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South Wedge Food Program becomes The People's Pantry

Gino Fanelli

After nearly 50 years, the South Wedge Food Program will be moving out of the South Wedge neighborhood and into northeast Rochester. 

On Tuesday, City Council approved a five-year lease that would allow the food pantry to move into a 4,000-square-foot vacant space behind Lincoln Branch Library beginning Oct. 15. The area at Avenue D and Joseph Avenue previously housed a chapter of the Hillside Children’s Center.

“We’ve been really searching since about January for a new home,” said Jay Rowe, executive director of the South Wedge Food Program. “The place on Avenue D materialized pretty early on, we toured that in early August, and it was perfect, it had our name all over it.”

Since the 1970s, the program has been housed inside office space attached to the Calvary Presbyterian Church at 68 Ashland St. Developer Patrick Dutton, who owns the property, plans on converting that space into apartments, while leaving the church sanctuary untouched.

Rowe said he had reservations about moving out of the church, but the move allows the pantry to serve the community in a bigger capacity.

“It will always be a beautiful church and there are a lot of strong feelings about that particular building,” Rowe said. “But when it comes down to the work, it's really just about feeding people, and we can do that anywhere. I think out of all the places we could have picked, I think this is a really great option for us.”

As part of the move out of the South Wedge, the food program will also get a new name: The People’s Pantry.

The full-service food pantry also offers delivery to clients, making the group somewhat unique among other emergency food services in Rochester. During the early days of the pandemic, the pantry saw a sharp falloff of volunteers while the demand for its services nearly doubled.

Rowe said the number of monthly clients peaked at around 3,000 last summer.

“I think the need is still there,” Rowe said. “We’ve plateaued a little, but we’ve settled around, and it changes every month, but about 2,000 families every month coming to get food, which is maybe a little out of the ordinary according to some of the other pantries I’ve spoken to who are seeing their volume slow down.”

At the Lincoln Branch, Rowe hopes to do more with the program, including offering some educational workshops around nutrition for families.

From its new location, the food program will continue to offer delivery services to the Rochester area, as well in walk-in service.

“We’re a little bit different in that we offer delivery to all areas of the city and surrounding areas for people that, for whatever reason, are challenged with mobility,” Rowe said.

April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.