Habitat for Humanity homeowners complete Foodlink Cooking Matters class

They have new homes, and now they have new skills and recipes to use in their new kitchens.

A six-week Cooking Matters course — led by Foodlink’s nurtrition education team in partnership with Flower City Habitat for Humanity — culminated Saturday, Nov. 2 with the final class. The program taught participants how to read and compare food labels, shop for healthy food items on a budget and safely prepare meals for their families. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield partnered with both organizations to provide financial support for the class.

PHOTOS: Check out our Facebook album from the final class!

Foodlink conducts dozens of Cooking Matters courses each year as a lead partner for the national Share Our Strength initiative. The curriculum is customized for various audiences, such as families, teens, parents and seniors. The class with Flower City Habitat for Humanity was a unique partnership with another local nonprofit.

“This was an exciting class for Foodlink, and one we were looking forward to hosting in our new Nutrition Center,” said Margaret Liljedahl, Foodlink’s Senior Manager for Nutrition Education. “Each Saturday, our educators shared valuable cooking and nutrition tips with Habitat’s newest homeowners – an engaging group that spanned generations.”

On Saturday, the participants helped prepare three recipes: Black Bean Brownies, Turkey Tacos, and Mango Salsa. One mother/daughter pairing had moved into their new home just two days prior. Another woman completed the program with her sister and her two daughters.

Keisha Betts said she appreciated learning healthier ways to prepare a meal and that the children really loved being involved in the cooking process (and the eating process, as well!).

“I cook all the time,” Betts said. “I enjoyed learning to make new, healthier meals.”

Another participant, Marshea Best, said she found the course useful in helping her make healthy choices when shopping for food and preparing meals.

“I learned techniques and how to choose less costly foods,” Best said. “I learned to make healthier meals, and make healthy choices using more fruits and vegetables, using whole wheat and adding dairy.”

One of Foodlink’s Eat Smart New York educators, Fatima Srayi, helped lead the class. On Saturday, she was joined by Foodlink’s Cooking Matters Coordinator, Cory Robinson.

“It was great meeting so many families and children in this class, and even greater to witness their nutrition and culinary journeys — and watch them try new, healthy foods,” Srayi said. “It was rewarding helping them transition into their new homes with new recipes to try and new skills to to apply in the kitchen.”

Monro makes holiday donations to Foodlink easy

Monro, Inc. has partnered with Foodlink heading into the holiday season to help fight hunger in our communities.

Customers can stop by any Monro or Mr. Tire auto service center with a non-perishable food or monetary donation between Nov. 12-26. Monro’s goal is donate the eqivalent of 25,000 meals to Foodlink. Customers can make a cash donation during a visit and ask the store manager to add $1, 3, or $5 to the invoice. Customers can also make a monetary donation without a purchase.

As a thank you from Monro, all participants will receive a coupon book worth $300 in savings on fall auto maintenance services, including oil changes, brakes, tire rotations and balancing, wheel alignments, and state inspections.

One of the reasons that Monro and its employees chose to partner with Foodlink before the holidays is that many families rely on school breakfast and lunch programs, and donations now help Foodlink assist families during school breaks. When school is in session, donations help provide a bag of food for a child to take home every weekend through Foodlink’s BackPack Program. Donations also help Curbside Market customers purchase bundles that contains twice the value of produce than fruits and vegetables purchased at the grocery store.

Headquartered in Rochester, Monro is one of the nation’s largest automotive service and retail tire companies, with 1, 271 stores in 30 states. Locally, Monro employs 500 teammates at its 31 Rochester-area stores and corporate headquarters at 200 Holleder Parkway. For directions to the nearest Monro or Mr. Tire auto service center, visit www.monro.com or www.mrtire.com. For more information on Monro, Inc., visit https://corporate.monro.com/.

Foodlink ‘gamechangers’ get to work

From left, Tom Silva, Florence Clemmons, Livia Marques and Margaret Liljedahl.


