Foodlink, Excellus BCBS announce ‘Fresh Account’ partnership with the Curbside Market

When the pandemic forced Karen Goossen (pictured above) to close her business this spring, she knew her income was at risk. She didn’t realize the economic fallout would also put her health at risk.

Goossen, an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield member, had been following her doctor’s advice to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to her diet to help manage her medical concerns. However, with her income limited, those healthier choices became luxuries.

“I had to find a way to stretch my dollars,” she said, “so sometimes I had to do without fresh fruits and vegetables.”

SCHEDULE: The Curbside Market’s September stops

A new analysis conducted for Excellus BCBS by data science company Algorex Health Technologies identified food insecurity as one of the most prominent needs in Rochester. Another recent study by Feeding America showed food insecurity in Foodlink’s 10-county area is expected to rise 45 percent this year due to the pandemic.

To help at-risk members like Goossen, the health insurer developed the “Fresh Account at Curbside Market” program with Foodlink. As part of the pilot project, Excellus BCBS members with the greatest risk of food insecurity and health care needs receive a monthly $30 voucher for six months. Members redeem the vouchers at Foodlink’s “Fresh Account at Curbside Market” locations. The Curbside Market is Foodlink’s mobile farmers market, which provides affordable and convenient access to healthy foods in underserved communities.

Members also receive support from nutrition counselors and have the option to take part in Foodlink’s Cooking Matters nutrition education classes.

Loss of income, poverty, a person’s environment, education levels, and discrimination can all contribute to health risks. Known as social determinants of health, these factors can have significant impact on a person’s quality of life and well-being.

“Understanding how social determinants impact our members’ health allows us to provide them with better care,” said Dr. Brian Steele, Excellus BCBS’s vice president and chief medical officer for safety net and population management. “Food insecurity, apart from the pandemic, was identified as a clear need in our community. You need a healthy diet to improve and maintain good health. This seemed to be an area where we could intervene.”

“This is an exciting partnership for Foodlink and Curbside Market because it aligns perfectly with our mission as a public health organization,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “The Fresh Account program helps people access healthier foods and celebrates making the healthy choice the easy choice. We hope this will improve Excellus BCBS member experience and health outcomes – and lower health care costs.”

Participation in the program helps Excellus BCBS member Carl Draper extend his food budget and meet his health care goals. “It brings a nice balance. I get lots of good green stuff into the mix,” he said. “I can make a well-rounded meal, adding fresh fruits and vegetables I can’t ordinarily get.”

“The goal is not only to help members eat healthier, it helps us engage more easily with them.,” Steele said.

Program participants are connected with nurse care managers who support the members’ health care needs. The care managers help identify gaps in care, encourage continuation of medical care and identify available community resources. Improving overall health, helps reduce emergency department and hospital admissions.

The pilot launched on August 1, with 250 members and another 250 members are expected to be enrolled later this year.

Goossen calls the program “a blessing. The timing was perfect. I really needed it and there’s a need in the community.”

Foodlink Career Fellowship Class of 2020 moves on to their externships

The seven members of the Foodlink Career Fellowship Class of 2020 all left Foodlink after an extended stay this week.

Each moved on to their externships at local employers — the final stage of the year-long culinary training program. The Fellows would have normally made this transition back in April, but the pandemic’s impact on the local food industry, combined with the increased need for meals prepared in our community’s kitchen prolonged their time with us. Each added much-needed capacity to our kitchen, which went from serving less than 4,000 meals daily to nearly 6,000 meals/day during our initial COVID-19 response.

Each will experience the rigors of the local food industry for three months before graduating from the program and seeking full-time jobs. Five of the seven Fellows will work at area Wegmans stores, while Native Eatery & Bar and the Genesee Valley Club have also signed on as employer partners.

The full list of our Fellows and their externship sites is below:

Olvin Cortes – Wegmans (Mt. Read)

JoJo Schaible (Wegmans (East Ave.)

Brandi Williams (Wegmans Irondequoit)

Tyeasha Hendrix (Wegmans Perinton)

Wayne Lucas (Wegmans Chili Paul)

Javia Hart (Native)

Jimmy Stiner (GVC)

Rochester meal sites: Foodlink’s partnership with RCSD, City continues

The City, Foodlink and the Rochester City School District (RCSD) will continue to collaborate to provide free, healthy meals for children across Rochester this school year. Since March, this collaboration – along with other community partners including Common Ground Health and the Rochester Area Community Foundation – has resulted in the distribution of more than 1.3 million meals.

The food distribution program provides city children with access to the meals they would have received at school and after-school programs.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 9, grab-and-go meals will be available at 20 RCSD schools, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 14, R-Centers will have breakfast, lunch and dinner available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Foodlink will continue to provide food for other community locations (such as Agape Haven, 289 Driving Park) and will partner with additional organizations and programs seeking to offer meal service to children and families. Those organizations can contact Claire Savini at (585) 413-5063 ( to learn more.

