Foodlink attends Feeding NYS Lobby Day in Albany

Foodlink joined is food banking colleagues from around the state on Wednesday for a day of meetings with state assemblymembers and senators about Feeding New York State’s budget priorities for 2020.

Foodlink is one of nine food banks that comprise Feeding New York State (formerly the Food Bank Association of New York State). The top priority for the association is adequate funding for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). This line item in the state Department of Health’s budget provides vital funding to food banks — and their members — across the state.

The food banks’ argument is simple cause and effect. SNAP cuts proposed by the federal government — one of which is already scheduled to take effect April 1 — will undoubtedly force a strain on food banks and the entire emergency food system. Feeding NYS is advocating for the state to restore $500,000 in funding that was removed in the governor’s budget, and another $6 million to offset the increased need that will result from thousands of New Yorkers losing their SNAP benefits in 2020.

Feeding NYS is also pushing for a initiative to streamline its sourcing of state-grown produce and dairy. In a proposal to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, Feeding NYS requested $6 million to support local farmers, and gain efficiencies in distributing more dairy and produce within the emergency food system.

Foodlink discussed these proposals, and others, with three members of the assembly and two senators. They were: Assemblymember Harry Bronson (Rochester), Assemblymember Stephen Hawley (Monroe, Orleans, Genesee), Assemblymember Brian Manktelow (Wayne), Senator Joe Robach (Rochester) and Senator George Borello (Allegany, Livingston).

Prior to the meetings, Feeding NYS hosted a morning meeting with other legislators that included Assemblywoman Michaelle Solage, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, and Senator Liz Krueger.

Sen. Krueger’s story was fascinating. Her origins are in food banking, having started as a volunteer with the Cleveland Food Bank in the early 80s. It wasn’t too long before she was recommended to lead efforts to launch a program to distribute surplus U.S. commodities to the growing number of food banks (back then, only 6 states had food banks). The program is now known as The Emergency Food Assistance Program — a massive USDA program that provides 200 food banks nationwide with about 15-20% of their food.

Krueger then went on to become a founding member of The Food Bank of New York City, before moving on to roles as an anti-poverty advocate, the Associate Director of the Community Food Resource Center (CFRC), and then a state representative for District 28 – the east side of Manhattan.

NYS awards Foodlink nearly $1M in Workforce Development Initiative funding

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Foodlink Monday to announce multiple grant award winners from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Workforce Development Initiative.

Foodlink is receiving a nearly $1 million award to support the Foodlink Career Fellowship, a one-of-a-kind culinary training program that creates pathways to prosperity for individuals with barriers to sustainable employment. The program was recognized by the Department of Labor in 2019 as the state’s first and only registered cook apprenticeship. Funding allows Foodlink to sustain and expand the program, starting with the recruitment and launch its third class of participants this summer, and a fourth class in early 2021.

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“Putting people first is central to our mission,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “The Foodlink Career Fellowship epitomizes our belief that our role as an organization extends well beyond food banking. We nourish thousands of people on a daily basis, but also create opportunities for individuals to be empowered with the skills they need for a healthier future. We’re forever grateful that the state has recognized the potential of this innovative program to spur economic development, and transform lives in our communities.”

The Foodlink Career Fellowship launched in 2018 to train individuals for middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. Fellows are nominated into the program, and progress through a yearlong curriculum that includes both classroom and hands-on training within Foodlink’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, where they help prepare after-school and summer meals for Rochester students. Eight members of the inaugural graduating class secured full-time employment in 2019, while seven current members of the Fellowship are more than halfway through the program.

The state’s Workforce Development Initiative (WDI) is investing $175 million in job training projects. Awarded projects support strategic regional efforts that meet businesses’ short-term workforce needs, long-term industry needs, improve regional talent pipelines, enhance the flexibility and adaptability of local workforce entities, and expand workplace learning opportunities.

Aside from Foodlink, the following organizations were recognized by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul during Monday’s announcement: Baxter, Genesee Construction Service, Graham Corporation, Lifetime Assistance, Mary Cariola Children’s Center, McAlpin Industries, Optimax, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Prestolite, and Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES.

Foodlink was awarded funding through the WDI’s Pay for Success program, which focuses on training opportunities for underserved and underemployed populations. Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello also attended the announcement and delivered remarks in praise of the program.

“The number one issue I hear from employers across the state is that they can’t find workers with the skills they need for 21st century jobs,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “That is why we are investing $3.1 million in job training programs spearheaded by nearly 70 upstate New York businesses, non-profits, and community organizations that will benefit 3,600 New Yorkers as part of our historic $175 million Workforce Development Initiative. The nearly $1 million in funding for Foodlink will expand the organization’s culinary training program and create more opportunities for individuals in the food industry. The investment is part of our overall efforts to close the skills gap and prepare New Yorkers for jobs today and in the future.”