A grant from the Wallace Center at Winrock International brought three Foodlink staffers down to New Orleans last week to participate in the center’s Food Systems Leadership Network (FSLN) inaugural Gamechangers Laboratory.

Foodlink applied to the grant opportunity this summer and survived a rigorous selection process to be one of three organizations out of dozens nationwide to join the lab. Florence Clemmons, Margaret Liljedahl and Tom Silva — who have all played key roles in Foodlink’s various community health programs — were charged with developing methods to shift Foodlink away from simply serving the community, to engaging with and working alongside community members to end hunger.

Here’s how Foodlink’s winning project was summarized by the Wallace Center:

“Traditional food banking alone cannot fix the inequities in our food system. Foodlink’s Community Health Team is seeking to transform the conventional model from community-based to community-driven and led, and explore how food banks can shift from social service to social change. This three-member team from Rochester, New York, with its community connections, innovative spirit, and history of collaboration will work in partnership with its Foodlink clients and community members to pilot new and lasting solutions.”

Clemmons has been a manager for the Curbside Market — Foodlink’s mobile farmers market — for more than six years, while Liljedahl leads Foodlink’s nutrition education department. Silva is Foodlink’s Community Advocacy Specialist and leads the Curbside Ambassadors Program, which empowers residents in affordable housing communities to advocate for the market and promote community health.

“We’re looking forward to working with the FSLN Gamechangers Lab to further develop our innovative community health programs and create action plans to democratize them by putting community members in the driver’s seat of their design and impact,” said Meg Demment, Foodlink’s Chief Impact Officer.

Two other grant-funded teams — ReFresh Food Collaborative of New Orleans and GRRO Good Bowls of North Carolina — also attended last week’s conference. The teams spent time learning how to apply structural thinking, design planning, and other tools to their community food projects. Foodlink worked with its adviser, Livia Marques, who led the United States Department of Agriculture’s “People’s Garden Initiative.” Marques took a program that began with a single garden at USDA headquarters in 2009, and transformed it into a movement that led to thousands of volunteers tending more than 1,600 gardens across every state and donating more than 1.3 million pounds of produce to neighborhood feeding programs.

Foodlink will go through a 6-month creative journey to design new strategies for tackling food insecurity through community-based food systems. In March, Foodlink will return to New Orleans and present their collective learnings to a national audience and a group of potential funders at the 2020 National Good Food Network Conference.

Get ready to Check Out Hunger at Wegmans

A crucial fundraiser for Foodlink begins this weekend at Wegmans Food Markets, where shoppers have the opportunity to donate and support the regional food bank’s mission of ending hunger and building healthier communities.

Check Out Hunger officially launches Oct. 27 at more than 20 Rochester-area Wegmans locations. The campaign extends through Nov. 30.

“Our food banking operations and many of our food-related programs rely on these donations, and year after year, Wegmans and their shoppers always come through with generous support,” said Foodlink President & CEO Julia Tedesco. “We’re looking forward to another successful campaign as we approach the holiday season and work with our community partners to put food on the table for thousands of families in our region.”

Shoppers can donate $2, $3 or $5 – or round up their grocery bull – when they check out, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Foodlink. For more than 40 years, Foodlink has served as the food bank for 10 counties in the Finger Lakes region, and has launched innovative programs that address the root causes of hunger in our communities.

Last year, the 25th year of the campaign, Wegmans customers raised $3,295,214 nationwide, including more than $680,000 to benefit Foodlink.

As the holiday season approaches, please consider a donation to Foodlink and help us Check Out Hunger.

Our testimony at Rochester’s public hearing on the New York Health Act

The following testimony was delivered by Tom Silva, Foodlink’s Community Advocacy Specialist, at an Oct. 10 public hearing in Rochester about the New York Health Act.

Who We Are

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the vital issue of health insurance and medical coverage in New York State. My name is Tom Silva, and I am the Community Advocacy Specialist at Foodlink here in Rochester. Foodlink is a community food resource center and the Feeding America food bank serving Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties. Our mission is to leverage the power of food to end hunger and build healthier communities.

