Helping people avoid ‘Tough Choices’

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For those that struggle with hunger in this country, fulfilling basic needs unfortunately becomes balancing act. 

Do I pay the bills or pay for groceries?

The Feeding America “Tough Choices” campaign this winter (January and February) helps raise awareness by drawing attention to some of the more startling statistics within our network of clients who access emergency food services. 

Among them:

  • 66% of households choose between food and medical care
  • 57% of households choose between food and housing
  • 69% of households choose between food and utilities

Our network of more than 200 food banks across the country helps provide meals so that those in need can avoid this “either or” scenario. 


Feeding America has an interactive “Facts and Faces” graphic available on its website that tells the story of four people of different ages and backgrounds and how they are affected by hunger. Read more about Jessica, Alicia, Martin and Harold here.

The 2014 Hunger in America study — the largest research of its kind — was localized through funding from the United Way. Other statistics we learned from OUR service area included: 72% of households bought inexpensive and unhealthy foods as a coping strategy to avoid hunger; and 20% of clients had to choose between buying food or medical care EACH month. 


When you support the Foodlink, you not only help put a meal on a table, but you also take a hard decision off someone’s plate.


Curbside Market celebrates its loyal volunteers


Foodlink could not carry out its mission without the help of so many outstanding volunteers that live among us. They help us sort food in our distribution center, they help out at fundraising events, and they help out with our innovative programs that venture out into the community. 

The Curbside Market, Foodlink’s mobile farmers market, is one of those programs. Foodlink’s “produce aisle on wheels” visits USDA-defined food deserts and other locations that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and sells them at wholesale prices. Foodlink has several staff drivers, but once a truck pulls into a busy location, we could always use some extra hands to assist our enthusiastic clients.

SIGN UP: Volunteer with Curbside!

“I felt it was a good opportunity and there’s no down time,” said Bonnie Crawford, a retired nurse. “You feel very needed and appreciated both by the staff and the consumers.”

When Gary Larsen retired, he started volunteering in Foodlink’s distribution center at the recommendation of a friend. Then he heard about Curbside, and he wanted to hit the road. Now he volunteers Tuesdays and Thursdays and travels to the outlying counties in our service area.

“It’s a lot more rewarding because you get to meet the people that are actually getting the food,” Larsen said. “My favorite places are the senior centers because I got to know a lot of the people that are the regulars. They’re very friendly and kind and appreciative of the products we bring and sell to them every time we show up.” 

Foodlink welcomed Gary, Bonnie and seven other of its most loyal volunteers to its headquarters on Jan. 5 to both thank them and collect feedback about their experiences. Lunch was served, a focus group discussion was held, and a tour of our distribution center and new Community Kitchen followed. The full roster included Crawford, Larsen, Carrie Hoey, Saqrah Houck, Michael Hagelberg, Jean Fleche, Kevin Heberle, James Bonsignore and Patricia Mendicino.

“The Curbside Market would not be able to make a significant, lasting impact in our community without the help of our dedicated volunteers,” said Eric Lintala, Foodlink’s Markets and Gardens (Americorps) VISTA who helped coordinate the focus group.

Lintala said the nine volunteers who visited have logged more than 700 hours of service combined. 

Mendicino said she’s been doing food prep for most of her adult life and got involved because she enjoys getting out into the community, visiting new places and connecting with people. 

“It’s making me feel like I’m doing something good and gives me a purpose,” she said. 

Celebrating another Muffin Day at Foodlink


What’s Muffin Day?

I realize that almost everything on Earth has a “Day” associated with it. We hear about it on Facebook, or on the local news whenever a quirky or abstract one appears on the calendar. And truth be told, there is a Muffin Day (multiple ones, actually, because Blueberry and Oatmeal apparently couldn’t share).

But here at Foodlink, Muffin Day is more significant. It represents the day — in 1978 — that our founder Tom Ferraro made a public plea for excess food to support Rochester’s local food pantries. The kind folks at Thomas’ English Muffins responded and off went Tom to the factory to pick up a few muffins. 

The donation, however, was larger than he expected. He had to return to the facility with a borrowed school bus, loaded it up, and the rest is history. Abundance was shared. 

So Dec. 19 isn’t just a day to enjoy a muffin or two (although we certainly did), it’s a day to recognize our founder’s vision and legacy. And nearly 40 years later, it’s a day to celebrate how far Foodlink has come as an organization. 


