‘Healthiest Cities’ grant aims to advance health equity in Rochester

ROCHESTER – Common Ground Health, Foodlink and the City of Rochester have been selected to receive a $100,000 grant as part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. Common Ground Health’s Healthi Kids Initiative is working with Foodlink and the City of Rochester to implement the City’s new Comprehensive Plan, Rochester 2034, which has an emphasis on equity and healthy living. The primary focus of the grant is the creation of a food policy council. The announcement was made by Mayor Lovely Warren on August 4 at the City of Rochester Public Market.

The goal of the food policy council is to identify gaps and opportunities to expand equitable access to quality food. The team will heavily engage city residents as leaders to create a long-lasting, sustainable impact on the overall health of the community.

In addition to improving the health of the community, the work of the food policy council will strengthen the local economy, promote social justice, and nurture the beauty and sustainability of our natural environment. The group will focus on resident engagement to inform the council’s structure and initial priorities.

Common Ground Health’s Healthi Kids Initiative, Foodlink, and the City of Rochester will be hosting three Zoom meetings in August to provide more information about the food policy council and to gauge the interest from the Rochester community. The links below will take you to a Zoom meeting registration page for each date.

>>> Thursday, August 20th. 5:30-6:30 PM

>>> Wednesday, August 26th. 5:30-6:30 PM

>>> Thursday, August 27th. 5:30-6:30 PM

The challenge is funded by the Aetna Foundation, together with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), and supports communities in reducing disparities in chronic disease outcomes and promoting health equity through improved access to healthy food and health services.

“Access to health care and healthy food, as well as other social determinants of health, can significantly impact rates of chronic disease and other health outcomes, with average life spans varying by up to 20-30 years in communities that are just a few miles apart,” said Eileen Howard Boone, President of the Aetna Foundation. “We are proud to partner with APHA and NACo to support the work done in Rochester to drive change and address these social determinants of health – work that is now more important than ever, given the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Out of more than 100 applicants nationwide, the Rochester project was one of only 20 teams chosen to participate in the Challenge. In addition to the funding, Common Ground Health and their partners will participate in one-on-one technical assistance provided by [APHA/NACo] and a supportive peer-learning network led by Healthy Places by Design over the course of the two years. An expert review panel selected the team following a rigorous review process, which looked at a variety of factors including: level of innovation of their proposed approaches, intended impacts on systems and policy change and alignment of diverse partners around common priorities. Check out the full list of grantee organizations and their community partners.

Lovely A. Warren, mayor of the City of Rochester said:

“I want to congratulate Common Ground Health and Foodlink on their award of this competitive grant and thank them for their partnership on the critical issue of bringing equal access to affordable, healthy food to all of our residents. As we move forward with the vision laid out in the Rochester 2034, we must recognize and confront the reality that food disparity is among the systemic causes of inequality that prevent too many of our residents from reaching their full potential and living their best lives. I am grateful for community partnerships that help us create more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for our residents.”

Mike Bulger, healthy communities coordinator for Common Ground Health’s Healthi Kids Initiative said:

”Across all incomes and demographics, diet and nutrition are at the top of the list of health concerns identified by residents in Rochester and throughout the region in a 2018 survey conducted by Common Ground Health. By making changes to local food policies and systems, we can help address the health inequities that exist in our region. As a community, we can come together to ensure our food system empowers people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Mitch Gruber, chief strategy & partnerships officer at Foodlink and City of Rochester councilmember said:

“The pandemic has not only resulted in a dramatic spike in food insecurity locally; it has exposed the inequities of our food system — particularly toward communities of color and the deep connection between the food we eat and public health, said Mitch Gruber, Chief Strategy Officer for Foodlink and a member of Rochester City Council. “A resident-driven Food Policy Council will help the city make sound, food-related decisions to improve access and affordability for all.”

Candace Cabral, resident of the JOSANA neighborhood and grant project team member said:

“In Rochester, there is most definitely a high need for improved access to healthy foods, vibrant community spaces and gardens, and food retailers who want to live and work in our neighborhoods. As a local resident who is passionate about advocating for community-led change that will have a direct impact on the health of my neighbors, I’m excited to get to work on this project.”

Excellus BCBS announces major donations to food banks and pantries

Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield is providing $600,000 in financial support to food banks and food pantries across upstate New York as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Rochester region, that includes $160,000 to support Foodlink, Inc. in its efforts to provide food for people in need.

“The ability to earn a paycheck and feed a family are at risk for many people because of the coronavirus,” said Excellus BCBS President and CEO-elect James Reed. “This is leading to a growing number of people in our community experiencing food insecurity. Good health begins with good food. We saw an opportunity to help by providing needed support to food banks and food pantries that are under pressure because of an increased need in our communities.”