Foodlink is the backbone of the emergency food network in Rochester and the 10 surrounding counties. We work with hundreds of partner organizations to distribute over 19 million pounds of food annually in our service area. This network of food pantries, homeless shelters, and hot meal programs work to ensure that everyone who walks through their door is fed and nourished. Our community kitchen produces over 3,500 meals every day for low-income children across the City of Rochester. The Curbside Market, our mobile farmers market, visits over 90 locations every week and conducted over 40,000 transactions last year to help residents in underserved communities access fresh produce.

Our market and other community health programs work in partnership with several hospitals, family medicine centers, and federally qualified health centers to connect low-income individuals at risk of diet-related illnesses to fresh, affordable produce as part of their treatment plans. In many ways, Foodlink is partially responsible for the health care and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in our region. For this reason, we believe it is our responsibility to speak today in favor of the New York Health Act to guarantee medical coverage to our clients, program participants, and all New Yorkers.

Why We Are Here

Food insecurity refers to the USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members; and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecurity often reflects a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as health care, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.

According to Map the Meal Gap, Feeding America’s study of hunger nationwide, over 2.2 million (or 11.4% of) New Yorkers are food insecure for at least part of the year. Right here in the City of Rochester, the rate jumps to 25%. In the poorest zip codes, such as 14608, that number jumps again to 40%. Among food-insecure households, reduced access to nutritious foods increases the risk for poor health and chronic disease such as diabetes and hypertension. Food insecurity can also cause people to skip or delay medication, refills, and preventative health visits – complicating disease self-management and continuing the cycle of poor health. Food insecurity is also associated with increased health care utilization with regards to emergency department visits, inpatient visits, and length of stay, contributing to up to 3.4 billion dollars in additional health care costs annually.

In many ways, one of the best ways to lower health care costs in New York would be to decrease food insecurity through programs and policies that put food, knowledge, and money directly into the hands of people experiencing food insecurity. While that would help large numbers of people, it would not solve some of our clients’ most pressing issue: the skyrocketing costs of health care services and their lack of ability to pay for them. Feeding America’s Hunger Study (conducted in 2014), showed that that 66% of households reported choosing between paying for food and medical care each year. 30% made that tradeoff every month. The report also found that 55% of surveyed clients at emergency food programs across the country had unpaid medical bills. To quote their report directly:

“Even with insurance, unpaid medical bills can accumulate due to deductibles and uncovered care. Most household compositions show high levels of unpaid medical bills, but the burden is highest among households containing at least one child and at least one senior, at 64.9 percent. The group with the lowest rate of unpaid medical bills is households with at least one senior, in which nearly half (49.6 percent) of households still face unpaid bills.” – Feeding America Hunger Study, 2014, page 120

These issues are personal for Foodlink’s program participants. Just two weeks ago, I conducted a focus group with clients at the HOPE Center Keuka Food Pantry in Penn Yan about the reasons they needed emergency food that month. Almost everyone had a story about unpaid medical bills from their own family or strangers they met in line at their local pantry. One woman’s husband was recently diagnosed with diabetes and was prescribed a medication that would have cost them $500 out of pocket monthly. When she told the doctor that they couldn’t afford it, the doctor said ‘well you have terrible insurance,’ to which she responded ‘well that’s the best we can afford.’ After berating them for drawing down on social security, the doctor said that her husband would likely die soon anyway and it wasn’t worth pursuing other treatment. While this doctor is probably an outlier, the failure of the private insurance market to meet the health care needs of people in our region certainly is not.

What We Ask

Because we cannot eliminate hunger without addressing the health care crisis, we have come to give public testimony today in support of the New York Health Act. Eliminating private insurance and providing single payer coverage will lower the cost of both treatment and medication, leaving more money in people’s pockets for food, education, and other necessities. We believe that this bill will offer all New Yorkers the best chance at receiving comprehensive medical coverage that will allow them to become healthy and self-sufficient. Because this legislation is a critical step in moving our communities from hunger to health, we urge you to pass and implement the New York Health Act.