Sen. Gillibrand lends a hand at Foodlink

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined Foodlink staff members and volunteers in our distribution center on Dec. 16, 2016.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined Foodlink staff members and volunteers in our distribution center on Dec. 16, 2016.

With hundreds of bags of fresh produce to pack for our partner agencies during the holiday season, several Foodlink staff members joined volunteers Friday to ensure the job got done.

And they got an extra set of helping hands from a U.S. Senator. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stopped by Foodlink Dec. 16 to help pack the bags, which included fresh apples, carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage. The bags are assembled this time of year by volunteers and then delivered to more than 100 of our partner agencies. A grant from Citizens Bank provided funding for the purchase of the various food items. In November and December, Foodlink fulfills orders for more than 17,000 bags.

It’s one example of how Foodlink is emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables and trying to increase the amount of nutritious food we distribute to our network. Gillibrand, well aware of our recent growth, spoke to the media after volunteering. 

“In just a few short years, they went from half-a-million pounds of fruits and vegetables and now they’re at 5 million pounds, which is incredible,” Gillibrand said. “So they are really making a difference and it’s exciting to be part of something that really cares about people.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand volunteered at Foodlink Dec. 16 by packing holiday produce bags for our partner agencies.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand volunteered at Foodlink Dec. 16 by packing holiday produce bags for our partner agencies.

With the exception of the carrots, all of the produce packed into each bag, which weigh approximately 14 pounds each, are locally grown. 

With the help of staff and volunteers from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 850 bags were packed in the span of just a few hours. 

Before Gillibrand packed bags, she was given a quick tour of Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen. The kitchen staff officially moved from Joseph Avenue to Mt. Read Boulevard on Dec. 5. The senator was particularly interested in our Value-Added Processing program, in which we slice apples for distribution to local children. 

“It’s really exciting how much they’re augmenting the work they do, and getting fresh fruits and vegetables to families,” Gillibrand said. 

Gillibrand said the holiday season is a great time to volunteer, but the need exists year-round. She encouraged everyone to sign up for a shift at Foodlink at some point throughout the year. 

“It makes a difference for families who are food insecure to have this resource here,” Gillibrand said. “It makes all the difference, especially around the holidays.” 


Sen. Gillibrand speaks to the media Dec. 16 at Foodlink.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to the media Dec. 16 at Foodlink.

Community Kitchen: One roof, at last

The welcoming committee created this "family tree" and hung it in the new kitchen staff break room prior to their big move.

The welcoming committee created this “family tree” and hung it in the new kitchen staff break room prior to their big move.


Foodlink’s operational headquarters and our commercial kitchen have moved around quite a bit through the years. 

Just not at the same time, and never at the same place. 

That all changed, officially, on Dec. 5 when more than 20 Foodlink kitchen staff members began meal production in their new home at 1999 Mt. Read Blvd. For the first time in history, the kitchen staff will work under the same roof as their food hub colleagues. 

After construction wrapped up on Nov. 18, our staff spent time learning about the new equipment and going through an orientation, which included a tour of the entire facility (offices, warehouse and all), on Dec. 2. 

On Monday, Dec. 5 … it was showtime. 

Breakfast was served before the team's first shift Dec. 5 in their new kitchen.

Breakfast was served before the team’s first shift Dec. 5 in their new kitchen.

“Moving into Foodlink’s new community kitchen was an important day for us,” said Chrys Baldwin, Foodlink’s Director of Kitchen Operations. “With careful planning, we were able to transition without missing a meal delivery to any of our almost 70 community partner locations.”

You read that right. On Friday, we delivered meals to dozens of sites out of our Joseph Avenue kitchen. On Monday, we picked up where we left off at Mt. Read. If you’re familiar with working in an office setting, perhaps you’ve moved cubicles or offices at least once in your life. Maybe you recall the annoyance of emptying drawers, going through old files and packing up personal belongings. Wires, most likely, were everywhere. 

Moving from one commercial kitchen to another (the latter of which is 28,000 square feet), however, is a SLIGHTLY larger endeavor. 

“Our staff was well-prepared and excited about the transition, and the entire Foodlink workforce pitched in to make it all happen,” Baldwin said. “Now the hard work continues as we settle in, learn and get adjusted. It’s an exciting new beginning for Foodlink!”

