WXXI AM News

Report Finds Hunger in Rochester is Also a Suburban Problem

Rochester, NY – A report issued by the Foodlink Agency says hunger in Rochester is mainly a problem of the working poor -- and that more than 40 percent of the people who get emergency food assistance locally live in the suburbs or in rural areas.

Foodlink was part of a national study of 150 food banks done by its parent agency, called "America's Second Harvest."

The national study found that more than 23 million Americans got emergency hunger relief from private charities this year. That's an increase of more than seven percent since the last such study in 1997.

Foodlink is a Rochester-based non-profit agency that supplies foods to emergency kitchens and food cupboards in a 10 county area around Rochester and the Finger Lakes. It serves about 500 different agencies, and supplies food to nearly 60-thousand different people every year. Foodlink officials say that's more than four million meals annually.

Bethany Welch of Foodlink coordinated the local research. She says fewer than four percent of the people who get emergency food in the Rochester area turned out to be homeless.

Welch says more than 30 percent of the households getting emergency food have at least one person working. 65-percent of the Foodlink households are headed by women. Those figures match the national averages.

More than 40 percent of the households surveyed by Foodlink said they had to choose between paying for food or paying their utility bill at least once in the last year. The report also says more than half of the people who get emergency food aid in the Rochester area are white. Fewer than 40 percent are African-American. Foodlink also says much of its aid is going to children under the age of 17.

Welch says Foodlink got this information by surveying the hundreds of agencies it supplies with food, and by surveying food recipients directly.

Foodlink officials say they're moving to use this information by adjusting their programs to be more convenient for working people. The agency also wants to expand its community kitchen and kid's cafe programs that serve meals to families and school-aged children.

Foodlink CEO Tom Ferraro also says the agency needs to expand its food sources. The second harvest program works through donations of food from grocery stores and food processing companies. The agency takes product that didn't sell, or wasn't made according to the company standards but is still good to eat.

Ferraro says companies trying to cut costs have clamped down on waste so much that Foodlink isn't getting as many donations. He says the company is getting an industrial flash-freezer through a federal grant, and will use it to help preserve raw produce and farm crops for distribution.