Foodlink, The Perfect Granola announce new partnership

The Perfect Granola on Wednesday publicly announced its extended partnership with Foodlink to produce the first NYS Grown & Certified ready-to-eat grain product, and its partnership with New York State as the State’s first grain product that is part of the Farm-to-Institution Program.

At a press event inside Foodlink’s distribution center, outside the doors to the Foodlink Community Kitchen, owner Michele Liddle made the announcement, alongside several county and state officials, and Foodlink’s Chief Operating Officer, Terra Keller.

“The Foodlink Community Kitchen relocated and expanded three years ago with the intention of building new partnerships and scaling up to meet the demand for healthy, locally-sourced meals and minimally processed products,” Keller said. “We’re proud to support the growth of a great, local, woman-owned business and provide new jobs and training opportunities inside our state-of-the-art facility.”

PHOTOS: Check out the album on Facebook

New allergy-free granola pouches will be produced at Foodlink, creating new jobs within the kitchen, and providing an opportunity to expand Foodlink’s workforce development program, The Foodlink Career Fellowship.

“Everything we do in our company is in an effort to help those in need and this is just another layer of how we use our business to support our community,” Liddle said.

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo was in attendance, and delivered remarks lauding the partnership, and the rapid growth of a local, woman-led organization. The Perfect Granola, which now sells its product in Wegmans, Walmart and many other big-name retailers, is among the fastest growing granola companies in the nation.

Other speakers at Wednesday’s event included Sen. Joe Robach, Scott Ziobrowski, President of the NYS School Nutrition Association; and David Valesky, Deputy Commissioner of NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.

A taste of honey …

Hardworking honeybees deserve most of the credit, but participants in our Foodlink Career Fellowship also were hard at work Friday morning preparing jars of honey from the Lexington Avenue Community Farm!

Led by Nathaniel Mich, Foodlink’s Edible Education & Urban Farming Specialist, four Fellows and a farm volunteer spent the morning pouring honey into 68 jars. Nearly all of it will be sold on the Curbside Market — Foodlink’s mobile farmers market. The jars likely will retail for $5 — about half what you might normally pay in a grocery store.

FACEBOOK: More photos on the Lexington Ave. Community Farm page

Honey was harvested at the farm for the first time last year, and was given the name “50,000 sisters,” representing how many bees — all related and all female — that typically live together in a hive. Now that the honey is bottled, we’ll be sticking our labels on them soon and getting them out to our loyal Curbside customers!

Fill the Bus 2019 campaign collects more than 400K pounds of food for the BackPack Program

Thank you Wegmans, and Wegmans shoppers!

Our 2019 Fill the Bus campaign wrapped up a week ago, and preliminary numbers show that more than 400,000 pounds of products are headed to Foodlink to support our BackPack Program!

This year’s campaign was held at multiple Wegmans locations in the Rochester area between August 25 and Sept. 7. Shoppers had a chance to purchase bags of kid-friendly foods for $3, $5 or $10.

The food will be donated to Foodlink to support the BackPack Program, which helps alleviate childhood hunger in our region. According to the most recent Map the Meal Gap report by Feeding America, more than 48,000 children in our region are considered food insecure, which means they live in a household with limited or uncertain acccess to healthy foods.

Schools throughout our 10-county service area identify children who might be at risk of food insecurity. Each Friday, Foodlink sends bags of food to more than 80 schools, and more than 3,000 bags end up in backpacks for kids to take home for the weekend — when they know longer have access to school meals.

This is the 7th year that Foodlink and Wegmans have collaborated for Fill the Bus. Other sponsors included Fidelis Care, and our media sponsors at 13WHAM ABC, WUHF Fox Rochester, and CW Rochester.