Although the move represents a significant step forward for our Community Kitchen, the project itself is not complete. So far, we have raised more than $4.4 million of the $4.9 million needed to fully fund the Community Kitchen. Learn about how you can support this project on our website

Once all funding is secured, Foodlink — and the entire Rochester community — can begin to realize the full potential of this facility. We will:

  • Prepare and serve more healthy meals for Rochester’s children
  • Promote economic development through an improved Value-Added Processing program
  • Develop a one-of-a-kind workforce development program aimed at hard-to-place workers interested in culinary training. 

Our “one roof” goal was met on Dec. 5. It was one goal of many associated with this amazing project. We look forward to setting and meeting more in the years to come. 

Employees get prepared for their first shift Dec. 5 inside Foodlink's new Community Kitchen.

Employees get prepared for their first shift Dec. 5 inside Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen.

Progress report (November): Community Kitchen construction is complete!

The kitchen’s main meal production room is ready to go.

It’s the time of year to be thankful. And our staff here at Foodlink is certainly thankful that there’s a new rule in place inside our new Community Kitchen.

Hard hats …. Optional.

The construction phase of this transformative, $4.9 million project officially ended Friday. Crews are still around tidying up and tying up some loose ends, but otherwise, the keys are ours. It’s amazing what came together in just under seven months.

Foodlink’s kitchen staff now awaits the first day of production – slated for Dec. 5 – at their new Mt. Read Boulevard digs. Our sliced apple operations (Value-Added Processing) will be on hold briefly as the staff settles into their new surroundings, but it shouldn’t be long until our new VAP equipment is humming along.

Call me crazy, but I think our apple-slicing line is about to replace our walk-in freezer as the highlight of every kid’s tour. Yes, the freezer had a good five-year run. But this equipment, which seems to go on for miles, is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

More: Learn more about the project

A peek inside the Value-Added Processing room at Foodlink's new Community Kitchen.

A peek inside the Value-Added Processing room at Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen.

The third focus area of our new kitchen, workforce development, comes later. We’re thankful to Wegmans Food Markets for guiding us through that process and we’re hopeful that eventually a lucky group of culinary enthusiasts will find our new home as welcoming and promising as we already do.

We tout these three ventures — meal production, value-added processing and workforce development — at every opportunity. Each will no doubt help our regional economy, as well as our region’s most vulnerable populations. But the simple fact that all of Foodlink finally will reside under one roof is particularly meaningful to our staff.

About 20 members of the “Foodlink family” will join us each day at Mt. Read Boulevard. We’ve always needed to schedule two staff meetings (one for the kitchen, one for Mt. Read) to accommodate our staff. That changes next month.

Watching the kitchen transform from a vacant warehouse to this high-tech, mission-driven kitchen has been awe-inspiring. If you don’t remember what the space formerly looked like, check it out here … and here

The construction phase of the kitchen is “done.” But the work, really, has just begun.


More state-of-the-art equipment inside the Community Kitchen.

More state-of-the-art equipment inside the Community Kitchen.

Eat like a champion


He’s got a close eye on hundreds of Rochester children in hopes they don’t turn into another ugly statistic. And he lives more than 2,500 miles away. 

Roland Williams, an East High grad who grew up on Genesee Street, chased his football dreams after leaving the Flower City. That dream resulted in a successful stop at Syracuse, an eight-year NFL career and a Super Bowl ring.

He eventually settled in Los Angeles, but he never forgot about Rochester.

“I just got tired of hearing about the tragedies and pain that’s happening with our young people here (in Rochester),” Williams said. “The statistics are horrifying.”

Champion Academy was born. The multi-dimensional program mentors hundreds of Rochester’s youth. Williams said it currently serves more than 300 students in grades 6-12 in more than 50 schools across Rochester.

“It’s time for people who care about progress and who care about this region, to not turn their backs on some of the other darker, challenging sides of this community,” Williams said. “You have to stand up and fight.”

Foodlink has joined the fight through nutrition education. 


The Finger Lakes Eat Smart New York program, a collaboration of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Foodlink, has introduced lessons into the Champion Academy program and teaches children the value of eating right. 

“You can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body. So I’m very grateful for Foodlink to partner with Champion Academy,” Williams said. “I believe in the power of teamwork. As an NFL guy I know that nothing great happens without teamwork and so for me, having Foodlink on the team is really a great asset.”