Foodlink launched the program with guidance from Wegmans Food Markets, and through private funding support from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, ESL Charitable Foundation and the William and Sheila Konar Foundation, which also funded the launch of the second class in 2019. The program includes nine months of training at Foodlink, and three months of an externship at a regional employer.

“Before arriving at Foodlink, I wasn’t reaching my true potential,” said Da’Quan Quick, who was a member of the Foodlink Career Fellowship’s inaugural graduating class. “The Fellowship made me believe in myself, and gave me skills I needed to launch a career.”

As a registered apprenticeship, several local employers have partnered with Foodlink as potential landing spots for program graduates. Many of the 2019 graduates moved into full-time roles at Wegmans Food Markets stores and restaurants in the Rochester area. The Kelaron Group, which includes restaurants such as Salena’s Mexican Restaurant and Nox, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Del Monte Hotel Group, are collaborating with Foodlink, as well.

Foodlink has guided one class through the program in each of the first two years since its launch, however it has committed to hosting two classes of approximately 15 participants each in the year ahead thanks to the state’s investment. Foodlink’s staff will begin to recruit soon for the launch of the third class in July. A fourth class would begin six months later in January of 2021.

New vehicle joins Curbside Market fleet

The newest Curbside Market vehicle is also its largest ever.

The new truck helps modernize the fleet for Foodlink’s mobile farmers market, which visits more than 70 weekly sites (90+ during its peak season) to increase access to healthy foods in underserved neighborhoods. Funding for the vehicle was made possible by Foodlink’s grant award from the USDA through the Local Food Promotion Program in 2018.

The interior is spacious by design. The primary purpose for the vehicle — eventually — is for Foodlink to become the state’s first mobile WIC vendor. The Women, Infants and Children program assists new, low-income mothers with purchasing healthy foods, and includes a range of products beyond fruits and vegetables. Once approved, this vehicle will expand its inventory and offer more products to customers.

The Curbside Market has been on the road since 2013. To see the current schedule, please visit our website, and check us out on Facebook and Instagram.

Weather updates: Multiple Foodlink programs cancel due to snow, ice

Snowy and icy conditions have resulted in multiple cancellations Feb. 7 at Foodlink, which will close its offices at noon today.

A winter storm warning has been issued by the National Weather Service for Monroe and other counties in the Rochester region. As a result, Foodlink made the following announcements:

  • All volunteer shifts for Friday have been canceled.
  • All Curbside Market stops are canceled.
  • Our two Mobile Pantry food distributions — in Lyndonville & Brockport — are canceled.
  • Foodlink’s offices will be closing at noon.

Please be careful out there … stay safe and warm, and call 2-1-1 for more information about food and other resources in your area.

Tickets on sale now for 2020 Forks & Skis event

Tickets are now on sale for Forks & Skis, an annual charity ski event to benefit Foodlink.

The event, presented by Delta Air Lines, will be held March 6 at Hunt Hollow Ski Club, from noon to 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $100 and include your ski pass for the day, lunch, and an Après Ski happy hour with live entertainment (Tickets are $50 for non-skiers and those who already own a Hunt Hollow ski pass). There will be multiple raffle prizes, as well. All proceeds from the event benefit Foodlink and its many hunger-relief and food-related programs in the Rochester region.

This is the 11th year overall for the event — and the eighth year it has raised money for Foodlink. To date, more than $170,000 has been raised to support Foodlink’s mission of ending hunger and building healthier communities.

We hope to see you on the slopes on March 6!

PURCHASE TICKETS: 2020 Forks & Skis event

FACEBOOK: Check out our event page!

Project update: Foodlink’s ‘The Healthy Choice’ nutrition ranking system

Foodlink was recently featured in the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition‘s January newsletter, about the work we’re doing related to the Rooted in Evidence grant we received last year. Foodlink is implementing our new nutrition ranking system, The Healthy Choice, in our “Front Door” food pantries — the term we use to describe Foodlink’s high-capacity member food pantries across our service area.

The Healthy Choice’s full ranking system can be found on Foodlink’s website, as a key component to its Community Health Commitment.

This grant allows us to educate and train pantry staff about healthy foods, and measure whether the system has a positive health outcome on pantry clients. Below is the text from Foodlink’s entry in the GSCN newsletter:

Rooted in Evidence grantee, Foodlink, is using grant funds to evaluate the implementation of The Healthy Choice nutrition ranking system in four Front Door food pantries, some of their highest-capacity member agencies. Foodlink launched three initiatives to improve the nutritional quality of food that is distributed to clients. One of those programs, “The Healthy Choice,” is a new, evidence-based, whole food-focused nutrition ranking system. The levels include green: choose often, yellow: choose sometimes, and red: choose rarely. The Healthy Choice is used to monitor and improve the proportion of nutritious food taken in by Foodlink, and distributed to network partners. Foodlink is committed to distributing 95% green- and yellow-ranked foods by 2021.