Food is the most basic of all needs. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly 14 percent of New York households struggled with hunger, and at least 1 million New York children lived in households that did not have regular and consistent access to food, according to the New York State Anti-Hunger Task Force. Over the last few months, as New York State’s unemployment rate increased, the ability for many families to regularly have food on the table was compromised. Local food banks and pantries are straining to meet the new demand.

The $600,000 donation from Excellus BCBS will support food banks and food pantries across the nonprofit health insurer’s 39 county upstate New York service area.

“Foodlink is a proud partner of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in our effort to help build healthier communities across Rochester and the Finger Lakes region,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “Excellus BCBS understands the vital importance of food and nutrition in helping our region recover from this pandemic, and we’re grateful for their significant investment in our ongoing response to this public health crisis.”

This donation to food banks is part of a larger commitment by Excellus BCBS to spend more than $162 million to help its members, health care providers and communities respond to the pandemic.

“We are a nonprofit health insurer with 3,500 employees who call upstate New York home,” said Reed. “Improving the health and quality of life of our communities is what we’re all about.”

Gov. Cuomo recognizes Foodlink’s Summer Meals partnership with RTS

After an article on Monday publicizing a partnership between Foodlink and the Regional Transit Service (RTS) to deliver Summer Meals to children across Rochester, Gov. Cuomo’s office took notice.

In a Monday night e-newsletter, Cuomo included a shoutout to the partnership with a link to the article, calling it a “Deep Breath Moment.”

The partnership, launched this year in the wake of the Coronavirus’s impact on the Summer Meals program, which is accustomed to delivering meals to summer camps and other sites with large gatherings of children. Because of social-distancing guidelines and many programs being canceled or limiting their capacity, the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester had to innovate to think of new ways to serve meals across Rochester.

The RTS is providing the vehicles and the drivers, while Foodlink prepares the meals and sends teens involved in Rochester’s Summer Youth program to help the drivers seek out families and draw attention to the program. The buses visit 5 neighborhoods that don’t have a nearby Summer Meals location, such as a school or a rec center. They circle neighborhoods between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., handing out free, healthy meals.

Learn more about the program at SummerMealsROC.org.

Below, is a screenshot of the newsletter.

An excerpt from a newsletter from Gov. Cuomo’s office on July 13.

Foodlink Career Fellowship recruiting for Class of 2021

Rochester-area residents who have experienced barriers to employment but have a passion for cooking are encouraged to apply now to Foodlink’s one-of-a-kind culinary training program.  

The Foodlink Career Fellowship is a unique job-training and anti-poverty program – and the first New York State-approved cook apprenticeship. Foodlink is accepting applications all summer for the Class of 2021, which begins its yearlong journey in September.

The curriculum includes nine months of a paid apprenticeship, combining classroom and on-the-job learning with an externship at a local employer. Participants learn essential cooking techniques, earn industry credentials as well as the hard skills needed in large-scale food production. Foodlink staff will facilitate job offers for all graduates, with a focus on livable wage jobs and opportunities for professional development.

All applicants must be nominated by a community-based organizations or mentor. Visit FoodlinkNY.org to download the application and learn more about the program. For more information, please contact Foodlink’s Career Empowerment Initiatives team at fcfellowship@foodlinkny.org.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: About applying for the Fellowship

Summer Meals program innovates to reach more kids during pandemic

As the COVID-19 public health crisis continues to limit food access and keeps children away from their traditional summer programs, the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester is taking a new and innovative approach to ensure that all children 18 and younger have access to nutritious meals.

To encourage physical distancing, grab-and-go meal options will be provided and parents will be allowed to pick up meals without the children being present – which has been a requirement in previous years. Further, the partnership is introducing more “mobile meals” options for children due to the cancellations of summer classes, and reduced enrollment for summer programming and camps.

Foodlink, the City of Rochester and the Rochester City School District – which have been working together to feed Rochester children since schools closed in mid-March – collaborate with community partners such as Common Ground Health and the Rochester Area Community Foundation to organize and promote Summer Meals each year. The Foodlink Community Kitchen and the Rochester City School District prepare and deliver meals to dozens of sites across the city.

The coronavirus pandemic has reduced children’s access to healthy meals since schools closed in March, and many other summer programs have been suspended or altered to maintain safe environments for youth and staff. The traditional Summer Meals site of years’ past – where youth drop in during a scheduled time and sit down to enjoy a meal with friends – is no longer possible during the coronavirus outbreak.

To help increase healthy food access in Rochester, the partnership will be collaborating with the Regional Transit Service (RTS) to deliver meals to select neighborhoods that do not have an established Summer Meals site, such as an R Center, school, or church. This innovative new model, akin to an ice cream truck, will circle select neighborhoods and provide free meals all summer long.

