Rochester’s largest food pantry plans to move to a new facility in the same neighborhood because its current location has been sold to a developer.
South Wedge Food Program will move to 555 Avenue D, behind the Lincoln Branch Library, from its longtime home at Calvary St. Andrews Church on Ashland Street. As a result, the food pantry will rebrand itself as the People’s Pantry.
“The last year-and-a-half has been a pivotal time in the history of South Wedge Food Pantry. The Covid-19 pandemic, and our decision to keep serving our clients, changed us for the better. We transformed into the largest free grocery delivery service in all of Rochester, serving thousands of people each month, either by delivery or from our front door,” said Executive Director Jay Rowe in a note on the organization’s website. “We met amazing people along the way and kept hunger out of the homes of so many who lost income due to the layoffs in 2020. All while operating on a shoestring budget.”
South Wedge Food Program began in the 1980s as a program of the church, and remained relatively small throughout the years until the pandemic caused many people in the area to lose income, officials noted.
“Levels of Rochester society that never knew who we were or thought they would need us were now at our door. Whether to volunteer or receive sustenance, they all gained hands on knowledge of food insecurity and a good dose of empathy” said longtime volunteer Moira Strouse in a statement this week.
South Wedge Food Program accepts donations from food to personal items to pet food. A grand opening event for the new facility will take place in November.
The recently passed House appropriations bill has set aside $750,000 for Rochester’s Foodlink Inc. to help the nonprofit cover the costs of a much-needed refrigerator expansion, Rep. Joe Morelle said on Wednesday. The bill still needs to be passed by the U.S. Senate.
“The COVID-19 pandemic forced too many Monroe County residents into food insecurity, leaving them without basic access to healthy food options,” Morelle (D-Irondequoit) said in a statement. “As we continue to combat this crisis, we must ensure families are able to provide for their children and put food on their tables. That is why I was proud to help secure funding in the House appropriations bill to allow Foodlink to better serve our community and deliver more healthy meals to families who need them.”
Morelle joined Foodlink Wednesday to recognize Hunger Action Month, which takes place each September to raise awareness of the hunger issues families in our community and nationwide face.
The refrigerator expansion will allow Foodlink to stock more fresh produce and better meet the growing needs of the local community, especially during the pandemic, officials said.
“Hunger Action Month offers a critical opportunity to bring attention to the impact that poverty and food insecurity has on our communities, and the reality that thousands of households in our region are forced to make impossible choices between paying for food and other basic needs,” said Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco. “We are grateful that Congressman Morelle understands the severity of this issue, and for his advocacy and support on the federal level.”
Because of the pandemic, Foodlink has helped serve an unprecedented number of food-insecure families in our region, the effects of which are ultimately felt on our children’s dinner plate, officials noted. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the organization distributed 25 percent more food last year than the year prior, which already was a record-setting year.
The $750,000 award is being made available as part of the Community Funding Project program, which Congress is implementing for the first time this year. Through this program, members of Congress are able to provide direct investments to areas of their communities that need it most. The funding was recently passed in the House of Representatives appropriations bill and will now be considered by the U.S. Senate.
A $20,000 grant from the William & Sheila Konar Foundation has enabled seven Rochester City School District schools to open food pantries.
“I am very proud to join with the RCSD and our faith and business communities to address the food disparities that far too many of our children are living with,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “Through our partnerships, we are transforming the systems that support our students and our schools as a whole and these food pantries will provide an additional sense of security for many, many families. I want to thank the William & Sheila Konar Foundation for their generosity to our most valuable gems – our children.”
The grant was used to purchase refrigerators, shelving, bins and food at the following city school-based food pantries:
• Edison Tech
• John Walton Spencer School No. 16
• Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School No. 19
• Henry Hudson School No. 28
• Joseph C. Wilson Academy School No. 68
• Franklin Upper School
• Leadership Academy for Young Men
The project is the result of the Business in Action – Adopt a School initiative, a partnership of the Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services, RCSD and the local business and faith communities, designed to facilitate connections between schools and businesses to provide students with food and other essential items.