FLESNY Nutrition Educator Laura Held said one workshop that she directed resulted in an unexpected treat. After introducing some healthy snack options to the kids, Williams piggybacked off her lesson during the following session — his motivational speech. Held was thrilled that Williams reinforced her message in such an engaging way.  

“Roland was truly inspirational to both (nutrition) educators, and they could see how rapt with attention the youth were,” she said. “The connection between the workshop and the speech will surely make an impact on these youth.”

Foodlink founder Tom Ferraro had a saying. “There is no ‘thinking outside the box.’ There is only living outside the box.”

Williams agrees and it’s woven into the mission of Champion Academy. 

“It’s extreme mentoring — mentoring with a twist to help give them those tools to be successful,” he said. “Part of that means pushing them to get outside the box. Pushing them a little bit to try new things and helping them to become better people from the inside out.”

Before you ROC the Day … research!

With #GivingTuesday less than two weeks away, we hope everyone in the Rochester area is considering taking part in ROC the Day — a 24-hour “dash to donate” to benefit local nonprofits (including Foodlink!).


If you know you’ll be donating (to us or one of the other fine charities in our area), do a little bit of research to see if you can increase the impact of your donation. Did you know that several employers nationwide (Gap, CarMax, ExxonMobil, for example) have matching gift programs?

Use this tool, provided for free by, to search for employers all over the country. Just type in your employer’s name and access matching gift forms, guidelines and submission instructions. If you don’t find your employer on the list, it doesn’t hurt to ask HR or your supervisor!

Thanks for listening, and we hope you’re planning on being a “ROC-star” on Nov. 29.  

Rosa Wims, at 93 years young, is still serving our community

Rosa and her son, Eddie, pictured at the 31st annual Rosa's Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 11, 2016 at the Montgomery Neighborhood Center.

Rosa and her son, Eddie, pictured at the 31st annual Rosa’s Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 11, 2016 at the Montgomery Neighborhood Center.

They came to the Montgomery Neighborhood Center by the dozens, young and old, looking for warmth and nourishment. As they waited in line outside an old-fashioned, sun-soaked gymnasium, Rosa Wims greeted them at the door. 

Some faces were familiar and others were new. All of them received a welcoming smile and a hefty meal at the 31st edition of Rosa’s Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner on Cady Street. 

PHOTOS: Check out our Facebook album

TV news cameras gave her plenty of attention — and with good reason — as she took all of their questions. When you spend a majority of your nine decades on this earth serving others, people take notice. 

“A love for people,” Wims told a cameraman from 13 WHAM News on Friday when asked what brings her back year after year. “The smiles. The children. And to see some of the kids grow up and remember me — that’s a blessing.” 

D&C VIDEO: Rosa talks about the tradition

The menu for the 2016 dinner.

The menu for the 2016 dinner.

Rice. Stuffing. Sweet Potatoes. Beans. Corn. Collared greens. Turkey. Salad. Sweet Potato Pie. Cookies. Bread. In. That. Order. 

Yes, the neighborhood got fed. 

And they’ll get fed next year, too. While Rosa has admitted she’ll likely take on a smaller role in organizing and planning the event in the years to come, the show will go on and she’ll show up as long as she’s able. 

Thanks to all of our dedicated volunteers and, of course, Foodlink’s Community Kitchen staff for preparing a delicious meal. And a special thanks to Palmer Food Services for donating and preparing the turkey this year.

Another meal from Corn Hill’s most famous holiday host is in the books. The tradition lives on. And tonight, nobody will be going to sleep on an empty stomach. 

Community members go through the line at Rosa's 31st annual Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 11, 2016 at the Montgomery Neighborhood Center.

Community members go through the line at Rosa’s 31st annual Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 11, 2016 at the Montgomery Neighborhood Center.

Rosa speaks to 13 WHAM News as the event gets started.

Rosa speaks to 13 WHAM News as the event gets started.

Venison Donation Coalition celebrates 18 years of feeding the hungry

Article written by Kathy Balbierer, for the New York Farm Bureau newsletter.

The Venison Donation Coalition has been feeding the hungry since its inception 18 years ago. It began in 1999 when Chemung and Steuben County sportsmen’s federations backed up the efforts of the Venison Donation Coalition with funds to pay two processors. Together, they distributed 1000 pounds of highly nutritious ground venison to those in need.