“RTS has a long history of partnering with organizations in the Rochester region to connect people to important destinations and services,” RTS CEO Bill Carpenter said. “The Summer Meals partnership has always done a great job providing healthy meals to children each summer. During this COVID-19 pandemic, the team at RTS is happy to be a part of such an important program and looks forward to working with the partnership to find new ways to reach more children in the community.”

In addition, the City of Rochester and Foodlink also will increase its mobile meals program, which sends vans with meals to locations such as libraries and parks, where families often gather during the warmer months.

Parents can call 2-1-1 or visit www.SummerMealsRoc.org to learn more about 2020 Summer Meals sites in their neighborhood.

Last year’s Summer Meals program served nearly 250,000 meals – with an average daily participation rate of more than 3,920 children.

Dina Faticone, director of community health and engagement for Common Ground Health & co-chair of the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester, said:

”As a parent, making sure my kids have healthy food throughout the summer can be challenging. The Summer Meals Partnership hopes to make things a little easier for all parents in the City of Rochester this summer by ensuring that every neighborhood has a summer meals location nearby, or a Summer Meals food truck that will visit their block.”

Maya Crane, program officer for equity, Community Foundation & co-chair, Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester, said:

“It has been a rough couple of months for families trying to feed their children during the pandemic. We hope that bringing food to neighborhoods throughout the summer will mean fewer children missing meals.”

Terra Keller, chief operating officer for Foodlink, said:

“Foodlink is always proud to support the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester, and takes particular pride in the agility and innovation required to feed more children during this crisis. Our talented kitchen staff is always ready and willing to step up and prepare thousands of healthy meals, and develop new distribution models for Rochester’s youngest residents.”

Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner for the City of Rochester Department of Recreation and Youth Services, said:

“Summer is about being out and being active. We are doing all we can to increase families engaging in the outdoors, especially this summer. We have improved our connection of summer activities to Summer Meals. Come on out to parks, R-Centers, school playgrounds, and spray parks, and combine enjoying the summer fun with enjoying summer food.”

Bandele Akinniyi, director of district support operations for the Rochester City School District, said:

“Now more than ever, this is the time we should do everything possible to provide meals to our students so that when we reopen schools, they will be ready and able to learn. Rochester City School District is working in partnership with Foodlink, Common Ground Health, City of Rochester and American Dairy Association North East to ensure we reach as many children as possible.”

Foodlink’s Mobile Summer Meals sites & schedule

Foodlink and the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester have devised various ways to provide free, healthy, grab-and-go meals to children who may not be attending their usual summer meals programs due to the pandemic. Below, you’ll find a few of the “mobile meals” options available for children 18 and younger throughout the summer. We will update this list as new sites join the program.

>>> For a complete list of Summer Meals sites, please visit SummerMealsROC.org.

Foodlink Summer Meals van schedule (July 1 – Sept. 4) will make stops at or around noon Monday through Friday at the following locations (this list was updated on 7/16 to reflect a revised schedule):

11:15-12 …… Avenue Black Box Theatre (780 Joseph Ave., Rochester, NY 14621)
11:30-12:15 …… Troup Street Park (210-266 Troup Street, Rochester 14608)
12-12:45 …… Conkey Corner Park (92 Conkey Ave., Rochester 14621)
12-12:45 …… Brothers & Sisters Unisex Salon (1274 Dewey Ave., Rochester, NY 14613)
12-12:45 ….. St. Stephen’s Church (350 Chili Ave., Rochester, NY 14611)
12:15-12:45 ….. Green Knolls/Rochester Highland Apartments (Green Knolls Drive, Rochester, NY 14620)

Pandemic EBT benefits roll out across New York

Families across New York who lost access to free or reduced-price school meals as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic will soon start to receive additional food assistance.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 authorized the rollout of the Pandemic-EBT program to states that applied. New York’s application was accepted in May, which will result in $880 million in benefits for the families of more than 2 million children who receive free or reduced-price meals at school. Families can receive up to $420 per child, which represents the cumulative meal costs for the amount of missed school days this year due to COVID-19.

PDF: Download a flyer that explains Pandemic-EBT (English & Spanish)

The state will roll out these benefits in three phases, detailed below:

Families will either see additional funds flow onto their existing EBT cards if they are already enrolled in SNAP or Medicaid. Families will be mailed new cards if they aren’t already receiving any public benefits, but still receive free or reduced-price meals at school.

The program also includes pre-K students, young adults with disabilities (ages 19-21) and families regardless of their immigration status. No application is necessary — families will automatically receive these funds.

The state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) is managing the program, and has put together a useful FAQ. Questions can also be directed to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s P-EBT Food Benefits Helpline at 833-452-0096.

Feeding America grants help support food banks coping with increased demand due the Coronavirus

Since March, six separate grant opportunities — including a significant gift from Jeff Bezos — have helped Foodlink respond to the public health crisis caused by the spread of the Coronavirus.

