McDonalds introduces “Round Up” program to support Ronald McDonald Houses

Ronald McDonald House
Ronald McDonald House

In a sign of our cashless times, McDonald’s has introduced a system that allows fast-food customers to make a contribution to Ronald McDonald House Charities with their credit cards by rounding up their food bills.

Similar to grocery store campaigns that support Foodlink by asking shoppers to round up to an even dollar amount and perhaps add a few bucks while they’re at it, the  McDonald’s system will encourage diners to do the same for the McDonald’s charity. It’s called “Round Up for RMHC.”

The money supports the Ronald McDonald House network around the country, including one in Rochester near Golisano Children’s Hospital. These facilities provide families with ill or hospitalized children a place to stay while their children receive care. They get a private bedroom, laundry facilities, home-cooked meals and more.

McDonald’s customers have supported these houses for decades with paper money and coins dropped in collection boxes at the drive-thru windows and counter stations in McDonald’s restaurants. Customers continue to donate that way, the company noted, but donations have declined because fewer people are carrying and paying with cash these days.

The new McDonald’s donation system is available in approximately 14,000 restaurants nationally. It allows people who are paying with a debit or credit card–either with the help of a counter person or through ordering screens in the restaurant–to add a little extra for the charity without having to search for cash.

 To help customers understand how significant even small donations can be, McDonalds has created the “Menu of Moments” indicating how donations of even less than $1 can provide precious minutes for a family to spend together during a child’s illness. Eighty dollars covers the cost of a family staying overnight in a Ronald McDonald House. For 92 cents, a donor can provide a family with time to read a bed-time story to their sick child. Even as little as 21 cents provides five minutes of family time.

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Foodlink Career Fellowship graduates first class

Foodlink Inc. on Thursday graduated eight members of its inaugural Career Fellowship.

“This is a proud moment for these eight individuals, and for our entire organization,” Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco said in a statement. “This is one of the most innovative programs we’ve ever launched in our 40-year history, and it truly demonstrates our commitment to addressing the root causes of hunger in our communities. We’re inspired by the dedication and commitment shown by this first graduating class.”

The nonprofit organization started its Career Fellowship as a way to train individuals who have experienced barriers to employment for middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. Fellows were nominated by a community-based organization and went through a rigorous curriculum that includes classroom instruction, on-the-job training in the Foodlink community kitchen and a three-month externship at Wegmans Foods Markets Inc.

The fellowship began last July following two years of preparation by Foodlink’s staff and several community stakeholders. Foodlink wanted to maximize a recent $5 million investment in a new commercial kitchen by training people for living-wage careers, while also helping them avoid dependency on the emergency food system.

“Our fellows made a lot of sacrifices, put in a ton of work and really challenged themselves to explore new growth opportunities for themselves personally and professionally,” said Jes Scannell, Foodlink’s director of career empowerment initiatives. “Today we both celebrate their achievements and recognize that this is just the beginning of their careers as culinarians.”

The first class included: Jehmel Alexander, Anthony Arroyo, Kristen Gates, LaRhonda Harris, Bre’Onn Hepburn, Da’Quan Quick, Gloria Soldevila Ramos and Jenna Raymond Torres. Alexander, Arroyo, Gates, Harris and Ramos were offered positions at Wegmans, while the remaining students continue their progress through the program.

“The past year has been quite a journey, but I made it,” Harris said. “I love putting on my Wegmans chef coat every day because it’s my way of showing my three kids how to be a stronger person and how to achieve your goals.”

Wegmans was instrumental in developing the structure of the course, as well as its externship. Chefs at a number of stores and restaurants served as mentors and the fellows navigated the rigors of full-time work in the kitchen, officials said.

“It’s been a pleasure watching this first class of fellows grow and mature as culinary professionals,” said Chef Donald Harter, director of Asian & Sushi for Wegmans. “This has been an exciting and collaborative partnership for us, and we’re thrilled to welcome many of them to the Wegmans family.”

Private funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, William and Sheila Konar Foundation and ESL Charitable Foundation helped make the program possible. A second gift of $150,000 from the Kona Foundation will help support a second class, set to begin this summer.

“The Foodlink Career Fellowship is a great workforce development tool, providing students with the culinary and leadership skills they need,” New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said. Hochul was in attendance as students accepted their certificates on Thursday. “Members of the program received on-the-job training in the field and are prepared for good jobs at companies like Wegmans and others. We want to make sure all New Yorkers have the access and resources they need to be trained to fill jobs in the agriculture and culinary industry across the state.”

Foodlink will accept nominations for its second class through July 1.

