola, Wegmans Food Markets, Kreher Family Farms, Orbaker’s Fruit Farm, Barilla, and the Food Bank of WNY. Additional product through the USDA’s TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) was also requested, and Regional Distributors donated heavy-duty bags for packaging.

Foodlink and the United Way recruited additional volunteers to pack thousands of these pantry packs in the week leading up the distribution. Packs include: Frozen chickens, frozen vegetables, eggs, juice, apples, cereal, juice, pasta, marinara sauce, bread, oatmeal, granola bars, canned peaches, canned beans, split peas, canned vegetables, peanut butter, jelly and shelf-stable milk. The contents of each pack are expected to last approximately 3 days for a family of 4.

Next week’s food distributions will accommodate approximately 250 households each and will operate on a first-come, first served basis. There are no income requirements and no ID required, however name, address and household size will be recorded. Residents must be 18 or older to accept food, and distributions will take place rain or shine.

The public is encouraged to contact 2-1-1 LIFELINE to learn more about food assistance and other resources in their community.

Remembering Foodlink’s founder, Tom Ferraro, 5 years later

Today — Feb. 11, 2019 — marks five years since the passing of Foodlink’s founder, Tom Ferraro. 

Tom — a visionary, social entrepreneur and passionate anti-hunger advocate, is still very much part of the fabric of Foodlink’s innovative work, and is revered by those who worked alongside him. His death in 2014 left a massive void in a community for which he cared deeply. An excerpt from his obituary reads:

“He had an insatiable energy for life and he channeled this energy into Foodlink’s mission for nearly four decades. Tom was passionate about ending hunger and believed that food was the cornerstone of a strong economy, a healthy community, and empowered individuals.”

Below, Foodlink staff members who worked with Tom were asked to reflect on what made Tom special, and why he inspired so many …

“Tom was, and continues to be, a role model and mentor to me. His out-of-the- box approach to things has been a consistent guide to my way of thinking. Tom fueled my passion for community, leading me to start several youth organizations that host over 250 kids. Tom and my Dad were close friends and that relationship trickled down to us. I was there in hospice by his side in his last days and the conversations we had I truly cherish.”

  • Phil Daniel, Distribution Center Manager

“Tom created a culture of “yes” at Foodlink; he always wanted to be a good community partner and help any individual or organization that wanted to improve our community.”

  • Mitch Gruber, Chief Program Officer

“Tom was a passionate agent of change who could see talent and tap into people’s potential.  Many of my colleagues and I were lucky enough to be hired and inspired by Tom. He believed in me and gave me opportunities to learn and grow professionally, and even encouraged me to get my MBA. Without Tom, I am unsure I would have found a career that is so full of challenges, purpose, and meaning.”

  • Terra Keller, Chief Operating Officer

“I loved how Tom Ferraro walked in the door (of our kitchen) back on Joseph Avenue. I admired how he knew everyone’s names. He would walk up to you and ask you how your day was … I loved how he made sure you were doing OK.”

  • Daviana Rivera, Quality Assurance Supervisor

“Tom appreciated everyone who worked for him … and he let everyone know it, too.”

  • Leon Green, Warehouse Reclamation Lead

Foodlink opens up additional volunteer shifts to meet rising need

Foodlink’s distribution center is in need of volunteers this week in next, in preparation for additional food distributions that will take place the week of Feb. 18-24 in the Rochester area.

The federal government shutdown caused a disruption to thousands of families’ grocery budgets, when Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits were distributed weeks early for the month of February. This forced families to stretch their budgets longer than usual — some more than 40 days — as they await their March benefits.

SIGN UP! Registration: New volunteer registration | Calendar for returning volunteers

As a result, Foodlink and its Member Agencies expect to see a rise in demand for emergency food throughout the month of February. In partnership with the United Way of Greater Rochester and many other community partners, Foodlink is planning additional food distributions during the school break that begins Feb. 18.

Foodlink needs to recruit additional volunteers to help meet the day-to-day needs of our agencies, as well as prepare for these extra distributions. We have added slots to existing volunteer shifts, and added new shifts to our calendar. The shifts for which we are seeking additional volunteers include:

February 6 — 1 – 4 p.m.
February 7 — 1 – 4 p.m.
February 12 — 1 – 4 p.m.
February 13 — 1 – 4 p.m.
February 13 — 5 – 8 p.m. NEW SHIFT
February 14 — 9 a.m. – noon
February 14 — 5 – 8 p.m. NEW SHIFT
February 15 — 9 a.m. – noon
February 16 — 9 a.m. – noon NEW SHIFT
February 16 — 1 – 4 p.m. NEW SHIFT

Visit our website to learn more, and if you have any questions about volunteering — or if you are interested in signing up an entire group — call our Volunteer Programs Coordinator Jessica Lockett at 585-413-4094.

SIGN UP! Registration: New volunteer registration | Calendar for returning volunteers