Feeding America allocated funds totaling more than $150,000 in three phases of relief grants. Other grants that were given to food banks within the network included a $40,000 grant from Target, and a $38,000 grant from Subaru.

The Jeff Bezos COVID-19 Relief grant was part of a $100 million gift to Feeding America and its 200 food banks in April. Foodlink received $464,200, which it used to purchase new equipment for its distribution center, and offset food, staffing and other costs directly related to our elevated response.

Feeding America’s latest report, The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity Analysis, projected that food insecurity could rise by 45% in Foodlink’s 10-county service area — primarily due to the dramatic rise in unemployment. Foodlink is preparing for a prolonged response of at least 18 to 24 months as the Rochester area — like many areas of the country — attempts to recover from a significant economic recession. When household income decreases, the food budget is often the first expense sacrificed.

As a proud member of Feeding America, Foodlink is extremely thankful to the many supporters locally and across the country who have stepped up at this time. All funds raised from Feeding America are used to support the network of 200 food banks to help us meet the unprecedented need of the COVID-19 outbreak. We are grateful a portion of these funds was allocated to Foodlink to support our critical emergency response work.

During this crisis response, our food bank has incurred a huge burden of expenses in order to source additional food, supplies, transportation and increased operations. We know that the need will continue to increase as unemployment numbers continue to skyrocket across our communities and we are faced with the reality that this response will go on for months and the economic impact could go on for years, which why we continue to urgently call upon our local donors to support us during this difficult time.

Foodlink endorses BAG’s Declaration — ‘Racism is a Public Health Crisis’

Foodlink is rooted in the belief that food is a basic human right. Our mission is to leverage the power of food to end hunger and build healthier communities. Foodlink endorses the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group’s May 19th Declaration “RACISM IS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS.”

We acknowledge our role in public health and our responsibility to “address racism including reshaping our discourse and agenda so that we all actively engage in anti-racist and racial justice work.”

Hunger is a social determinant of health – and it is inextricably and undeniably linked to racism. When people of color experience racial discrimination in housing, education, health care, employment, criminal justice, business and economic mobility, they are far more likely to live in persistent poverty and chronic food insecurity; and they are far more likely to rely on the emergency food system. But food alone will not end hunger.

It is critical that anti-hunger organizations identify themselves as anti-racist organizations, and acknowledge poverty, discrimination and structural racism as the deep roots of hunger, malnourishment, and poor health outcomes in our community, and throughout the country. Only then will we begin to shorten emergency food lines and co-create the conditions that enable all people to feed themselves and their families in dignity.

Foodlink’s 2020 Advocacy Agenda specifically acknowledges the link between racism, poverty and hunger in its guiding principles. We will continue to use this agenda as our North Star to guide our advocacy efforts this year. But we still have much work to do to live out these principles, including building more diverse and inclusive leadership at all levels. We are committed to this work.

Thank you, Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group, for your declaration and your leadership. We encourage organizations and public officials working toward equity to review the declaration and share your endorsement with the BAG.

Report: Food-insecurity rate in Foodlink’s service area projected to rise by 45%

The food-insecurity rate throughout Foodlink’s 10-county service area is projected to rise 45% due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to estimates released by Feeding America on Tuesday.

“The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity Analysis” details how food insecurity may increase in 2020 due to COVID-19 for the overall population and children by state, county, congressional district and each service area of the 200 food banks that comprise the Feeding America network. The report used baseline data from the latest Map the Meal Gap report, and calculated an increase due to the relationships between food insecurity, poverty, and unemployment.

REPORT SUMMARY: The impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity

When the initial 2020 Map the Meal Gap report was released (using 2018 data), the food insecurity rate for Foodlink’s service area dropped to 10.9% — down from 11.5% the year prior. That equated to 136,610 people. According to this new report, the food-insecurity rate is expected to rise to 15.7% — the equivalent of 197,520 people.

The child food-insecurity rate saw a similar spike, from 18.7% to 27.2%.

The devastating toll that COVID-19 has taken on local economies has caused unemployement to rise to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Feeding America is basing its latest report on a scenario that projects a rise in unemployment by 7.6 percentage points, and a rise in poverty by 4.8 percentage points.

Prior to the pandemic, Ontario County owned the lowest food-insecurity rate in Foodlink’s service area at 8.9%, while Allegany owned the highest (12.8%). Both counties still bookend the data, but their rates have risen to 14.1% and 17.7%, respectively. County-by-county data is available in the chart below.

For the past 5+ years, Foodlink’s food-insecurity rate revealed that 1 in 8 people lived in a household that had limited or uncertain access to enough food. The COVID-19 projections now mean 1 in 6 people are considered food insecure.

Statewide, New York’s food-insecurity rate is projected to jump from 11.1% to 16% — a rise that will affect nearly 1 million people.