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:

  • Maplewood YMCA (25 Driving Park Ave., Rochester 14613)
  •     Troup Street Park ( 210-266 Troup Street, Rochester 14608)
  •     Conkey Corner Park (92 Conkey Ave., Rochester 14621)
  •          Lincoln Library (851 Joseph Ave, Rochester 14621)
  •         Maplewood Library (1111 Dewey Ave, Rochester 14613)
  •         Arnett Library (310 Arnett Blvd, Rochester 14619)

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.

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.