Foodlink, Rep. Morelle welcome in Hunger Action Month with push for SNAP advocacy

In collaboration with Foodlink, the following press release was sent Sept. 3, 2019, by the office of U.S. Rep. Joseph Morelle:

ROCHESTER – Today, Congressman Joe Morelle along with Foodlink, The Children’s Agenda, members of the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI), and community stakeholders announced their strong opposition to the President’s proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and submitted public comment outlining their concerns. The proposed rule could cause an estimated 3.1 million people nationwide—including at least 87,000 New Yorkers—to lose access to SNAP benefits, jeopardizing their ability to provide food for themselves and their families.

SUBMIT A COMMENT: Take action before the Sept. 23 deadline

“This unconscionable proposal demonstrates an utter disregard for the needs of everyday families and would serve only to pull the rug out from under millions of Americans in their time of need,” said Rep. Morelle. “The 87,000 New Yorkers who rely on these essential benefits for food security deserve better. We must work to every day to uplift the most vulnerable in our community and eliminate the barriers that prevent them from thriving.”

“Any threat to SNAP is a threat to the work we do and the people we serve every day,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink, Rochester’s regional food bank. “SNAP provides nearly 10 times the amount of meals to the American public than the entire Feeding America network. Cuts to this vital anti-poverty program would put an overwhelming burden on the emergency food system, and risk the health and well-being of thousands of families in our area.”

READ: Foodlink’s full statement

“For millions of Americans affected by poverty, the first step on the path toward self-sufficiency comes when they can move beyond the crisis and daily trauma of food insecurity. Eliminating the Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility Option would create a much steeper path to self-sufficiency for many families who rely on SNAP benefits, stripping their ability to build savings for emergencies and adding unnecessary roadblocks,” said Jerome Underwood, Co-Chair of the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. “It also subjects children and their families to the many negative health and mental health effects that come with food insecurity. We must stand together as a community to protect our most vulnerable neighbors and oppose this proposed change.”

“The Trump administration’s proposed changes to SNAP will harm thousands of low-income children and families in our community,” said Larry Marx, CEO of The Children’s Agenda. “Research shows that food security is critical to giving children the best possible start to life. Our nation’s leaders should ensure that vulnerable children and families are able to thrive, not look for ways to remove critical food supports. This proposed rule jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of children, and we urge the Trump administration to reverse it immediately.”

Congressman Morelle joined community partners at Foodlink to help mark the start of Hunger Action Month — an annual campaign spearheaded by Feeding America every September to raise awareness about hunger in our communities – and urge the President to rescind his proposed SNAP change.
The proposed rule change would eliminate broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) for SNAP benefits, leaving New York seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and working families without adequate access to food assistance. In addition, it would put those in SNAP eligible households at risk of losing free school meals.

The cost savings of the change would come at a significant cost to the health and well-being of citizens in Rochester and communities like it nationwide.

Rep. Morelle as well as representatives from Foodlink, RMAPI, The Children’s Agenda, and a number of community stakeholders have submitted public comment urging the President and the Department of Agriculture to rescind this rule immediately.

The public comment period closes on September 23. Online comment can be submitted here.

Foodlink statement in response to the USDA’s proposed rule to revise SNAP eligibility

Foodlink, the regional food bank based in Rochester, NY, strongly opposes the USDA’s proposed rule (RIN 0584-AE62) to revise regulations related to Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Our federal government should seek ways to reduce barriers for low-income Americans who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. This proposal does the opposite.

SUBMIT A COMMENT: Visit Regulations.gov

We ask that you consider the benefits and true intention of BBCE before revising it and jeopardizing 3.1 million Americans’ access to SNAP – one of the country’s most successful anti-poverty programs that, until recent years, gained support from both sides of the aisle. In New York alone, more than 87,000 people would lose SNAP solely based on income limits[i]. Many more would lose benefits due to the re-imposition of an assets test. The end result will be increased food insecurity and more families living in poverty.