Since that time, the Venison Donation Coalition has partnered with so many organizations and individuals that have made this program a huge success. The Venison Donation Coalition consists of representatives from sportsmen’s clubs, nonprofit organizations, regional food banks such as Foodlink and local food pantries — as well as local, state and federal agencies including the Farm Bureau, which aims to secure funding for the processing and distribution of venison to families in need. With the help of its partners, the Venison Donation Coalition secures funds to pay the meat processors for their services.

The program’s growth has been exciting. Since 1999, The Venison Donation Coalition has been highly successful in its goal to feed the hungry throughout New York State. Today eight regional food banks support the entire state with the distribution of the meat to those in need.

Through the generous donation of deer from the hunters and farmers, the Coalition has processed an average of 38 tons of venison each year and more than 4 million servings of highly nutritious meat has been served to individuals and children in need.

In 2015, the Venison Donation Coalition saw a very nice 20% increase in venison donation. It would be awesome to see at least that in 2016!

The Venison Donation Coalition is seeking additional support from farmers. Crop damage from deer is estimated at $58 million in New York State. If farmers will allow hunters to cull the deer on their property with the stipulation of the meat be donated to the program, it could be a win-win for all involved. Farmers will have reduced crop damage, hunters will have additional time out in the woods, and the food banks will have additional meat to distribute to those in need.

Here is a breakdown of hunting allowed on farms in New York State.

  • 6% allow NO hunting
  • 6% allow family members
  • 74% allow friends and neighbors
  • 6% allow strangers they thought trustworthy
  • 9% allow sportsmen’s clubs

Deer are best managed to acceptable levels through legal harvest during the fall and winter hunting seasons:

  • Populations are highest
  • Deer activity peaks
  • Fawns are weaned.

Fall harvest of antlerless deer, especially adult females, equates to 2-3 deer that won’t be in the crops during the next growing season. Farmers should require the removal of adult females at a rate of approximately 1 adult female per 25 acres of operation. For example, for a 500-acre parcel, remove 20 does if fewer deer are desired. Buck-only hunting does not reduce deer population or resultant damage. 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) can provide the legal means, but individual management plans need to be implemented by the landowner. NYSDEC offers the following programs to landowners:

DMP (Deer Management Permit)

  • Issued to licensed deer hunters by lottery application
  • For use in select wildlife management units
  • Harvest antlerless deer only
  • Hunt during Open Season only
  • Hunter may obtain up to 4 tags

DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program)

  • Biologists available to help implement site specific deer management programs
  • DEC issues a special permit and a determined number of deer tags to landowner
  • Permits can only be used by licensed hunters on landowner’s property
  • Harvest antlerless deer only
  • Hunt during Open Season only
  • Hunter may obtain 2 tags from landowner

DDP (Deer Damage (Nuisance) Permits)

  • Issued on a case by case basis to landowners with deer damage
  • Landowner issued a permit that may be assigned to agents
  • Harvest antlerless deer only
  • Hunt during growing season
  • Three to five carcass tags issued


Contact the local NYSDEC office for additional information and applications for the DMAP and DDP permits. Apply for DMP’s at license issuing town clerks and retail outlets in early August through October 1 each year.

Another way to support the program is to donate financially. One dollar will feed up to four people. Financial donations are appreciated and since the Venison Donation Coalition is a nonprofit organization, donations are tax deductible. For every dollar that is donated to the Venison Donation Coalition, $.90 is used towards processing the venison. With approximately 500,000 deer hunters in New York State, imagine if every one of them donates just $1 and/or a deer how successful the program could be.

Financial donations can be made at your Town Clerk’s office or anywhere hunting and fishing licenses are sold. Just inform the D.E.C.A.L.S. licensing agent that you wish to make a donation to support the Venison Donation Program. All donations through D.E.C.A.L.S. are deposited directly into the Venison Donation Fund. Donations can also be accepted through our secure website, or send a check payable to: Venison Donation Coalition, Inc., 3 East Pulteney Sq., Bath, NY 14810.

Donation of deer is also appreciated. Any hunter or farmer interested in donating a deer, please call 866-862-DEER or visit the Venison Donation Coalition’s website ( to locate a processor near you. Please remember, you must call ahead before dropping off any deer for donation. All deer must be legally tagged and properly field dressed before taking in to a participating processor

Please help to keep the Venison Donation Coalition successful in your neighborhood. Donate today! One deer or one dollar goes a long way to help curb hunger throughout New York State.