“We are extremely grateful to the William & Sheila Konar Foundation for supporting our children and families,” said RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small. “Proper nutrition is critical not only for a healthy body but also for a healthy mind. This partnership embodies what can be accomplished with the true spirit of teamwork. It fills me with great hope to see our community coming together to raise up city families.”
The Business in Action – Adopt a School initiative is encouraging other leaders in the Rochester business community to use the program as a vehicle to provide support to city students and families.
“We are changing lives for the better because the students at these schools won’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, and therefore, they can learn more effectively,” said the Church of Love Faith Center’s Pastor Terrance Youmans. “The Church of Love Faith Center invites all houses of worship and businesses to come on board in partnership with one of our schools to help stock even more pantries and to help keep our students fed and healthy.”
Houses of Worship that want to become involved in the initiative can visit cityofrochester.gov/adoptaschool/.
Foodlink on Wednesday said it will phase out its drive-thru food distribution events in Monroe County next month while expanding its food-banking partnerships and capacity during the summer months.
To better support food-insecure households during the transition period, Foodlink has committed an additional $1 million in funding to its network of food pantries, community meal programs and shelters. Officials said generous public support in the last year allowed the nonprofit organization to allocate the additional funds to its network.
“Our drive-through food distribution model was a necessary and innovative emergency stopgap measure that has been central to Foodlink’s pandemic response,” said Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco. “We’ve made the decision to pivot from this model and invest more resources in the network of community-based nonprofits that Foodlink has partnered with for decades to serve those in need. This network is not only equipped to respond to the food needs of clients across our area, but also to connect them to other critical social services and resources.”
Foodlink has coordinated more than 600 distributions in the last 400 days that have served roughly 180,000 households. Initial projections from Feeding America showed a rise in food insecurity by 45 percent in Foodlink’s service area, officials noted. The nation’s largest anti-hunger organization recently revised those metrics based on updated employment data, and now estimate the rise in food insecurity locally is closer to 25 percent.
“Although the outlook is improving for some, we know there’s still a significant need in our communities and we remain committed to helping people put food on the table every day while continuing to develop strategies that address the root causes of chronic food insecurity and poverty,” Tedesco said.
Foodlink plans to add members to its network in the coming months and continue its drive-thru distributions in rural areas within the 10 counties it serves. Community members can find more than 250 food access points by going to the “Find Food” map on Foodlink’s newly redesigned website, or by calling 211/Life Line.
“We want to thank 211 and the many community partners across Monroe County who stepped up to host our food distributions with us in the past 14 months – and the many volunteers who served our neighbors with dignity and respect during this challenging time,” Tedesco said.
The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance this week said that all New Yorkers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive the maximum allowable level of food benefits for April. Households already at or near the maximum benefit level will receive a supplemental payment of at least $95 per month for as long as the supplemental payments continue.
“The global pandemic continues to exacerbate hardship among New Yorkers, especially among those households that were already struggling with food insecurity,” said OTDA Commissioner Mike Hein. “These added food benefits are a welcome relief for countless families and individuals across our state as we begin to med our battered economy and look to the future.”
The emergency assistance supplement is provided to SNAP households that do not ordinarily receive the maximum allowable benefit per month. The additional benefits will begin being distributed this week and continue through the end of the month.
Recent federal action allows for a minimum supplement of $95 per month to all households already receiving the maximum level of food benefits. Households that had been receiving an allotment of less than $95 per month will now receive a minimum supplement of $95, officials said.
The passage of the American Rescue Plan last month also extended the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through September that initially was due to expire in June. The bump in food benefits will provide roughly $30 more per person per month, or roughly $120 additional each month for a household of four, federal estimates show. With the 15 percent increase factored in, the maximum benefit level will be $234 for an individual and $782 for a family of four.
Nearly half of all households in New York that participate in SNAP will receive the supplemental allotment later this month, which will result in a $100 million infusion into the state’s economy, officials noted. The additional benefits for the lowest income New Yorkers and the 15 percent increase for all SNAP recipients will amount to roughly $210 million in additional federal aid in April.
The additional SNAP benefits have provided more than $1.5 billion in much-needed federal dollars to local retailers throughout the state since last April, OTDA officials said. As of January 2021, there were more than 2.7 million SNAP recipients statewide, a 7.3 percent increase from January 2020.
Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has teamed with Foodlink Inc. on a Fresh Account at Curbside Market program.
As part of the pilot project, Excellus BCBS members with the greatest risk of food insecurity and health care needs will receive a monthly $30 voucher for six months to redeem at Foodlink’s participating locations.
The Curbside Market is Foodlink’s mobile farmer’s market, which provides affordable and convenient access to healthy foods in underserved communities.
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. A separate study by Feeding America shows food insecurity in Foodlink’s 10-county region is expected to rise 45 percent this year due to the pandemic.
“Understanding how social determinants impact our members’ health allows us to provide them with better care,” said Excellus BCBS Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Safety Net and Population Management Brian Steele. “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.”
Program participants are connected with nurse care managers who support the members’ health care needs. The care managers help identify gaps in care, encourage the continuation of medical care and identify available community resources. Improving overall health helps reduce emergency department and hospital admissions, officials noted.
“This is an exciting partnership for Foodlink and Curbside Market because it aligns perfectly with our mission as a public health organization,” said Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco. “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.”
The pilot launched Aug. 1 with 250 members and an additional 250 members are expected to be enrolled this year.
Monroe Community College has received a $3 million gift from the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation to help low-income students in need of food and other necessities overcome obstacles that make it hard to attend college or complete a degree.
Wegmans’ gift will provide scholarships for food, funding for two programs that assist low-income students with emergency grants and services, and counseling aimed at helping students stay on track and graduate.
“Helping Monroe Community College students overcome hunger and other barriers to higher education will lead to more graduates working in and contributing to Rochester’s economy,” said Danny Wegman, president and chairman of the board of the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation.
“On a daily basis, too many MCC students are choosing between pursuing higher education and eating or feeding their families,” said MCC President Anne M. Kress. “Monroe Community College greatly appreciates the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation’s generous support of our efforts to combat student hunger and basic needs insecurities in order to help more students earn the certificates and degrees they need to be successful.”
The gift contributes to MCC’s $50 million “Every Bright Future Needs a Strong Foundation” campaign, which has raised $45 million so far. In a 2014 study of food and housing insecurity on community college campuses, half of the MCC students who participated said they cut back on meals or went without eating at times because they lacked money for food.
It may not seem like much now, but soon a vacant lot at First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in the City of Rochester will begin to show signs of life as Taproot Collective develops the property into an urban agriculture project to increase the amount of locally grown food distributed through the emergency food system.
Foodlink Inc. on Tuesday awarded $115,000 in grants to six area startups, including Taproot, which plans to use the funds to address food insecurity in the region. The regional food hub and food banks across the state helped coordinate the inaugural Seed Grant application process, aided by funding from the state Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program.
“We received 30 applications, which was an incredible response for our first year,” said Julia Tedesco, Foodlink’s executive director, at a gathering near the Rochester Public Market Tuesday. “As many of you know, Foodlink’s work is driven by our belief that food is a fundamental human right and that all human beings deserve to live free from hunger. Our partners here today are building food security through innovative programs, but more importantly, they’ve demonstrated a deep commitment to ensuring that all members of our community have the capacity to feed themselves in dignity.”
Added Foodlink chief programs officer Mitch Gruber, while pointing to improvised raised garden beds at the Taproot lot: “You can see what the opportunities are here. We can see that when we plant the seeds of these types of grants what’s going to be sowed by the end of the harvest season.”
The six grant recipients include:
Wyoming County Community Action Inc./The Warsaw Food Pantry, $30,000
Barakah Muslim Charity, $16,500
Victor Farmington Food Cupboard, $10,000
St. Mark’s and St. John’s Episcopal Church, $24,500
Greece Central School District, $15,145
Taproot Collective, $18,769.
In a unique collaborative, Wyoming County Community Action and the Warsaw Food Pantry collectively will conduct countywide Family Development Credential trainings and create a school garden, as well as develop farm-to-school practices in the cafeteria and classroom.
Many of the classrooms already have started seeds to get a head-start on the growing season. Some of the fresh produce will be used in school cafeterias, said Warsaw Food Pantry’s Cindy Kiel.