There are several attributes about BBCE that have gained bipartisan support for decades. To cite a few examples, BBCE:

  • Encourages work and upward mobility. The working poor depend on SNAP to make ends meet. When an individual receives a modest pay increase and moves above the threshold for SNAP eligibility (130% of the poverty line), BBCE prevents that household from seeing a net decrease in funds due to what’s called the “benefits cliff.” Rather than eliminating SNAP for these hard-working individuals, BBCE reduces SNAP incrementally until the household achieves financial stability.
  • Helps families avoid disaster when sudden hardships arise. SNAP imposes asset limits on households enrolled in the program, meaning recipients often have little savings to guard against unexpected financial setbacks, such as medical bills or natural disaster. Rather than forcing families to spend down assets to qualify for SNAP, BBCE allows families to save money, and protect themselves against a sudden expense. Often times, when these hardships arise, the food budget is sacrificed.
  • Reduces administrative costs for safety-net programs. According to a comprehensive study by Mathematica Policy Research, only 3 percent of all SNAP individuals would be income ineligible if noncash BBCE were eliminated. So rather than “close the loophole” for the 3 percent, the administration is also penalizing the other 97 percent of individuals who would otherwise qualify for SNAP, resulting in additional paperwork, time and expense. In addition, losing SNAP also would require some families to reapply for free school meals – another unnecessary, bureaucratic barrier for food-insecure families. This could affect 500,000 children nationally[ii]. We don’t need our most vulnerable children falling through the cracks unnecessarily due to administrative barriers to accessing food assistance.

As one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network, we know first-hand that charity alone cannot solve hunger in the United States. SNAP provides nearly 10 times the meals that our network of 60,000+ food pantries and meal programs provides to Americans on a daily basis[iii]. Our network could not withstand such a devastating cut to SNAP.

We ask that you also consider the true cost of this proposal. The $2.5 billion in annual programmatic savings the administration is expected to see likely doesn’t consider the cost of increasing food insecurity and poverty across the nation. Food-insecure children don’t perform well in school and are less likely to graduate. Food-insecure adults and seniors are more likely to incur higher health care costs related to diet-related illness. Yes, SNAP savings will be achieved, but the health and well-being of our communities will suffer. 

Furthermore, dismantling this program will be costly for the 40 states that have adopted it. To quote the Urban Institute’s Elaine Waxman, who gave detailed Congressional testimony about BBCE in June:

“Because such a wide variety of states and territories have elected to use BBCE, it is reasonable to conclude that states find it a very important lever for responding to the challenges facing low‐income families and for streamlining their administrative processes. Because so many states have built their procedures, information systems, and training around BBCE, removing or significantly restricting it will likely be costly and disruptive.”[iv]

Finally, we are discouraged by the tactics and messaging employed by the administration in an attempt to sell this proposal as “good government” to the American public. First, labeling the entirety of BBCE as a “loophole” – as Secretary Perdue did three times within the first minute of his prepared remarks – does a disservice to the intent and achievements of the program. This rhetoric implies that people are enrolling in SNAP with little oversight, when, in fact, people still must go through the application process to receive benefits.

The rhetoric also implies that the now infamous “Minnesota millionaire” is the norm, rather than the exception. Using this man – an extreme outlier – as a mascot for a program that, in fact, helps millions of low-income Americans put food on the table, is a shameful tactic we’ve seen before with the “Welfare Queen” from the 80s and Fox News’ “Lobster Surfer” from 5 years ago.

In conclusion, the administration’s multiple attempts to weaken vital safety net programs jeopardizes the health and economic prosperity of millions of Americans. We have great concern with the dismantling of a program that would directly impact so many of the people we serve. SNAP has proven itself for decades to be one of the most effective anti-poverty programs our nation has ever seen. It should be strengthened, not slashed. 

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on this issue.

[i] https://hungersolutionsny.org/snap-policy/snap-cat-el-rule/

[ii] https://edlabor.house.gov/imo/media/doc/2019-07-26%20Chairman%20Scott%20to%20Secretary%20Perdue%20SNAP%20Cat%20El%20Proposed%20Rule%5b1%5d.pdf

[iii] https://www.feedingamerica.org/about-us/press-room/feeding-america-statement-usda-proposal-restrict-snap-eligibility

[iv] https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hhrg-116-ag03-wstate-waxmane-20190620.pdf