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Community Kitchen brings students nutrition and opportunities


The kitchen backsplashes are covered with up-to-date subway tiles. There are seven workstations, complete with sink, oven and range combo, counter space and storage cupboards and drawers. And there are even control panels operated with a code so students can turn on the power to the ranges and have them shut off automatically if a chef accidentally leaves them on.

Chef Charmaine Walker (in red apron) shows students Raajon Moss, left, and Jada Walker how to make Caesar salad dressing. (Photo by Diana Louise Carter)
Chef Charmaine Walker (in red apron) shows students Raajon Moss, left, and Jada Walker how to make Caesar salad dressing. (Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

On a recent Friday afternoon, students who participate in the Education Success Foundation’s after-school enrichment program, EnCompass Future Ready, filled the Community Kitchen to create Caesar salad with chicken strips. The program has several aims: help kids with academics (there’s a homework and tutoring segment before the cooking), teach students something about nutrition and cooking, and showcase a potential job path they can explore.

The kitchen was made after gutting an old convent kitchen in a building on the former Nazareth Academy campus on Lake Avenue. Education Success Foundation, or ESF, owns the campus now and conducts its educational support programming in some of the buildings, while also renting academic space to two charter schools.

The students in the after-school program come from a couple of nearby charter schools, a traditional public school, and a school focusing on students with learning differences. Most are dealing with poverty.

“The parents may be working multiple jobs, so they’re not home to cook,” said Rebecca Ferri, communications manager at ESF. “The kids don’t know how to prepare their own healthy meals.” And when they do cook, budgeting for groceries is an issue. “A lot of families were telling us there’s not a lot of food at home,” she said.

Besides personal obstacles, the students face national trends of families no longer passing cooking skills from generation to generation, and the demise of home economics courses that used to teach basic cooking skills in school.

The class began in January, but on this Friday it’s just the second time students have been able to use a full-fledged kitchen. Previously they worked in a nearby space using an electric skillet instead of a full range.

“This is definitely better,” said Jazyrah Wright, an 11th grader from Young Women’s College Prep Charter School.

Her classmate, Jada Walker, said the kitchen facilities will allow students to make more varied recipes.

In the time they girls have been students of the class, they’ve learned to make healthier food options, Jada explained. “When we made mac and cheese, we made a roux instead of straight cheese,” she said. A roux, made of butter and flour, allows the dish to be creamy without needing as much cheese as in some recipes.

Since learning about nutrition, Jada said, she’s also tried to persuade her father to control the portion sizes he serves when making spaghetti. There’s just the two of them in the house, but he makes enough for more, she said.

Then she moved on to her afternoon’s assignment, which was making the Caesar dressing with Raajon Moss, an 11th grade student at School of the Arts.

This class represents just one group that will use the Community Kitchen. Family dinners associated with ESF programs will also make use of it, as well as other age groups of students. In all, ESF programs reach about 2,300 students and their families.

It took about two years for the organization to raise money and make the renovations for the kitchen. Key sponsors were the Sands Family Supporting Foundation, a part of the Rochester area Community Foundation; Appliance Tec; Edward Hourihan and Bridget Dee; Five Star Bank, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield; Genesee Construction Service; LMC Industrial Contractors Inc.; Lynn Farash; and Whirlpool.

The students get a whole lot more than cooking lessons. Among other things, they spend time with adults who’ve experienced some of the same issues they’ve faced.

Jamarr Myers, coordinator for EnCompass Future Ready, an ESF program focusing on becoming independent adults, attaining higher education and finding careers, is on loan to the program from Wegmans. Myers is a role model who looks like many of the kids – but bigger and balder. And he’s had experience with survival, a result of losing his father to homicide and his mother to illness both before he turned 18.

Site coordinator Betty Wolfanger noted that she was born to a 16-year-old mother, a situation to which many students might relate.

Students also get extensive ESF tutoring in all the academic subjects, but particularly in writing. Wolfanger said,  “Writing is a huge reason kids flunk out of college, so we want to make sure they’re ready for that.”

And they get to shadow in fields, such as firefighting, that they might pursue, college or not. The Caesar salad class featured a guest instructor, Charmaine Walker, owner and chef of Stop One Kitchen, of 1160 N. Goodman St.

ESF connects kids and their families to food in a number of other ways, too. There’s a garden on the grounds that students help tend. The organization has partnered with Foodlink both to provide nutrition-counseling cooking classes and for its Curbside Market, a mobile food market that reaches into many low-income areas that don’t have access to fresh, reasonably priced produce.

Though construction on the kitchen is complete and the appliances are hooked up, Community Kitchen is still a work in progress in some ways. Basic tools have already been laid in, but the kitchen is in need of additional supplies, from paring knifes to lemon zesters to potholders. ESF has set up a wish list at Amazon for people who are interested in donating some of the needed equipment.

