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Data shows food insecurity on the rise in the Rochester region

A pallet of Mott's applesauce boxes wrapped in plastic with a blue sign reading 2,350 pounds Foodlink donation
Jeremy Moule
A donated pallet of Mott's applesauce stored in Foodlink's warehouse

When the Straight from the Heart food pantry on Hudson Avenue first opened, it was serving about 40 to 45 families.

That has increased to a steady flow of about 100 families per week and climbing, said LaVada Howard, who helps run the pantry.

"We have seniors coming in, we have young ones coming in, but you know, it's just a blessing to be able to help them and that is what we do every week," Howard said.

A woman in a black jumpsuit with a white pattern standing at a podium with a Foodlink sign on it and a Foodlink backdrop behind her.
Jeremy Moule
LaVada Howard from the Straight From the Heart food pantry on Hudson Avenue said the organization has seen the number of families it serves more than double.

Straight from the Heart is in the 14605 ZIP code, an area that Foodlink CEO Julia Tedesco said has the third-highest rate of food insecurity in New York. But what they're experiencing isn't unique: Food insecurity has been rising across Foodlink's 10-county service area.

On Wednesday, Feeding America, an anti-hunger organization, released its new Map the Meal Gap report, which is based on data from regional food banks across the country. It showed that from 2021 to 2022, the food insecurity rate in Foodlink's service area rose from 9.3% to 12%.

The Map the Meal Gap data shows that the number of people in that area who visited food pantries in that timeframe rose by more than 33,500 people, from 118,240 to 151,820. The number of children experiencing food insecurity rose from 12% to 17%, an increase of more than 10,000 children compared to 2021.

Black and Latino people in the region are three times more likely to experience food insecurity, Tedesco said.

During a news conference, Tedesco painted a fuller picture of the problem. She said that last month, during a meeting of local nonprofit food pantries that work with Foodlink, the staff asked how many pantries have seen an increase in the number of people seeking their services over the past year.

"Every single hand in the room went up," Tedesco said.

Over the past year, more than 1.3 million people visited food pantries in Foodlink's 10-county region, according to Tedesco. And during its 2022-23 fiscal year, Foodlink spent $10 million to buy food to supplement its donated stock.

And between January and March of this year, visits to food pantries in Foodlink's service area were up by 35% compared to the same period in 2023, Tedesco said.

Foodlink attributed the increase to the spike in food prices that happened in 2022, along with the expiration of pandemic-era federal assistance programs that expanded child tax credits, free school lunches, and SNAP benefits.

Tedesco said there are two ways to help address the problem. One is to support and advocate for legislation that would expand some of those assistance programs. She pointed specifically to bills introduced in the state Legislature last year that would have set the minimum SNAP benefit in New York at $100, instead of the current $23. The bill failed to get enough support to pass.

"Investments in SNAP are always the most effective way to reduce food insecurity," Tedesco said. "And we will continue to advocate for this."

But she also said Foodlink needs financial support. This summer, the nonprofit plans to begin a two-year, $6 million project to renovate part of its building on Mt. Read Boulevard to greatly expand cooler space for storing fresh food.

"The work we do to ensure food access in our region requires significant infrastructure systems, coordination, and partnerships, and we need financial support to sustain it," Tedesco said. "And yet in the face of economic uncertainty, we and our partners have seen a drop in donations when we need them the most."

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.