Pantry strategies to achieve this goal include:

• Encouraging donations of green- and yellow-ranked items

• Establishing formalized nutrition/ordering policies that encourage the procurement of green- and yellow-ranked items and encourage red-ranked items to be procured rarely

• Emphasizing green- and/or yellow-ranked items by placing them in multiple areas to provide repeat exposure

• Requiring all pantry staff and volunteers to receive nutrition education within the past year so they have the knowledge and capacity to follow The Healthy Choice system and create healthier pantry environment nudges

As part of this grant, Foodlink is holding educational trainings with pantry staff and volunteers to increase self-efficacy and capacity to implement The Healthy Choice at their respective organizations. Additionally, Foodlink is building client-facing messaging related to The Healthy Choice, including signage on shelves that help clients navigate food choices that are organized by ranking. The messages are simple, accessible to a variety of literacy and language needs, and help to clearly and quickly make healthy choices easy. This funding and partnership will help Foodlink understand if improvements in their network, foods distributed and pantry environment have an impact on pantry-level and client-level outcomes.

Following is a Q&A with Foodlink’s Nutrition Resource Manager Laura Held, MS:

What about The Healthy Choice nutrition ranking excites you most?

Most exciting to me is that The Healthy Choice serves three distinct but interacting purposes: ranking Foodlink product inventory and steering procurement decisions, helping our member agencies and partners choose healthy options for their clients and solicit donations from the community, and helping community members make healthy choices for their families.

At Foodlink we believe, and I personally believe, that it is our responsibility to leverage the power that we wield each year with millions of pounds of food and millions of dollars in food-related assets not just toward ending hunger, but also toward building healthier communities. The Healthy Choice is our guide as we do so.

What do you want to know most about The Healthy Choice and its impacts?

I want to know how easy The Healthy Choice is for pantry staff and volunteers to implement and how worthwhile they find it is to do so. This is critical for Foodlink to move forward with implementation of the ranking in more pantries. I am certain that we will learn numerous ways that we can revise and improve our training, materials and technical assistance.

Our longer-term goal is to be able to assess its efficacy on increasing healthy choices at the client level. And that prospect is extremely exciting. But for our current project with the Gretchen Swanson Center, we will start smaller by learning from focus groups how clients feel about and understand The Healthy Choice at their local pantry.

What will data collection entail over the next six months?

We are collecting data in four ways:

1) Foodlink product order tracking: Does an increase of healthy food at the food bank level increase healthy food ordering by pantries?

2) Pantry staff/volunteer survey: Does staff/volunteer training increase their knowledge, capacity and willingness to follow The Healthy Choice?

3) Pantry observational environment assessment: Do staff/volunteer training, technical assistance and The Healthy Choice materials lead to a healthier pantry environment?

4) Pantry client focus group: Are policy, systems and environmental changes at the pantry level noticed by clients and perceived to impact their choices?

Other than the client focus groups, which will happen once near the end of the grant period, the data collection is occurring at three time periods: Pre, Post, and 6-month follow-up.

What was your biggest take away from the Omaha kick-off meeting in August?

I had not previously received training on Process and Implementation Evaluation, nor Best Practices in Qualitative Methods. This was very helpful and informative for me.

I also greatly enjoyed learning from not only Gretchen Swanson Center staff but also food bank colleagues. I always find it beneficial to hear how other food banks do what they do and what innovative projects they are undertaking. It helps put our work at Foodlink in a broader context and gives me plenty of new ideas!

How has the Gretchen Swanson Center’s evaluation expertise and technical assistance benefited your organization so far?

Working with the Gretchen Swanson Center is invaluable! Staff members’ advice and input empowers me to feel confident as project lead and that I will be able to do similar work without help from the Gretchen Swanson Center in the future.

What are you hoping to do with the results of the evaluation? What is the next step?

We hope that the results will be the springboard toward a broader and deeper implementation of The Healthy Choice in our food pantries. We would like to integrate ranking into more pantries and to be able to assess its efficacy in increasing healthy choices by clients.

We also intend to share our results with the public, with the hope that the information will be useful to the Feeding America network of food banks and the broader anti-hunger and public health community.

Curbside Market team begins new winter schedule

The Curbside Market — Foodlink’s mobile farmers market — has transitioned to its winter schedule, as of Jan. 6.

While the market operates year-round to provide new access points to healthy food in underserved neighborhoods, the winter months are often a challenge for our drivers. Therefore, our weekly schedule is reduced from about 90+ sites during the peak season, to 70+ sites during the winter months. The current schedule runs through March 29, before expanding again in the spring.

WINTER SCHEDULE: Where’s the Curbside Market headed?

The Curbside Market has a fleet of three vehicles, which includes its newest addition — a converted school bus that hit the road this past fall. There are a total of 71 sites this winter, including 58 in Monroe County, and 13 in surrounding counties. There are also 8 weekly stops on Saturdays.

To access the complete and most up-to-date schedule (and map), visit Foodlink’s website. For the latest information on the market about new products, our staff, updates and cancellations, visit us on Facebook or Instagram.

See you soon!

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!