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With help from some friends, the public market adds new demo kitchen

Gone is the camping stove. In its place, a shiny new commercial grade range and oven.

Food demonstrations at the Rochester City Public Market just got a huge upgrade with the opening Thursday morning of the new Public Market Nutrition Education Center.

City officials and representatives of companies and organizations that supported creation and operation of the demonstration kitchen conducted a ribbon-cutting at the new center. Set inside the public market’s Shed B, the kitchen offers the opportunity for more elaborate preparations of foods that can be made with products sold at the market.

“We have an oven now, which means we can roast vegetables,” said Desiree Bass, one of two Foodlink employees who were preparing samples of asparagus in vinaigrette for observers of the opening. Co-demonstrator Marcy McMahon said the women have had to limit their demos to cold salads or things they could cook on a camping stove in the past.

Desiree Bass and Marcy McMahon, of Foodlink, give the public market's new demo kitchen a trial run. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Desiree Bass and Marcy McMahon of Foodlink give the public market’s new demo kitchen a trial run. (Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

With the new equipment, donated by Wegmans, the demonstration kitchen will also be able to do more and offer new programs. The Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables workshops from Foodlink will be offered every Thursday and Saturday morning at 9 and 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Rochester Public Market organization also is introducing the Taste of the Market Series, in which community organizations and guest chefs will offer classes and demos on two Saturdays a month.

“I can’t wait to see what Friends of the Market will roll out,” said Daniele J. Lyman-Torres, commissioner of recreation and youth services, the city department that oversees the market.   “This new nutrition center is really going to be a hub,” she said.

Jim Farr, market manager, said the kitchen has been a decade in the making as upgrades were planned for the more-than-century-old market in recent years.

“Coming to the market is as much a social outing as it is a place to get what you need,” Farr said. “Food and kitchens just naturally bring people together.”

Farr said the kitchen cost about $140,000 to build, with a state grant paying for $100,000 of that.  Wegmans donated approximately $30,000 in kitchen equipment and supplies. Summit Federal Credit Union funds programming for the kitchen, as well as the trolley that brings shoppers from their cars in distant parking lots.

Opening the public market's new demo kitchen are, from left, City Councilor Mitch Gruber, demonstration cooks Desiree Bass and Marcy McMahon, City Councilor Michael Patterson, City Commissioner Daniele Lyman-Torres, Market Manager Jim Farr, and Wegmans Consumer Relations Manager Linda Lovejoy. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Opening the public market’s new demo kitchen are, from left, City Councilor Mitch Gruber, demonstration cooks Desiree Bass and Marcy McMahon, City Councilor Michael Patterson, City Commissioner Daniele Lyman-Torres, Market Manager Jim Farr, and Wegmans Consumer Relations Manager Linda Lovejoy. (Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

City Councilor Mitch Gruber said making sure people have access to fresh, nutritious foods has always been a goal of the market, but the kitchen demos make sure shoppers gain the skills to prepare those foods.

“This public market is the best in the country. It’s a jewel and something to be very proud of,” said Linda Lovejoy, community relations manager for Wegmans.

The market also inspires feelings of familial tradition and ownership, evidenced by comments offered by Gruber and fellow City Councilor Michael Patterson. Gruber and his wife were married at the market. Patterson recalled his frequent visits as a child with his grandparents. He continues to visit frequently.

“I learned how to haggle in his market,” Patterson said.  “You get a lesson in commerce in this place.” Patterson joked that his main purpose in visiting Thursday was to get some special bread from a bakery there, only to find out he was competing for the loaves with another customer who turned out to be his wife.

While the new demonstration kitchen cannot be rented for commercial purposes, citizens can offer ideas for its programming by contacting the market through its webpage or its social media.

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Foodlink to address ‘SNAP Gap’

foodlink-logoFoodlink Inc. will add a number of additional food distributions to address food insecurity as a result of the government shutdown.

Fourteen additional food distributions will be available the week of Feb. 18 through Feb. 23 for individuals who received their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for February weeks early due to the shutdown. Foodlink officials said as the families await their March benefits, many have had to stretch their food budgets or rely on Foodlink’s network of emergency food providers for meals, what the agency referred to as the “SNAP Gap.”

Federal government contractors who lost pay during a 35-day stretch in December and January also continue to feel the effects of the shutdown, officials noted.

“While it appears we have avoided another government shutdown this week, thousands of our neighbors are still feeling the effects of the first one,” Foodlink President and CEO Julie Tedesco said in a statement Friday. “To help those who are facing a real crisis at home, we have collaborated with the United Way and other community partners to coordinate these extra distributions to address the increased need in our region.”

Foodlink chose next week because SNAP benefits were last distributed Jan. 17 through Jan. 20, meaning that most families would have used their monthly allotment by now, and school vacations next week put an additional burden on families that have to provide additional meals for their children.

