Where government-funded assistance leaves off, Foodlink, Inc. steps in. The Rochester-based not-for-profit organization supplies food for emergency programs such as food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters; and non-emergency agencies such as group homes, daycares, home providers and various church groups.
It also provides food for the national BackPack Program, which serves school-aged children. For more than 15 years, the Feeding America BackPack Program has been helping children get the nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to hold them over on weekends when no school meals are available. The program serves nearly 1,800 students in more than 80 schools in 29 school districts in a 10-county area that includes Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties.
In support of Foodlink’s BackPack program, Wegmans shoppers from 21 stores throughout the central New York region participated in a new food drive called “Fill the Bus.” According to Foodlink spokesperson Kim Montinarello, nearly 50,000 pounds of food was donated during the drive in late October — enough food for 12,500 BackPack bags, or 25 percent of the 50,000 bags distributed annually. From the Canandaigua store alone, Montinarello said an estimated 6,500 pounds was donated.
“We try it keep things as child-friendly and as nutritious as possible,” said Foodlink Development Manager Terra Keller of the BackPack contents. “We make sure there is protein such as peanut butter or tuna, a shelf-stable milk, single servings of oatmeal or cereal, canned fruits and vegetables with pop-top lids, and a combined food group component like mac and cheese.”
Taking a preemptive tactic against childhood hunger, Foodlink Community Nutrition Program Manager Larkin Kimmerer focuses on education with a six-week class called Cooking Matters for children, teens, parents and families. A national program sponsored by Share our Strength and administered by local agencies, Cooking Matters reaches out into communities. Instructors bring all of the equipment and all of the food, and give hands-on lessons about nutrition and cooking techniques.
“Every week we cook a different meal, and then send teens, adults and parents home with ingredients so they can cook it on their own,” Kimmerer said. “People have the misconception that it costs more to eat healthy food. We try to teach people how to stretch that dollar and get better food on a budget.”
Launched in Monroe County, Kimmerer said the classes are branching out to Geneva and Wayne County. The program serves about 400 participants each year, she said, and half are school-aged children learning to cook nutritious food for themselves.
“When a kid tries a new food for the first time and likes it — especially when they’re not normally getting a lot of access to fresh vegetables — it’s affirming that what we’re doing is making a difference.”
Since the recession in 2008, Keller said she has seen rural food pantries skyrocket, extending their hours because of the spike in need and increasing number of clients.
“Community support is still needed, especially during the holiday season,” said Keller.
From now through Nov. 30, Wegmans is teaming up with Foodlink for its “Check Out Hunger” campaign, which allows shoppers at 21 local Wegmans stores to add $2, $3 or $5 donations at the check-out line. Shoppers can also donate by rounding up their bill, Keller said. One hundred percent of the proceeds benefit Foodlink.