Inaugural class of the Foodlink Career Fellowship celebrates graduation, launch of new careers

They came to Foodlink in search of opportunity. Now – a year later – eight members of the Foodlink Career Fellowship have graduated with improved culinary skills, confidence, and hope for what the future holds.

Thursday’s graduation ceremony at the City of Rochester Public Market marked the culmination of the inaugural year of the program, which trains individuals who have experienced barriers to employment for middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. Fellows were nominated by a community-based organization and went through a rigorous curriculum that includes classroom instruction, on-the-job training in the Foodlink Community Kitchen, and a three-month externship at Wegmans Food Markets.

PHOTOS: Check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page!

NOMINATE A FELLOW: Foodlink Career Fellowship is currently accepting nominations for its second class. Email Jes Scannell (, Director of Career Empowerment Initiatives, to receive a nomination packet.

“This is a proud moment for these eight individuals – and for our entire organization,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “This is one of the most innovative programs we’ve ever launched in our 40-year history, and it truly demonstrates our commitment to addressing the root causes of hunger in our communities. We’re inspired by the dedication and commitment shown by this first graduating class.”

The Foodlink Career Fellowship began last July after more than two years of preparation by Foodlink’s staff and several community stakeholders. Foodlink sought to maximize its recent investment in a $5 million commercial kitchen by training people for living-wage careers, and helping them avoid dependency on the emergency food system. While food banking remains the core of Foodlink’s operations, addressing the root causes of hunger through the launch of other food-related programs has been a priority for the past decade.

“Our Fellows made a lot of sacrifices, put in a ton of work, and really challenged themselves to explore new growth opportunities for themselves personally and professionally,” said Jes Scannell, Foodlink’s Director of Career Empowerment Initiatives. “Today, we both celebrate their achievements and recognize that this is just the beginning of their careers as culinarians.”

The inaugural class includes: Jehmel Alexander, Anthony Arroyo, Kristen Gates, LaRhonda ‘Rudy’ Harris, Bre’Onn Hepburn, Da’Quan Quick, Gloria Soldevila Ramos, and Jenna Raymond Torres. Alexander, Arroyo, Gates, Harris and Soldevila Ramos were offered positions at Wegmans, while three others are still progressing through the final stages of the program. 

“The past year has been quite a journey, but I made it,” Harris said. “I love putting on my Wegmans chef coat every day because it’s my way of showing my three kids how to be a stronger person, and how to achieve your goals.”

Wegmans was instrumental in developing the structure for the Fellowship, and – of course – hosting the externship. Chefs at several store locations and restaurants served as vital mentors as the Fellows navigated the rigors of full-time work in the kitchen.

“It’s been a pleasure watching this first class of Fellows grow and mature as culinary professionals,” said Chef Donald Harter, Director of Asian & Sushi for Wegmans Food Markets. “This has been an exciting and collaborative partnership for us, and we’re thrilled to welcome many of them to the Wegmans family.”

The launch of the program was made possible through private funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, William and Sheila Konar Foundation, and ESL Charitable Foundation. The Konar Foundation recently granted Foodlink a second gift of $150,000 to support the Fellowship’s second class, set to begin this summer.

“The Konar Foundation chose to support the launch of the Foodlink Career Fellowship because of its focus on providing a pathway to prosperity,” said Howard Konar, trustee for the William & Sheila Konar Foundation. “Congratulations to the program’s inaugural graduates. We wish them all the best as they realize their true potential in the regional food industry.”

On Thursday, Fellows were called one by one to accept their certificates in front of friends, family members and supporters, including many of the agencies that nominated them. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was also in attendance, praising the inaugural class and delivering remarks about the state’s commitment to workforce development initiatives. Earlier this year, the Fellowship was recognized as an official New York State apprenticeship program.

“The Foodlink Career Fellowship is a great workforce development tool, providing students with the culinary and leadership skills they need,” Hochul said. “Members of the program received on-the-job training in the field and are prepared for good jobs at companies like Wegmans and others. We want to make sure all New Yorkers have the access and resources they need to be trained to fill jobs in the agriculture and culinary industry across the state.”

