On Dec. 19, 1978, founder Tom Ferraro collected a busload of Thomas’ English Muffins — marking the first donation to what would later become Foodlink. Every year, the regional food bank commemorates that moment in its history by recognizing Muffin Day.
Another donation from Thomas’ recently arrived at Foodlink’s warehouse in honor of its 40th anniversary.
“We recognize Muffin Day to honor our history, but also to recognize that the Foodlink of today — a multifaceted operation with dozens of programs — began with the generosity of a single donor,” said Julia Tedesco, president and CEO of Foodlink. “Our story is one of compassion, innovation and collaboration, and we value deeply all of the donors and partners who have supported our mission over the course of the last 40 years.”
Foodlink redistributed 800 packages of muffins to the community. It delivered many St. Peter’s Kitchen. Foodlink staff helped serve chicken a la king over English muffins, and passed out packages of muffins to individuals and families after the meal. Other packages were distributed to member agencies and mobile pantry stops in the region.
“St. Peter’s is one of our long-time partners and such a valuable asset to this community,” Tedesco said. “In celebrating our 40th anniversary, we felt it was appropriate to share the day with one of the many Foodlink member agencies doing excellent work to address food insecurity in our area.”
Celebrating the milestone at St. Peter’s had historical significance. Ferraro went to elementary school in the same building that the soup kitchen now resides.
Ferraro started to address hunger and food insecurity in Rochester while working for Action for a Better Community in the late 1970s. After that first donation, for which he used an ABC Head Start school bus to haul away hundreds of English muffins, Ferraro formed the Genesee Valley Regional Food Clearinghouse. It incorporated as an independent charity in 1983, and was renamed Foodlink in 1991.
Although Ferraro was partly responsible for launching a food bank network throughout the nation — he was a founding board member of what would later become Feeding America — he always knew food banking alone could not solve hunger. He oversaw the launch of several programs, namely the Kids Cafe afterschool meal program, community kitchen, Lexington Avenue Community Farm, Value-Added Processing initiative and the Curbside Market.
“Tom recognized hunger as a symptom of other problems, such as chronic poverty, and not a root cause,” Tedesco said. “By addressing food insecurity in the Rochester region through this lens, and through his tendency to say ‘yes’ to challenges, he was able to have an immeasurable impact on so many lives in our area.”
Foodlink distributes 18-20 million pounds of food annually, and collaborates with a network of hundreds of member agencies to alleviate hunger for thousands of individuals and families. Numerous food-related programs that address barriers to a healthy lifestyle, such as food access, food literacy and unemployment, allowed Foodlink to expand its role as a public health organization. The establishment of its commercial kitchen in 2016 helped to grow its child meal programs, apple-slicing operations and the Foodlink Career Fellowship.
Visit foodlinkny.org for information.