Foodlink has launched the nation’s first mobile WIC market as an innovative expansion of its Curbside Market – a mobile market that serves the Rochester region.
“WIC” refers to the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which provides resources and financial support for low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 for nutritious foods to supplement their diets. The Curbside Market has a long history of selling fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables to Rochester-area shoppers. Two stops in Rochester now include a full range of other WIC-eligible products, such as whole grains, cereals, infant food and formula, 100% juice, dairy products and proteins such as beans and peanut butter.
“This is truly a historic achievement for our Curbside Market team – one that’s been years in the making,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “We’re also proud that the rollout of this initiative has been community led, with a diverse group of stakeholders all working toward the same goal of increasing access to healthy foods.”
CURBSIDE MARKET: Learn more and access the current schedule
To celebrate the launch, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, visited Rochester to discuss the local impact of transformational federal anti-hunger WIC funding increases in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Earlier this year, Senator Gillibrand successfully fought for the inclusion of the vital Cash Value Voucher (CVV) increase for fruits and vegetables in the ARP to support women and children for a four-month period during the pandemic, up to $35 per month, and is now calling to make these changes permanent to keep up with the growing demand.
I’m marking #HungerActionDay by celebrating @FoodlinkNY‘s Curbside Market in Rochester — the very first mobile WIC vendor in the nation! I fought for an emergency WIC increase, and I will keep fighting to permanently raise the value of WIC food packages and expand access to WIC. pic.twitter.com/hSVYJ2OpQe
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (@gillibrandny) September 17, 2021
“At a time when families are facing dramatically increased levels of hunger, funding WIC is one of the most important investments we can make. That is why I am so excited to visit Rochester for the unveiling of the nation’s very first WIC mobile truck,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Children have always been the largest category of WIC participants and giving New York families healthier options in food packages will have positive health outcomes and reduce food insecurity. In Congress, I am fighting to make the increased WIC funding that I helped secure in the American Rescue Plan permanent, and to review and update WIC food packages so they more accurately reflect a modern healthy diet. Together, we can ensure that all families can afford to buy not just more food, but healthier food.”
Foodlink’s two mobile WIC stops on Saturdays in Rochester are hosted at Cameron Community Ministries in northwest Rochester (48 Cameron St., 9-11 a.m.); and RCSD School 33/Ryan R Center/Sully Branch Library in northeast Rochester (500 Webster Ave., 12-2 p.m.). Five other Curbside Market stops also accept eWIC for produce only. The stops will run through November, with a goal of extending beyond the pilot phase and expanding to additional sites in 2022. The launch of Curbside Market’s WIC vehicle was made possible through a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grant from the USDA.
Research that spans four decades shows that WIC participation is associated with healthier births, reduced infant mortality, more nutritious diets, and improved cognitive development and academic achievement. While WIC has proven to be a critical program for young families, it has been underutilized. In New York State, 53.9% of all eligible participants were enrolled in the program in 2017. More recent data suggests that number likely has declined, as total participation in New York State has dropped 26.4% in the last 5 years (460,000 to 362,000). In Monroe County, more than 20,000 residents are active participants in WIC, according to 2019 data.
The Curbside Market’s expansion helps to improve access to WIC products, one of the barriers to increased participation rates. into There are 52 approved WIC vendors in Monroe County, however only 14 are located within the City of Rochester.
“The NYS WIC program has worked closely with Foodlink to bring to completion a first-of-its-kind mobile market that specializes in WIC-eligible products,” said NYS WIC Director Corie Nadzan. “By increasing capacity of the Curbside Market to incorporate WIC-eligible foods, the market has been able to reach WIC participants where they live, making it easier to eat healthy by purchasing fresh local fruits and vegetables and other WIC-approved products. We anticipate that the market will continue to expand its reach and become a model for other WIC mobile markets.”
Anti-hunger advocates around the country are pushing for upgrades to the program as Congress negotiates Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation in the year ahead. Proposed changes include: extending certification periods to two years, extending eligibility for children up to six years old, and making remote enrollment flexibilities permanent.
Senator Gillibrand has been a leader in the fight to combat the growing hunger crisis since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, Gillibrand visited food banks across New York State and successfully pushed congressional leadership to include the temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits as part of COVID relief. She also helped secure the inclusion of the Cash Value Voucher (CVV) increase for fruits and vegetables in the ARP of up to $35 per month for both women and children, which was an increase from $9-$11 monthly. In addition to calling to make these changes permanent, Gillibrand is also a cosponsor of the WIC Act and is calling for its inclusion in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization. In March, Gillibrand led a bicameral push from over 135 members of Congress, urging U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to review and increase the value of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages in order to reflect a modern, healthy diet.
LEARN MORE: WIC Act of 2021
Whitley Hasty is one of several Curbside Market Ambassadors who help promote the market in their communities. Hasty works closely with the new WIC site at Cameron Community Ministries and helps spread the word to young families about the new initiative.
“The path to eliminating food insecurity in this country absolutely requires the initiative demonstrated by Foodlink by expanding its Curbside Market to accept WIC,” Hasty said.
The Curbside Market has been on the road since 2013. It began with one truck and one route in the City of Rochester, and has since grown to a fleet of 4+ vehicles serving multiple counties. In the past year, the market put several COVID-safe protocols in place so it could continue to serve customers at more than 40 stops in Rochester and beyond.
Partner sites include affordable housing communities, senior centers, health clinics, and community centers – often in areas with low or limited access to healthy foods. Curbside Market vehicles are stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables and other select grocery items – and provide significant savings for shoppers who use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Double Up Food Bucks incentive program allows customers to double the value of their purchase (up to $20 daily).
Several state officials lauded Foodlink and the Curbside Market for its recent expansion to sell WIC-eligible foods.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said: “As we recognize Hunger Action Day today, New York State congratulates Foodlink on this important expansion of its Curbside Market program, a critical resource that ensures our communities have access to good, nutritious foods. Foodlink has been a tremendous partner in the State’s efforts to fight food insecurity, particularly through the Nourish New York program and as a member of the Council on Hunger and Food Policy. We look forward to continuing to build on these initiatives, connecting New York’s farmers and food producers to our food banks and bringing food to all New York families.”
NYS Assemblymember Sarah Clark (136th District) said: “Historically the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program has successfully provided healthy foods to pregnant women, new moms and their young children. But with changing neighborhoods, increasing childhood poverty and less access to supermarkets, finding innovative ways to make this program effective is a must, and Foodlink has delivered. Increasing accessibility through an expansion of their already successful Curbside Market will help to ensure that those most in need are getting nutritional support during a critical time of development. I would like to thank Senator Gillibrand for her steadfast commitment to feeding our most vulnerable children and families. And to Foodlink, for their willingness to adapt and find new ways to fight hunger in our community.”
NYS Senator Samra Brouk (District 55) said: “We know that Rochester has work to do to solve the problems created by food deserts and to break cycles of poverty. Foodlink is stepping up as a leader to do that work. I have had the privilege of seeing their Curbside Market in action, which meant not only seeing their friendly and capable team do their work, but also witnessing the countless community members who relied on their services. Curbside Market’s approval as a WIC vendor is another monumental step to make quality, healthy food accessible for families in our community, and is a crucial piece in building a healthier, more equitable Rochester.”