Film screening draws 150+ Rochesterians to discuss hunger, local food system

If a few dozen people showed up to The Little Theatre on Wednesday night for a screening of a documentary about a somber topic — hunger and diet-related illness in America — event organizers likely wouldn’t have been too surprised.

After all, the snow was blowing sideways, the roads were a slippery mess and the temperatures were plunging into the teens. Not an ideal movie night.

The subject matter, however, seemed of high interest to close to 200 Rochesterians who braved the conditions to watch “A Place at the Table” and have a discussion about the challenges of Rochester’s local food system, and the solutions to making it more equitable for all.

Foodlink collaborated with Healthi Kids — an initiative of Common Ground Health, the City of Rochester, WXXI and The Little Theatre to host the free screening. Foodlink’s Mitch Gruber, who also sits on Rochester City Council, told the audience about two examples of local governments in Florida and Oklahoma making bold changes to improve access to healthy foods in their communities. Gruber also said that the city’s new Rochester 2034 Comprehensive Plan includes language about exploring a local or regional food policy council or taskforce.

“This is written into the future of our city — Rochester 2034 — so we have an opportunity to look at what places like Baldwin (Fla.) or Tulsa did, and make them even greater — not just because of the strength of our city, but of our community and the people in the room here,” Gruber said.

The film, released in 2013, explores some of the startling statistics about hunger in America, and the effects and true costs of food insecurity and diet-related illness for our nation. It also broke down complicated issues surrounding the Farm Bill and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and included interviews with experts such as Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Professor and author Janet Poppendieck, Share our Strength founder Billy Shore, Dr. Mariana Chilton, and Marion Nestle — another nenowned professor and author … and many more.

The film explored stories from rural areas in Colorado and Mississippi, and urban poverty in Philadelphia. It touched on the effects of hunger in the classroom, the serious health hazards that stem from poor nutrition, and the struggles of a single mother trying desperately to feed her kids.

The emotional film resonated with the audience, who stuck around after the film to weigh in on some of the barriers that prevent local residents from accessing healthy foods. Easels with the question: “What do you feel are the most pressing challenges related to Rochester’s food system?” were placed around the theatre, and participants placed stickers next to answers such as “Affordability of quality food,” “Lack of framework/structure to address challenges,” and “Building healthy habits for kids.” There was also an option to write in other challenges not previously mentioned.

It was a successful night, but as organizers noted, it was just the beginning.

“I hope that this is just the start of a conversation that extends beyond this group,” said Mike Bulger, Healthy Communities Project Coordinator for Common Ground Health. “I hope that we continue to have a conversation over the next year and beyond and make some awesome change.”

Happy Muffin Day! Foodlink turns 41

Dec. 19 is Muffin Day here at Foodlink, where we celebrate how it all began.

Muffin Day represents the day in 1978 that Foodlink founder Tom Ferraro made a public plea for donated food to support Rochester’s local food pantries. The kind folks at Thomas’ English Muffins responded and Tom went 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.

Last year, as Foodlink celebrated a milestone — 40 years of serving the community — we touted our history with a press release, we marked the occasion with a delivery of English Muffins from Thomas’, we spent time at one of our valued member agencies, St. Peter’s Kitchen, and we celebrated as a staff at an Amerks game.

This year, we turned the spotlight around and decided to spend the day thanking others. Yes, Muffin Day is a day to recognize our founder’s vision and legacy and the hard work of our staff, but it’s also important to recognize the dedication of our volunteers, supporters and community partners. Our Community Kitchen made muffins for some of our supporters, and we will spend the day making calls to donors who have recently pledged their support.

If you’ve ever donated, volunteered, attended one of our events, or taken action to raise awareness or address hunger in our communities … thank you. Thank you for walking alongside us and supporting our mission. Your ongoing support is the best gift for which we could ask as we mark 41 years of service.

Happy Muffin Day.

Wegmans raises nearly $700K during Check Out Hunger campaign

The results are in for the 2019 Wegmans Check Out Hunger campaign!

Thanks to the amazing work of Wegmans, their employees and their customers, $699,375 was raised for Foodlink during this fall’s campaign, which ran from Oct. 27 through Nov. 30. The total represents about a $15,000 increase over the previous year.

