Thank you, AmeriCorps!

During AmeriCorps Week, we’d like to spotlight the three AmeriCorps members who have made their mark at Foodlink within the past year.

Foodlink hosts AmeriCorps members each year to help with their nutrition education (through Cooking Matters) and food access (through the Curbside Market, Urban Farm Stands and Garden Project) programs throughout its service area. Saharra Malloy and Heidi Riegel joined our Cooking Matters team in November, while Eric Lintala began as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in August.

Saharra Malloy.

Heidi Riegel.

Eric Lintala.

Cooking Matters is one of Foodlink’s three main Nutrition Education programs. It helps families shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget, as part of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Throughout the year, AmeriCorps members coordinate Cooking Matters courses for kids, teens, families and parents throughout Rochester. On any given day, they are organizing cooking equipment and supplies, planning lessons, shopping for food for recipes and helping to teach the courses with a team of volunteers.

Saharra grew up in Rochester and has a passion for the culinary arts. She recently helped to carry out a Cooking Matters at the Store event in Rochester as part of National Nutrition Month, reaching over 65 people to show them simple ways to eat healthier on a budget while shopping at a grocery store. Seeing as she loves to cook, she sees her term as an opportunity to explore a career in the culinary arts.

Heidi graduated from Roberts Wesleyan this past year and sees her term of service as an opportunity to connect with the participants in classes and expose them to new foods and ways of preparing healthy meals. She loves to introduce participants to new fruits and vegetables and to see their reactions when they realize they like them. Her hope is to take what she learns during her year of service and apply it toward a career in social work.

“Foodlink is so appreciative of the efforts of our AmeriCorps members, adding capacity to our programs and giving back in such a big way,” said Alyssa VanValkenburg, Foodlink’s Nutrition Education Manager.

Eric has made significant contributions at Foodlink in the last seven months with our food access team. One of his biggest undertakings was recruiting and managing dozens of volunteers for our Curbside Market program. He also planned and hosted a focus group with our most loyal volunteers in January. Eric also shoulders the social media responsibilities for Curbside, organizes plenty of data associated with our food access programs and has contributed to the success of numerous projects.

“Eric has been a crucial member of the team,” said Nathaniel Mich, Community Programs Coordinator at Foodlink. “He’s grown our Curbside and Urban Farm volunteer base, increased efficiencies across programs and cultivated new community partnerships. Thanks to Eric, our programs are stronger, smoother and more sustainable, with a clear path for continued growth.”

More than 80,000 Americans join AmeriCorps each year to tackle various issues and problems all across the country. They help with affordable housing, hunger, education, disaster relief, economic development and more. Members spend about three months to a year dedicated to a specific role.

More than 1 million people have served with AmeriCorps since 1994, and have contributed more than 1.4 billion hours of service. Last year, 21,600 sites hosted AmeriCorps members.

Learn more about AmeriCorps at AmeriCorps.gov.

Food banks unite in Albany for day of advocacy

The Capitol in Albany.

We weren’t quite as loud as the librarians (go figure), who seemed to arrive by the busload, but food banks around New York sent a loud and powerful message during their advocacy day Wednesday in Albany. 

The Food Bank Association of New York State (FBANYS), along with partner agencies and the New York Farm Bureau, spent March 1 in Albany advocating for three main items to be (hopefully) including in the next state budget. 

(1) Supporting the Farm to Food Bank bill, which provides tax credits (up to $5,000) for farmers who donate to food banks or other emergency food providers.

(2) An increase in Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) funding through the Department of Health. 

(3) Supporting the governor’s proposed Food Desert Elimination Grant Program.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano joins Sen. Rich Funke for a discussion about the Farm to Food Bank bill on March 1 in Albany.

The day began with a Facebook Live discussion with Sen. Rich Funke, though several other legislators dropped by to speak briefly and offer their support. Funke, who represents the 55th Senate District (parts of Monroe and Ontario counties), has co-sponsored the bill with Assemblyman Francisco Moya (Assembly District 30 in Queens).