Contributors to the effort include United Way of Greater Rochester Inc., ESL Charitable Foundation, Greater Rochester Health Foundation, Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation and the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

“What I’ve seen over the past few weeks is what Greater Rochester does best—neighbors rallying together to help neighbors,” United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders said. “Nonprofits, businesses, the City of Rochester and Monroe County came together to lend support. Volunteers have been working tirelessly to sort and bag critical food for families. Our community has truly demonstrated the incredible good we can accomplish when we’re united.”

City of Rochester R Centers and the Salvation Army have agreed to host five Rochester-based distributions throughout the week. Next week’s food distribution will accommodate some 250 households and will operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

Foodlink received donations from LiDestri Foods Inc., M Fellinger, Bonduelle USA Inc., Perfect Granola, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Kreher Family Farms, Orbaker’s Fruit Farm, Barilla America Inc. and the Food Bank of WNY.

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Tops adds furloughed workers to Check Out Hunger effort

Tops stores will start collecting donations for Foodlink with the Check Out Hunger campaign starting on Sunday.

And this year the store will also donate meals to furloughed federal workers.

More than 150 Tops stores in three states will participate, adding to the nearly $4 million Tops has raised for Foodlink and other regional food banks since 2006.

Customers have the option of addition $2, $3 or $5 to their grocery bills when they check out.

“Check Out Hunger is a vital source of funds for Foodlink, which – alongside hundreds of community partners and member agencies – serves thousands of food-insecure individuals every day,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “We’re grateful to be part of such a giving community, and thankful to Tops for providing this opportunity for shoppers to donate.”

Because of the government shutdown, Tops is also planning to donate toward meals for local furloughed workers every time a Check Out Hunger donation of $2 or more is made.

“Eradicating hunger and assisting our fellow neighbors in need is part of Tops’ core mission so supporting this effort on an annual basis is something that we gladly stand behind,” said Frank Curci, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer for Tops Friendly Markets.

The campaign lasts through Feb. 16.

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Car rental company provides $20,000 to fight hunger

The Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation is giving Foodlink $20,000 to help fight hunger in the Rochester area.

The donation comes from a national program, called “Fill Your Tank,” that the Enterprise Foundation began in 2016 with its 60th anniversary. Local Enterprise operations distribute $5 million annually, while the foundation gives out $10 million annually to larger food banks and charities in North America and Europe.

“Two years ago, Enterprise Rent-A-Car committed to help address food insecurity around the world, including right here in Rochester,” said Coe Bockmeier, vice president and general manager of Enterprise Holdings for the Upstate New York region. “We support Foodlink in their fight against hunger in our community.”

Julia Tedesco, president and CEO of Foodlink, said, “This donation translates into 60,000 meals we can provide to our neighbors. We’re so grateful to Enterprise for their ongoing commitment to ending hunger and building healthier communities.”

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Wegmans and Foodlink: A partnership to fight hunger


In the beginning, there was Tom Ferraro and there was Wegmans.

In the 40-year history of Foodlink, it’s hard to distinguish whether there was a time that it existed without its largest benefactor, Wegmans, the nationally renowned grocery store chain that began with a single store in the city of Rochester.

Danny Wegman speaks at Foodlink’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2017, celebrating the expansion and relocation of the Foodlink Community Kitchen. (Matt Wittmeyer/Foodlink)
Danny Wegman speaks at Foodlink’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2017, celebrating the expansion and relocation of the Foodlink Community Kitchen. (Matt Wittmeyer/Foodlink)

When the late Ferraro formed what was then called the Genesee Valley Regional Food Clearinghouse in 1978 (it was renamed Foodlink in 1991), he formed a relationship with Wegmans almost immediately.

Mary Ellen Burris, Wegmans’ vice president for consumer affairs, recalls that a local food pantry (the name eludes her nearly 40 years later) reached out to Wegmans asking for donations of its day-old baked goods. But when Ferraro approached her later with the idea of coordinating distribution of Wegmans’ unsellable foods – cans and boxes that were dented but still usable, stock that just wasn’t moving – Burris recalls thinking, “Yes, that’s what we should do. Have a relationship. Look to the future.”

Since that initial conversation, Wegmans has provided 225 million pounds of food to Foodlink. Starting in 1993, the grocery store also has funneled customer’s cash donations to the food bank. The Check Out Hunger campaign has provided nearly $11.5 million in donations, not including this year. And there have been other significant donations and support.

“If someone were to speak about Wegmans and Foodlink in terms of just food donation and dollars raised, they’d be missing the bigger picture,” said Julia Tedesco, president and CEO of Foodlink.