Foodlink is actively recruiting for its second class and is accepting nominations for prospective applicants until July 1. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or nominating a Fellow should contact Jes Scannell at

Foodlink 2019 Mobile Summer Meals schedule

Rochester’s Summer Meals program is officially underway, and the Foodlink Community Kitchen is pleased once again to prepare thousands of delicious, nutritious meals at dozens of sites all over Rochester this summer.

Foodlink is a key partner in the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester, which ensures that kids 18 and under have access to free meals throughout the summer, when students lose access to school meals, and parents face the financial burden of increased grocery bills.

MAP/LIST OF SITES: Find out where kids can access Summer Meals

In addition to the regular schedule, Foodlink operates a Summer Meals van and visits libraries and parks to offer a “mobile meals” component to the program. The 2019 schedule is above.

The sites listed run from June 26 through August 30, Monday through Friday.

Foodlink piloting adult meal mentoring program with RACF support

Studies have shown that children are more likely to try healthy and/or unfamiliar foods if an adult role model is doing the same.

The Foodlink Community Kitchen hopes to test that strategy as a way to increase participation in the City of Rochester’s Summer Meals program. A mini-grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation will allow Foodlink to prepare extra meals for adult staff members and/or meal site volunteers at two partner sites this summer.

Extra healthy meals will be provided for St. Michael’s Workshop and Urban League of Rochester.

“In our experience, children will try new foods if they see an adult or mentor eating the same foods,” said Claire Savini, RD CDN, Foodlink’s Child Nutrition Program Manager. “We’re looking forward to piloting this for two sites this summer, in hopes that attendance will rise and we can feed more children the healthy meals we provide every day in our community kitchen.”

The pilot is underway, and plans to last until the end of August.

Farash Foundation grant allows Foodlink to expand reach into more RCSD schools

The East High pantry has been partnering with Foodlink to provide food for nearly 200 students each year.

The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation has awarded Foodlink $25,000 to help expand and launch multiple school pantries within the Rochester City School District.

The grant allows RCSD Community Schools to join Foodlink as member agencies, and purchase vital equipment, supplies and food for their students. The RCSD’s Community Schools adopt a more holistic approach to education and help connect families to a wide array of services, so that educators can focus on teaching and students can focus on learning.

“Food insecurity is a barrier to academic success for thousands of local students,” said Holli Budd, Executive Director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation. “We’re proud to support Foodlink and the Rochester City School District to ensure that Rochester’s future leaders have the nourishment they need to thrive.”

East High – one of 10 designated Community Schools – has already partnered with Foodlink to implement their onsite school food and resource pantry. Mary Mcleod Bethune School No. 45 joined Foodlink’s network in 2018.

“Unfortunately, material insecurity is a reality for many of our scholars,” said Jason Taylor, Community Coordinator for East’s Upper and Lower schools. “Each year around 180 scholars access our pantry to alleviate their food insecurity. Not only does this food serve these scholars, but it also supports around 800 of their family members. Having a school pantry as a resource allows scholars to focus on what they should be doing in school, like learning and growing, rather than worrying about where their next meal is going to come from.”

Other schools that will become new Foodlink member agencies through this grant funding include: Nathaniel Rochester Community School No. 3, Roberto Clemente School No. 8, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School No. 9, Enrico Fermi School No. 17, Abraham Lincoln School No. 22, RISE Community School 106, James Monroe High School, and Northeast College High School. RCSD’s Office of Adult & Career Education Services (OACES) also will join its member agency network.  

Aside from establishing a pantry at each school, Foodlink is seeking to broaden the partnership by offering additional programmatic support through its Curbside Market, nutrition education workshops and food safety trainings.

“Expanding our emergency food network into more schools is a deliberate and necessary step for us to ensure students and their families have adequate access to nutritious food,” said Julia Tedesco, Foodlink President & CEO. “We’re so grateful for the Farash Foundation for giving Rochester schools the resources they need to support their students’ basic needs.”

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:

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 July 1.

Please contact Director of Career Empowerment Initiatives, Jes Scannell, ( to receive a nomination packet.