“This legislation that we’ve put together has been wildly popular throughout the state,” said Funke, whose father was a vegetable farmer in Genesee County. “There are very few people outside of the governor who have been opposed to this. We’re hopeful this time around that it will pass, the governor will not veto it, he’ll approve it, and get it moving. We think it’s a win-win for farmers and certainly those impoverished people in our district.” 

The FBANYS was supportive of the bill last year, and remains supportive as another attempt to pass it makes its way through the legislature and budget process. 

“In my mind, this is a very smart bill, because that healthy food will help feed the healthy communities that the governor is looking to support in New York State’s budget this year,” said Anita Paley, FBANYS Executive Director.

About 6 billion pounds of produce goes unharvested each year in the United States.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya speaks with Randi Dresner of Island Harvest about the Farmt o Food Bank bill.

Food bankers also spoke with representatives about the benefits of HPNAP funding and how our partner agencies rely on this funding to purchase food or pay for rent, utilities or key pieces of equipment (freezers, coolers, etc.) The FBANYS would like to see funding increase to $51 million to help close the state’s meal gap, which currently sits at 472 million meals.

Finally, more than 656,000 New Yorkers meet the criteria of living in a food desert — a term used to describe a low-income area with limited access to a grocery store. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included $1 million in his budget to help establish the Food Desert Elimination grant program, which would help non-profits (like ours) and others to create retail outlets in underserved communities. 

Collectively, our group spoke with more than a dozen legislators. Foodlink met with the offices of: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (132nd), Assemblyman Joseph Giglio (148th), Sen. Tom O’Mara (58th), Sen. Pamela Helming (54th) and Assemblyman Bob Oaks (130th).

It’s time to celebrate National Nutrition Month!

ROCHESTER – It’s time to “put your best fork forward.”

That’s the theme for this year’s celebration of National Nutrition Month, spearheaded by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics throughout the month of March. It’s also a time of year for Foodlink to promote the many ways its nutrition educators help improve the health and wellbeing of the Rochester community.

“Foodlink’s vision is a healthy, hunger-free community,” said Laura Sugarwala, Foodlink’s Senior Manager of Nutrition and Food Safety. “National Nutrition Month is a time for Foodlink and our partners to reinvigorate our commitment to increasing access to healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Nutritious food has the power to prevent disease, strengthen our bodies, and transform our lives.”

There are several events planned throughout the month to promote healthy eating, starting March 3 with another Cooking Matters at the Store tour at Price Rite (1230 University Ave.) At various stations around the store, Foodlink educators and other partner organizations teach shoppers about key food groups, how to read nutrition labels and how to shop healthy on a tight budget. MVP Health Care provides key support for the event, which will run between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Another Cooking Matters at the Store event is schedule March 18 at Andre’s Barbershop on Portland Avenue. Check out a full calendar of events, which includes many healthy, delicious recipes, at www.foodlinkny.org.

“Every day, Foodlink’s nutrition educators have the opportunity to go out into the community and empower folks of all ages to make healthier choices,” said Emma Denton, a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Educator at Foodlink. “Foodlink’s Cooking Matters, Eat Smart New York, and Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables programs support families and individuals in not only putting their best fork forward but to do so in a way that is affordable, convenient and delicious!”

What makes Foodlink’s new Community Kitchen so great? We asked. They answered.

It has been more than two months since Foodlink’s kitchen staff made the move from Joseph Avenue to its new Community Kitchen on Mt. Read Boulevard. This is a dream come true for the entire organization, but especially for the employees who get to work with the new equipment and space each day. It has completely revolutionized the way we prepare food for this community.

Learn more: About the project and how you can help

Foodlink’s Value-Added Processing Supervisor, Moses Ulom, chatted with a few of his colleagues about the new space and what it has meant for their daily routine. The staff was happy to share their experiences since move-in day in December. Here’s what they had to say:

Josh Orsini, Prep Cook

“The new ovens are amazing; they have definitely enhanced the way we prep meals,” Orsini said. “Imagine cooking 1,600 pieces of chicken in one oven in a small amount of time and still maintaining the right texture and taste. It gives me joy to know the kids are receiving good quality food.”

Prep Cook Josh Orsini.