She credits Wegmans with helping the agency think about how it will grow in the future and what she describes as “operational excellence.”

Tedesco said, “We’ve learned to operate from them on the same level as any for-profit.” For instance, Ferraro told her he always understood when arriving at Wegmans’ warehouse to pick up merchandise that he didn’t dare be late.

Wegmans also encouraged Foodlink to think about sustainability – particularly in terms of not depending solely on them.

Executive Chef Casey Holenbeck, center, leads a lesson on knife skills with the inaugural class of the Foodlink Career Fellowship. (Photo courtesy Foodlink)
Executive Chef Casey Holenbeck, center, leads a lesson on knife skills with the inaugural class of the Foodlink Career Fellowship. (Photo courtesy Foodlink)

“From my first experience with Wegmans … they were telling us to diversify sources.  They wanted us to be a strong organization, and it takes more than one partnership,” Tedesco said.  “A decade ago, Wegmans product made up well over 60 percent of our mix.” Today, Wegmans foods comprise 30 percent because Foodlink followed their advice and sought other regular major donors.

Wegmans provided Foodlink ample warning that its donation stream would level out when it expanded into states outside New York.

“We knew as they expanded their markets, there might come a day,” Tedesco said.

Formerly the damaged or unsellable dry goods from all of its stores were returned to the Wegmans distribution warehouse in Rochester, and then donated to Foodlink. But when the company established another distribution center in Pennsylvania to handle distribution in Maryland and Virginia, that plan wasn’t practical for the southern stores.

“You’ve got to be frank with your friends,” Burris said.

The company decided that returned dry goods from that distribution center would instead go to the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore. And Foodlink helped with the transition, as Ferraro visited the Maryland agency to share information on how Foodlink handled the stream of Wegmans donations.

Meanwhile, dry goods from all the Wegmans stores in New York and Massachusetts continue to be returned to the Rochester distribution center and donated to Foodlink. Each store in the chain also has perishable merchandise that is donated to various local food banks or pantries. Tedesco said Foodlink picks up at many local Wegmans stores. For many years that meant baked goods, dairy and produce. But as Wegmans moved more heavily into prepared foods and worked on reducing its waste stream, the donations have increasingly included packaged prepared foods, too, Tedesco said.

Linda Lovejoy, manager of consumer affairs for Wegmans, said “These are quick and easy meals,” and these types of donations are both used in feeding programs and made available in the help-yourself shopping area Foodlink provides for agencies picking up food.

In the last couple of years, Wegmans has provided another type of help to Foodlink that has been even more valuable than the dollars and food it sends, Tedesco said.  It provides expertise in the form of its executive chef, John Emerson, or its leadership teams who choose a project to focus on and have several times chosen Foodlink.

“We build a lot of kitchens around here. We buy a lot of equipment and have culinary expertise,” Burris said.

When Foodlink built a kitchen to use for a job training initiative, it was Wegmans that urged the agency to build it with room to expand. In this inaugural year of the program, Wegmans is providing internships for all of the students participating. When Foodlink developed the Kids Café, meals supplied to afterschool programs, Wegmans helped evaluate and strengthen the nutrition of the menu.

Tedesco said the amount of food and money Wegmans donates is impressive. More importantly, though, she said, “the drive to just make us more effective and sustainable is the greatest gift they’ve given us.”

Over the years, the relationship has expanded from a few individuals to many more, Tedesco said.
“For the first 20 years, 30 years of the relationship, it was really Tom (Ferraro) for Foodlink and Mary Ellen (Burris) and Linda Lovejoy” for Wegmans.  Now all three of the top executives – Danny Wegman, Nicole Wegman and Colleen Wegman – have visited with Foodlink, Tedesco said. Patrick Bourcy, a senior vice president for Wegmans, is on the Foodlink board of directors. And Emerson is a frequent contributor.

“There’s rarely a week that goes by that someone (from Wegmans) isn’t here lending their help,” Tedesco said.

Burris praised the agency. “I am a huge admirer of an organization that can continue to grow and innovate,” she said.  Both she and Lovejoy said they’re pleased to see Foodlink continuing Ferraro’s plans, and expanding on them.

“Tom was totally committed to not just handing out food, but to getting at the root causes of hunger,” Burris said.

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Fundraiser to fight hunger begins at Wegmans

The Check Out Hunger campaign – in which grocery store customers are asked to add a little bit to their bill to benefit Foodlink programs – started Sunday at Wegmans stores and continues through Dec. 1.

“We can’t stress enough how important this campaign is to our daily operations,” said Heather Newton, Foodlink’s director of development and community engagement. “Luckily, we live in a generous community, and year after year, Wegmans and their shoppers step up to take care of those who need our help.”