“We hope that by educating children on healthy eating during their childhood, that will help them make healthier choices as they become adults,” Kiel said, noting that nonprofits like hers must work together to combat food insecurity. “We’re all trying to do the same (thing).”
Kiel said for those not involved with a nonprofit that helps address food insecurity, there are still ways to help.
“Encouraging people to plant an extra row in their garden and donate the produce to a local food pantry,” she said, is one way people can help. “When grocery shopping, each time purchase a few extra items and donate them to their local food pantry.”
Barakah Muslim Charity will operate a new community kitchen to address food-insecure individuals in the 14611 ZIP code of Rochester, while the Victor Farmington Food Cupboard will digitize its record-keeping and strengthen community partnerships with the Victor Free Library and Victor’s Farmer’s Market.
“Foodlink has helped us out in numerous ways beyond this grant,” said Victor Farmington Food Cupboard’s Dawn Rockefeller. “When we first heard about this (grant) we knew we wanted to somehow be able to use this grant to reach more clients, feed more people, and then as an offshoot, if we can feed who we’re already feeding better, that’s great, but we want to feed more people.”
The food cupboard will use the digitized data to find areas within its service area that have high levels of food insecurity. The organization will then combine that data with a program that is being worked on to make the food cupboard mobile, Rockefeller said.
St. Mark’s and St. John’s will expand the hours of its food shelf, create a new training garden for area youth and facilitate the development of 16 other urban gardens in Rochester.
“This is our sixth summer of gardening,” said the Rev. Cindy Rasmussen of St. Mark’s and St. John’s. “We are starting out with seven gardens in or around the Beechwood neighborhood, and we are so excited and grateful for our partnership with Foodlink, particularly for the seed grant that we have received this year because it is going to allow us to scale our gardening. Our gardens are about producing food and nutritious food for folks around the Beechwood neighborhood, but just as important as that, it’s about producing and connecting people in a healthy community. So everywhere there’s a garden, there’s a better chance for people to have healthy relationships with each other as well as healthy bodies.”
Greece CSD will use its grant funding to better connect families in need with its new network of food pantries within the district and other resources from partner organizations such as the Greece Community Learning Center and Greece Family Support Center.
Taproot plans to establish the infrastructure for a community food production and education space and help increase the amount of healthy, locally grown food distributed through the emergency food system.
“We are working to be an innovative urban farming solution to the problems that we see within our community. Our goal is to provide and design and implement resilient food systems within the community where we work and live,” said Taproot board member Leslie Knox. “What we’re trying to do here is repurposes spaces that may have been unused, underused, underutilized with things that are familiar to the community.”
Torn down and broken up curbs serve as the exterior of garden beds at the repurposed city lot. Taproot also will work with Rochester Public Market and Marketview Heights neighbors to offer educational and occupational opportunities for youth and community members.
“What we want to do is not build on the community, but build with the community,” Knox said. “What we’re looking to do is grow and learn and exchange information to build a holistic community space that is beneficial to everyone who is involved and is a destination for everyone who wants a good, happy, holistic place to be.”
Tedesco said she is hopeful the state funding will continue as an annual grant.
“We anticipate seeing some exciting projects come from it, and it’s really up to the New York State Department of Health, but I think we’ll be able to demonstrate that these dollars, which are designated specifically to new, pilot, innovative projects, will be worthwhile to continue to invest in,” she said.
Tedesco noted that among the 30 applicants for grant funding, several likely would qualify for the grants next year should the state decide to move forward with annual funds.
“It takes a whole lot more than food to solve issues of hunger,” Gruber said. “We have to have some innovative programing. We have to have some innovative partners who are willing to push the boundaries.”
Now entering its 40th year, Foodlink is a regional food hub and the Feeding American Food bank serving Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne Wyoming and Yates counties.
Last year Foodlink distributed 17.4 million pounds of food, including 4.9 million pounds of produce, and served more than 1.1 million meals and snacks to children in the community.
“It’s really exciting to have a stream of funding that’s not dedicated exclusively to emergency food but is really broader in scope, and looking at food as a tool for community development, as a way to empower people,” Tedesco said of the seed grants. “And that’s what these six agencies are doing with these grants—thinking outside the box, not just distributing food, but using food as a tool to strengthen lives.”
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