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


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. 


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.