RCSD Sites:

John Williams School #5, 555 Plymouth Ave.
Virgil I. Grissom School #7, 31 Bryan St.
Roberto Clemente School #8: 1180 St. Paul St.
Dr. Martin L. King School #9, 485 Clinton Ave.
Anna Murray-Douglass #12, 999 South Ave.
John Walton Spencer School #16, 321 Post Ave.
Enrico Fermi School #17, 158 Orchard St.
Dr. Charles Lunsford Sch. #19, 465 Seward St.
Henry Hudson School #28, 450 Humboldt St.
John James Audubon School #33, 500 Webster Ave.
Pinnacle School #35, 194 Field St.
Abelard Reynolds School #42, 3330 Lake Ave.
Mary McLeod Bethune Sch. #45, 1445 Clifford Ave.
Helen Barret Montgomery School #50, 301 Seneca Ave.
Dr. Freddie Thomas Campus, 625 Scio St.
RIA/Jefferson High School Campus, 1 Edgerton Park,
Wilson Foundation Academy, 200 Genesee St.
Franklin High School, 950 Norton St.
Monroe High School, 164 Alexander St.
Nathaniel Rochester School #3, 85 Adam St.


Adams Street R-Center, 85 Adams St.
Avenue D R-Center, 200 Avenue D
Carter Street R-Center, 500 Carter St.
Tyshaun Cauldwell Center for Hope, 524 Campbell St.
Edgerton R-Center, 41 Backus St.
Frederick Douglass R-Center, 999 South Ave.
David F. Gantt R-Center, 700 North St.
Trenton and Pamela Jackson R-Center, 485 N. Clinton Ave.
Thomas P. Ryan R-Center, 530 Webster Ave.

Foodlink hosting virtual conversations about range of issues during annual Hunger Action Month

With more than 60,000 additional people in the Rochester area projected to live in food-insecure households due to the pandemic, there is more urgency than ever to focus on the issue of hunger in our communities.

Foodlink and other hunger-relief organizations across the Feeding America network use September – Hunger Action Month – as a time to raise awareness about the root causes of food insecurity, and encourage supporters to take action on the issue of hunger. The annual month-long campaign brings attention to the reality of food insecurity in the United States, which is elevated this year due to the challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic. In Foodlink’s 10-county service area, food insecurity is projected to rise 45 percent in 2020.

“Now more than ever, Foodlink is urging our neighbors to get involved during Hunger Action Month,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “The need is greater and the community’s response will be critical as we navigate this crisis in the months and years to come. Whether you have the capacity to donate, volunteer, or advocate – anyone can take action.”

Although Foodlink focused its COVID-19 response these past six months on the distribution of millions of pounds of emergency food and nearly 500,000 children’s meals for households experiencing food insecurity, its approach to advocacy extends well beyond feeding people. Foodlink finalized its inaugural Advocacy Agenda last February, and included three major focus areas: (1) Ensure no one goes hungry; (2) Improve access to healthy food – in schools, health-care settings and low-income communities; and (3) Eliminate the root causes of hunger.

Volunteer / Wear Orange: Sign up for a volunteer shift! You can also show your support of Hunger Action Month by wearing orange on Sept. 10 – Hunger Action Day. City buildings will be lit orange for the occasion!

Donate: Make a monetary donation in support of our mission! We appreciate your support!

Working with community leaders from other leading non-profits, Foodlink is facilitating a series of conversations around four topics – all of which influence food insecurity in various ways. On Tuesdays throughout September, beginning Sept. 8, Foodlink will post video interviews with local experts that address: housing, health care, racism & employment. The videos – approximately 10-15 minutes in length – will be held via Zoom, and posted on Foodlink’s website, Facebook and YouTube pages.

In addition, Foodlink remains committed to advocating for policy change and legislation that will help food-insecure families access healthy foods. On the federal level, Foodlink will continue to speak to members of Congress about the importance of adequate funding for programs such as: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), Pandemic-EBT and USDA school meal waivers.

(UPDATE: On August 31, the USDA announced it has extended certain school meal waivers through the end of 2020. Anti-hunger advocates, Foodlink included, would like to see those same waivers extended for the full school year, and for as long as remote learning is taking place.)

Foodlink also is advocating for participation in the 2020 Census, through the distribution of promotional materials to our network of member food pantries, and by allowing Census workers to attend our drive-thru food distributions to speak with clients directly about the importance being counted this year.

On Sept. 10, you can show you support of Hunger Action Month in a simple way: Wear orange! Orange is the color of hunger awareness because the nation’s first food stamps (which made their debut in Rochester on May 16, 1939) were orange. The city’s skyline will be lit orange in honor of hunger awareness, and you can show your support by wearing orange, snapping a photo, and using the hashtag #HungerActionMonth on social media.