The campaign asks customers to donate $2, $3 or $5, or just round up their bill to the nearest dollar. Small  donations like these added up to more than $630,000 last year for Foodlink, the regional food bank and anti-hunger agency serving 10 counties.

According to research conducted by Feeding America, a food collection organization supporting food banks, 150,000 people – 50,000 of them children – lack a healthy and reliable supply of food in the Foodlink service area. That number represents 11.7 percent of the population overall, but it includes city neighborhoods in Rochester where the food insecurity rate is between 30 and 40 percent.

Twenty-one Wegmans stores are participating in the Check Out Hunger campaign in the Foodlink service area, which includes Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties.

Other stores, including Tops and independent grocery stores, participate in Check Out Hunger during the winter. Dates for the early 2019 campaign haven’t been set yet.

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Foodlink receives federal grant for Curbside program

foodlink-logoFoodlink Inc. has received a nearly $500,000 grant for its Curbside Market, the nonprofit’s mobile farmer’s market that visits underserved communities throughout Rochester.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program in September announced it would help fund 44 projects totaling $13.4 million, including Foodlink’s “Farms to Families: Promoting local foods and healthy futures through mobile markets.”

Foodlink applied for the grant with the goal of becoming the nation’s first mobile vendor for the USDA’s Women, Infants & Children program, which supports low-income mothers and young children who are found to be at nutritional risk. Foodlink was awarded $481,000 for the project.

“We’re grateful that the USDA recognized our Curbside Market as an upstream solution to not only building healthier communities, but as a means to support our local agricultural economy as well,” Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco said in a statement. “Foodlink strives to make the healthy choice the easy choice for those whom we serve, and through this generous grant we’ll be able to strengthen Curbside’s impact and open up new markets for local farmers.”

Foodlink’s Curbside Market sells fresh produce at affordable prices in low-income communities where access to healthy food is limited. As a WIC vendor, the Curbside Market eventually would be able to sell more types of products and reach more young families in need of healthy food.

“Since we launched five years ago, the Curbside market has effectively attracted and incentivized customers who use (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits,” Foodlink’s Chief Programs Officer Mitch Gruber said. “With WIC we see a vital opportunity for growth, and through the USDA’s support, Foodlink can begin to offer more healthy food retail options for young mothers and children in our communities.”

Curbside Market operates year-round in Rochester and six surrounding counties. Last year, the market made more than 32,000 transactions, with total sales exceeding $216,000. Officials expect 2018 to surpass that.

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Fill the Bus campaign begins at Wegmans

wegmans-fill-the-busFoodlink Inc. and Wegmans Food Markets Inc.’s annual Fill the Bus campaign has begun, and sponsors are expecting to exceed 300,000 pounds of food for area children this year.

Now in its sixth year, the Fill the Bus campaign is a food drive to benefit Foodlink’s BackPack Program, which provides bags of nutritious, kid-friendly foods every Friday to children who are at risk of food insecurity.

Some 3,000 children at more than 80 schools in Foodlink’s 10-county region benefit from the program, which has collected roughly 940,000 pounds of food since 2013 for the BackPack Program.

“Too many children in the Rochester region leave school on Friday afternoon without knowing when they’ll eat their next meal,” Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco said in a statement. “Providing nourishment to kids when they no longer have access to school meals gives them a greater opportunity to succeed in the classroom and in our community.”

Additional sponsors of the program include 13WHAM ABC, FOX Rochester and CW Rochester, as well as Fidelis Care. Last year the campaign collected more than 305,000 pounds of food, which helped fill more than 60,000 bags.

“Childhood hunger is a significant challenge for our community,” said Pamel Hassen, chief member engagement officer for Fidelis Care. “We are grateful to be part of this important initiative and to help raise awareness in the fight against weekend hunger. We know how important it is for students to have proper nutrition for success in school and are confident that the Rochester community will come together to help children in need.”

Nearly 50,000, or roughly one in five, children in Foodlink’s service area are considered food insecure, meaning they live in a household that lacks consistent access to enough healthy food. Between Aug. 18 and Sept. 4, Wegmans shoppers can purchase suggested items to donate or buy pre-packaged bags of food ranging from $3 to $10 at the registers.

Foodlink is a community food resource center and the Feeding America food bank serving the 10-county Finger Lakes region. Its food banking operations distribute millions of pounds of food to a network of hundreds of human service agencies throughout the service area.

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On or off the internet, Cooks’ World celebrates 40 years


Chris Wiedemer got into online sales big-time in the early days of the internet 20 years ago.

Cooks' World celebrates its 40th year with a fundraiser for Foodlink
Cooks’ World celebrates its 40th year with a fundraiser for Foodlink

He’d spend hours in the basement of his store, Cooks’ World, preparing 20 to 30 packages a day for shipment. All that kneeling on the concrete floor while he assembled packages got to be too much.