Foodlink has counted on support from Wegmans’ Check Out Hunger campaign for more than 25 years, and has benefitted from more than $12 million in support.

Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Foodlink statement in response to the USDA’s SNAP rule change

Foodlink released the following statement on Dec. 6, 2019, following the USDA’s announcement that it has finalized its proposed rule change for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regarding Able-bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs).

Foodlink joins dozens of anti-hunger organizations and a bipartisan faction of elected officials in condemning the USDA’s new rule affecting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients known as Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs).

Since 1996, ABAWDs who do not work a minimum of 20 hours per week can only receive three months of benefits over a three-year span. Because of the stringent nature of this rule, states can apply for waivers for individuals living in communities with higher unemployment rates. This new rule tightens the eligibility requirements for waivers, thus limiting states’ ability to apply for them based on their local economy and labor market. Ultimately, it weakens SNAP.

READ MORE: A statement from Hunger Solutions NY

On a national level, nearly 700,000 people would lose SNAP benefits – a vital lifeline for low-income individuals who struggle to put food on the table. In New York, this rule change could affect up to 107,000 people[1], including a significant portion of the 5,200 ABAWDs in Monroe County. As the regional food bank that supports hundreds of food pantries, meal programs and shelters that serve thousands of local SNAP recipients, we expect hunger to rise, and the health of our neighbors to suffer as a direct result of this proposal.

It’s true that the economy has improved overall, but not for everyone. There are still many “able-bodied” people who work but have seasonable jobs with unpredictable hours. In Rochester specifically, prevalent occupations such home health aides, and jobs in retail and food service are notorious for low pay and seldom offer steady hours. Other individuals struggle to find work due to unstable housing, unreliable transportation, limited education, mental health barriers, or to care for their loved ones. Data show that most people on SNAP who can work, do work.

For those who can’t find work, the administration is asking people to enroll in job training programs. While Foodlink supports these programs – and even launched its own culinary training program in 2018 – we know these programs to be few and far between, with limited funding to implement them effectively. One recent analysis of Wisconsin’s similar work requirement policy determined that less than a third of participants found work after completion of a job-training program, and the programs were twice as expensive as SNAP.

Furthermore, we take issue with new rule using a 24-month average to determine a region’s unemployment rate. This formula is in direct conflict with the purpose of SNAP, which is to react to the economy, and serve more people when the economy worsens. If a recession hit and unemployment spiked, a 24-month rate would not effectively represent the true economic hardships that communities faced.

This flawed rule will be a barrier – not a motivator – for people to find work. People who are malnourished and hungry aren’t better job candidates. Of course, we know that this rule was less about work, and more of an attack on the federal safety net and the poor. On the very same day President Trump signed the Farm Bill – bipartisan legislation that ultimately rejected this proposed rule change – this plan was unveiled. The timing was no coincidence, and it illustrates the administration’s true objective, which is to bypass the legislative process to slash SNAP for millions of Americans.

Foodlink remains committed to serving our region’s most vulnerable, food-insecure residents, and will work with state and local officials to mitigate the harmful effects of this policy.


Community rallies for Foodlink, others on ROC the Day

The community came through for Foodlink in a big way on Giving Tuesday this year.

Foodlink participated once again in the United Way of Greater Rochester’s annual ROC the Day campaign, which allows 500+ nonprofits to fundraise through a centralized website. On Dec. 3, members of the community can make donations to their favorite organizations, as social media is flooded with support for the nonprofit community.

According to the website, more than $766,000 was raised!

Foodlink has been blessed with overwhelming support in recent years — and 2019 was no different. Through the website, more than $18,000 in donations came through from 200+ donors. It represented our highest total since 2015.

Foodlink was also awarded a $500 bonus gift from the United Way and received a generous $10,000 matching gift from the Lindsay House — pushing our total to nearly $30,000!

THANK YOU to everyone who supported our mission on ROC the Day!

From left, Dr. Heather Lee, Dr. Vito C. Quatela, Dr. William J. Koenig and Dr. Ashley N. Amalfi — all physicians at the Lindsay House — toured Foodlink in October. Thank you for your Roc the Day challenge match!