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Foodlink phasing out emergency drive-through food distributions

A volunteer gets ready to place a package of food into a car at a food distribution event in Rochester last summer.
Max Schulte/WXXI News
A volunteer gets ready to place a package of food into a car at a food distribution event in Rochester last summer.

Foodlink is phasing out its drive-through food distribution events in Monroe County that started over a year ago at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

The effort was never intended to be more than an emergency stop-gap measure.

"It enabled us to get a lot of food to a lot of households in a very safe manner as we were struggling through this public health crisis," said Foodlink president and CEO Julia Tedesco. "We knew it couldn't last forever; it's not a very sustainable model."

During the height of the pandemic, when widespread lockdowns left many people out of work, hundreds of vehicles poured through the distribution sites with their trunks open and volunteers filled them with fresh milk, meat, vegetables, and fruit.

In the last 13 months, Foodlink said it coordinated more than 600 drive-throughs and served approximately 180,000 households in a 10-county region. Tedesco said the events, which require people to pre-register, don't get filled up as quickly now.

She said the decision to phase them out was based on federal stimulus payments that were made to people in certain income brackets, the ability of local nonprofits to provide food to people in need, and projected measurements of food insecurity.

Feeding America, a national network of food banks, estimated a 45%  increase in food insecurity in the 10 county region served by Foodlink early in the pandemic in 2020.  The national organization recently revised that figure to 25%.

The last drive-through food distribution in Monroe County is scheduled on April 30at Foodlink's warehouse at 1999 Mt. Read Blvd.

The regional food hub is transitioning back to its network of community-based pantries, shelters, and meal programs to distribute food to those in need.

"We know we can provide better support to folks at the neighborhood level," Tedesco said. "When they go into their local food pantry or their local community food program, they're not just getting food access, but they're able to talk to someone and potentially get wrap-around services."

Foodlink said it was able to invest an additional $1 million into its partner nonprofits in the last year, thanks to public donations.

Local food access points can be found on Foodlink’s website or by calling 211.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.