Andrae Lenear, Production Supervisor

“What I love about the new kitchen is the setup, with regards to the flow of food and staff. The white walls represent everything clean and ready to eat. While the orange walls represent any unwashed products. This system helps the staff to know what hallway to use when transporting ready-to-eat meals or unwashed products. It also shows how serious Foodlink cares about food safety and providing the highest quality of products.”

Production Supervisor Andrae Lenear.

Jarques Fitts, Expediting Supervisor

“The fact I could load up 20 pans in one oven, to me, is a milestone. When it comes to what these ovens can do is beyond description. For example, I could cook, bake, and roast chicken with the same oven and still achieve an incredible outcome. To crown it all, these ovens are self cleaning. That makes my job much easier.”

Expediting Supervisor Jarques Fitts.

Mary Cook, Prep Cook

“What I love most about the kitchen is the three-compartment stainless tables and working space. Having the space and the tables makes it easier for me to set up my work station without interfering with the kitchen traffic. For example, my team and I could lay out all the ingredients, condiments, and pans without running out of space or colliding with each other.”

Prep Cook Mary Cook.

Cornelio Edwards, Prep Cook

“I love using the tilt kettles and pots. I like how they are set up next to each other. We could have four people working on different meals at the same time. We could make more than 1,000 meals in less than 2 hours. This has cut production time in half. So, when it comes to mass production, I would say we are on the right track.”

Prep Cook Cornelio Edwards.

Wegmans collects $1.7M in donations across 5 states for hunger relief

Wegmans on Thursday announced the totals from its various hunger-relief campaigns it organized across five states this fall. 

The campaigns collectively raised $1.74 million dollars, and nearly 40 percent of that total was donated to Foodlink! 

“We’re grateful for our customers and employees who demonstrate a shared commitment to making a difference in our communities by giving so generously during this campaign each year,” Linda Lovejoy, Wegmans community relations manager, said in a statement. “Every dollar counts in the fight against hunger, and we can’t thank our customers and employees enough for helping us reduce the hunger that exists right in our own neighborhoods and communities.”

The campaign is known locally as Check Out Hunger, which raised $680,817 for Foodlink this past October and November. Point-of-sale campaigns were also held in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Another Check Out Hunger campaign with Tops and other local grocers is underway now. 

In 2016, all Wegmans stores raised a total of $2.88 million for hunger relief through scanning campaigns, and since these programs began in 1993, Wegmans has raised more than $32.5 million. In addition to money raised for emergency food services in 2016, Wegmans also donated approximately 14.5 million pounds of food to local food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens across all of its market areas. 

Eastman School of Music professor shares personal story of growing up in poverty

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, right, with pianist Kurt Galvan.

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, right, with pianist Kurt Galvan.

He asked the audience to picture someone — anyone — who is likely struggling with hunger.

A pause.

Imaginations throughout the pews at Third Presbyterian Church on Meigs Street went to work. Where would the food they just donated end up? Were they picturing a homeless man or woman at a shelter? A senior citizen at a soup kitchen? Perhaps a child nervously gripping her mother’s leg at a food pantry?

One can’t tell for certain whom everyone chose for this social experiment. But I know one person they likely didn’t. The man standing in front of them. 

Anthony Dean Griffey is an American tenor and Eastman School of Music professor who shared his talents at Sunday night’s If Music Be the Food concert to benefit Foodlink. He also shared a moving personal story about growing up in poverty and benefiting from the emergency food system. Griffey, a native of North Carolina, said his parents worked hard in factory jobs, but struggled to make ends meet. He said getting that box of donated food each week was “like Christmas.”

Griffey’s point was clear. Hunger affects people of all walks of life and food banks and other emergency food providers play vital roles in crafting a promising future for millions of children. His professional bio lists an array of awards won, countries visited, performances given, educational attainment and more. He said it doesn’t mention his full journey, so when he gets a chance, he likes to tell it.

And after the storyteller with a gentle voice finished, the tenor with thundering vocals began. He sang Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs and was accompanied by pianist Kurt Galvan. He showed his stunning range, and his sense of humor.

And he showed everyone that the face of hunger sometimes starts somewhere in a food pantry, but may just end up in his home state’s Music Hall of Fame.