“I said I can’t keep doing this,” said Wiedemer, who, for 24 years has run the store that his father, George F. Wiedemer, started in 1978.

As the store celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, Wiedemer describes a business that is nothing if not flexible. Though 99 percent of sales today are done in person at 2179 Monroe Ave., Cooks’ World again has an internet presence, selling as many as 1,000 items from the store’s stock online. It uses its social media channels to promote its twice-weekly sales on special items and share news of its 40th anniversary special events.

To celebrate all the ways of doing business that have happened over 40 years, the store is planning a party and fundraiser this summer in conjunction with Foodlink, the regional food bank.

“I really believe in what they do: helping those less fortunate with food,” Wiedemer said.

True to the times in retail, the event is being done in a hybrid style online and in person. For 40 days, starting July 30, the store will have 40 items available for a silent auction in the store. The items will be previewed online starting July 25. The 16,000 people on the store’s customer list will get notices of that special event. Bidding will close Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. and after a day to notify and verify the winners, the store will hold a day-long party on site, featuring officials from Foodlink.

Proceeds from the auction will go to Foodlink.  If all the items were to be won at just the opening bid price, Cooks’ World will raise at least $3,000, a large amount for the store, but a small amount compared to Foodlink’s annual revenue of $36 million (about $24 million is in the form of donated food.)

“We always appreciate when a local company or local business decides to support us,” said Mark Dwyer, communications manager at Foodlink.  “They aren’t all large, but when the community rallies and they all add up, we’re certainly appreciative of what they’re doing for us.”

The two food-related organizations are, coincidentally, both celebrating their 40th anniversaries. Fooklink’s celebration starts in September. Foodlink is also providing assistance for the Cooks’ World fundraiser by supplying services for its graphic designer, signage and social media promotion.

Chris Wiedemer has run the store his father started since 1994
Chris Wiedemer has run the store his father started since 1994

“Any time a local business or store steps up and wants to do something generous, we try to help them as much as we can,” Dwyer said. “Certainly in this case we’re more than happy to lend a hand.”

Cook’s World could run the entire fundraiser online, as some organizations have chosen to do. But Wiedemer won’t do that because he wants more than the customers’ purchases.

“We’re not just selling stuff. We’re connecting with people,” he said.  That’s the philosophy behind the store’s foodie nights, which started recently. Customers come in ahead of time to pick up an ingredient or tool and then use that item to create a dish they bring to the store on foodie night. Recipes for the dishes are then shared on the Cooks’ World website.

“Retail is tough,” Wiedemer said. “You have to try things outside the box.”

Those in-person connections pay off in the long run. The 40 auction items, from a Nespresso machine to three sets of cookware to a Cuisinart food processor, were all donated by Cook’s World vendors.

“I never asked them—in all 24 years of leading this little shop—never asked them for anything,” Wiedemer said. When he did ask, almost every vendor agreed to give an auction item.

In some ways, Wiedemer has been bucking trends ever since he moved onto—and then off—the internet. While many businesses now choose to lease their buildings, saying building management is not one of their strengths, he purchased the store’s building 15 or 20 years ago. It took five years to get the landlord to consider selling, he said, and another year to subdivide the lot between Cooks’ World and its neighbor, Bamboo House.

Instead of ownership weighing down Wiedemer, it helped reinvigorate him. He had been thinking of getting out of the business before he bought the store’s building.

“I felt energized,” he said. “I saw how much money I was throwing away in rent.” He renovated the store, opening up more space for customers to move around and for in-store events.

Nevertheless, there’s still the worry of keeping up with the online sales giants.

“Amazon is the gorilla in the room for all of us,” Wiedemer said. “I’m determined to not move my business to internet only.”  But he is striving to increase online sales by 5 percent. Avoiding Facebook in his personal life, he uses social media for the store. “I’m doing all the little things online that all the big guys are doing,” he said.

Online, Cooks’ World is one tiny store competing against thousands of others, where the primary differentiation is price. Wiedemer will match competitors’ prices, but only in the store, he said. That way it’s not just about clicks but about a potentially lasting customer-retailer relationship.

“That’s kind of a newer thing. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have done that. Now I will,” Wiedemer said. It’s one of several adaptations he’s had to make to keep doing business in a click-and-pay environment.

“The big change was adopting this mantra of getting more relevant as a small retailer faced with a David and Goliath environment,” Wiedemer said. He does that with customer service (gift wrap is still free at Cooks’ World) and a staff with decades of experience. “To me that’s golden,” he said.

He also joined a buying organization with 300 member stores and 300 vendors that helps provide bulk discounts that giant retailers normally enjoy, and provide news of trends to small retailers.