Visit the website: IfMusicBeTheFood.com (Next concert: April 30)

 More photos from Sunday night’s performance:

Bonita Boyd (flute) and Nicholas Goluses (guitar) were the first to perform.

Bonita Boyd (flute) and Nicholas Goluses (guitar) were the first to perform.

Third Presbyterian on Meigs Street hosted Sunday night's If Music be the Food concert to benefit Foodlink.

Third Presbyterian on Meigs Street hosted Sunday night’s If Music be the Food concert to benefit Foodlink.

Violist Carol Rodland, right, and a string quintet perform Sunday night. Rodland has organized If Music Be the Food for the past eight years.

Violist Carol Rodland, right, and a string quintet perform Sunday night. Rodland has organized If Music Be the Food for the past eight years.

Busting a few myths about SNAP

connections-SNAP

LISTEN: Visit the Connections website to hear Thursday’s conversation

By Eric Lintala

How are SNAP benefits spent in our grocery stores? Do people take advantage of the system? Are recipients eating healthy?

These questions have been the subject of controversy since SNAP, also known as Food Stamps, were permanently re-instituted in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. On Jan. 13, the New York Times posted a front-page story with the headline, “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda.” The article argued that a recent USDA report proved that SNAP households take advantage of the program to buy a disproportionate amount of soda and sugary drinks.

Many articles, including Food Stamp Fables by Joe Soss, were quick with a rebuttal, saying the Times piece was a “political hack job against a program that helps millions of Americans feed themselves.” Many people criticized the photo used to illustrate the story … a shopping cart full of 2-liter bottles of soda (18 of them, in fact) — and not much else. 

On Jan. 19, the SNAP debate reached Rochester when Connections — a WXXI program that airs daily from noon to 2 p.m. (AM-1370, FM-88.5) — devoted an hour of the show to discuss the topic. Host Evan Dawson invited Mitch Gruber, Chief Program Officer for Foodlink, Mike Bulger, Healthy Communities Coordinator for the Healthi Kids program at Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency (FLHSA), and Leverett Copeland, a SNAP recipient and healthy living ambassador to talk about the issue. 

During the conversation, Copeland shared his experience as a father providing for his wife and two growing boys. When asked about SNAP, he said that he is not able to purchase much food from his local corner stores and said that his limited budget impacts his decision of quality vs. quantity. For Copeland, SNAP is for purchasing foods that are needed for the month, not for junk food.

Our newest Curbside Market truck at Foodlink headquarters this winter. The program now runs year-round.

Our newest Curbside Market truck at Foodlink headquarters this winter. The program now runs year-round.

Bulger and Gruber added to Copeland’s point that “The issue is not how people use SNAP benefits … it’s the food landscape.” The food landscape in Rochester is full of food deserts, a USDA term defining “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.” This creates a food supply problem where SNAP households, who want to purchase healthy foods, are not able to because federal legislation has enabled cheap, sugary foods to flood the market. Gruber said one possible solution to this problem is to “have a mission-driven organization trying to help people access food, not a profit-driven one.”

As it turns out, there are mission-driven organizations in Rochester that are fighting for greater access to healthy food. A few years ago, Foodlink started a summer farm stand on the corner of Clifford and Conkey with Project Hope to bring fresh produce to the neighborhood. FLHSA got on board soon afterward, and the two organizations have been working with other non-profits, markets, neighborhoods, nutrition educators, and individuals passionate about bringing healthy food to Rochester and the surrounding county to combat this problem.

Foodlink’s Curbside Market, a year-round farm stand on wheels, was born from this drive and served over 25,000 people throughout Rochester and the surrounding eight counties last year.

It seems unlikely that any drastic change is going to come to the national food system soon. According to Gruber, healthy change is going to be generational. People and organizations are fighting back though. Don’t be afraid to get into the ring.

Curbside Market schedule: Where do we stop?

Helping people avoid ‘Tough Choices’

TCs_med care

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. 

TCs_housing

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.

TCs_util

Curbside Market celebrates its loyal volunteers

curb-vols2017

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

muffin-day

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.