Still, the big-box stores have made it nearly impossible for independent retailers like Cooks’ World to compete in some areas. Witness the red-hot foodie trend of InstaPot and sous vide devices, both selling like hotcakes from online vendors. Manufacturers of these kitchen tools aren’t willing to deal with smaller orders, Wiedemer said, so he can’t even place an order for the products.

Wiedemer said he found a different maker of a combination pressure cooker/slow cooker to sell, but when Cook’s Illustrated gave that model its highest rating, Cooks’ World sold out. And then the manufacturer went out of business.

He’s had no luck at all with finding a vendor willing to sell him sous vide machines, the “It Girl” of the kitchen gadget world. These are devices that keep water at a constant temperature so you can very slowly and evenly cook your food, wrapped in a plastic bag and submerged. All he can do is recommend that people go to Amazon if they must have this piece of kitchen equipment.

“They created a buzz on social media,” he said in resignation.

“We may not be around in five or 10 years. We see the writing on the wall,” Wiedemer said. But for now, he’ll celebrate lasting at least that first 40 years.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275


Foodlink, city sponsor event on summer meals for kids

summer-mealsFoodlink Inc. is teaming with the City of Rochester and a number of other organizations this weekend to bring food and games to area children.

Saturday’s “Spring into Summer” event at Frontier Field will feature games and activities, an appearance by several Red Wings players and local mascots and a chance to see Buffalo Bills’ former running back Thurman Thomas.

The annual Summer Meals Fest allows children to play games and activities, learn about other local programs and services and sample food and provide feedback for this year’s Summer Meals program. The Summer Meals program offers free meals to children 18 and younger at more than 100 sites across the city.

Food insecurity increases during the summer months, officials said, when families no longer have access to school meals and face the burden of providing two extra meals per child. The problem is more severe in Rochester, where the child poverty rate is among the highest in the nation.

Saturday’s event, which begins at 11 a.m., is a collaboration between Foodlink, the City of Rochester, Rochester City School District, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, Common Ground Health and other community partners. The partnership leads year-round efforts to plan, promote and continuously improve the Rochester Summer Meals experience.

The primary purpose of the program is to ensure that every child in the City of Rochester has access to free and healthy summer meals.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Foodlink grants to help agencies combat food deficiencies in area

An empty lot at the corner of 1st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue will be the home to Taproot Collective's new urban agriculture project to increase long-term access to urban food production. (Photo by Velvet Spicer)
An empty lot at First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue will be the home to Taproot Collective’s new urban agriculture project. (Photo by Velvet Spicer)

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.”

Foodlink Inc. Executive Director Julia Tedesco announced the six recipients of the organization's inaugural Seed Grant awards. (Photo by Velvet Spicer)
Foodlink Inc. Executive Director Julia Tedesco announces the six recipients of the organization’s inaugural Seed Grant awards. (Photo by Velvet Spicer)

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.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021

Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Blaze Pizza to donate April 11 proceeds to Foodlink

Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza opened on Jefferson Road in March..
Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza opened on Jefferson Road in March.

A newly opened Henrietta pizzeria will donate all of its grand opening event proceeds to a local charity.

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, a fast-casual restaurant that serves custom artisan pizza, will host Donation Day next Wednesday. The April 11 event will allow patrons to pay whatever they want for their meal and 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Foodlink Inc., the Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley food bank and regional hub.

“Blaze Pizza is so excited to welcome the public to our restaurant to support Foodlink. Foodlink is a fantastic organization that distributed 17.4 million pounds of food in 2017, and we’re proud to help them continue that great work,” said Chad Tooley, Blaze Pizza’s Henrietta general manager, in a statement. “This Donation Day will give our new neighbors in Henrietta the opportunity to experience our delicious menu while giving back to a good cause.”

Blaze Pizza was founded in Irvine, Calif., in 2012 by Elise and Rick Wetzel. The pizza chain operates more than 265 restaurants in 40 states, Canada and Kuwait.

Each restaurant features an interactive, open-kitchen format that allows guests to customize one of the menu’s signature pizzas or create their own for about $8. The thin-crust pizzas are cooked in an open-flame oven in 180 seconds. The pizzeria offers gluten-free dough and vegan cheese for those with special diets.

“At Blaze, we’re all about creating an engaging dining experience where guests can enjoy artisanal pizza that’s both fast and affordable,” said Jim Mizes, Blaze Pizza president and CEO.

Foodlink runs more than 30 unique food-related programs aimed at ending hunger, improving nutrition, empowering individuals with food literacy and strengthening the regional food system. The 500-member organization distributes food and resources to area soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, group homes, senior centers, day cares, after-school programs and other nonprofit organizations.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer