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How Local Food Cupboards Address Increased Food Insecurity in Rochester

Three culminating situations happened in early 2023 that had significant ramifications for anyone experiencing hunger or food insecurity in Rochester. In March, the Supplemental Emergency Allotments that provided increased funds for those receiving SNAP benefits ended. The monthly loss was $95 for individuals, $168 for seniors, and more than $200 for families with children. According to ACT Rochester, 14% of households in Monroe County receive SNAP. This has resulted in increased demand for free food options, like those offered at The Brighton Food Cupboard at JFS Rochester. Brighton Food Cupboard has seen a 25% increase in requests for food since SNAP benefits were decreased in March.

The decrease in federal SNAP benefits occurred amid the current national inflation situation that is significantly impacting people’s purchasing power and cost of living, especially for food. According to the Government Accountability Office, while food prices generally increased about 2% in prior years, they increased about 11% from 2021 to 2022. Finally, our community’s primary providers of free or low-cost food have seen decreases in donations from food producers and distributors in recent years.

“This has been a ‘perfect’ storm for people in our community that rely on support to feed themselves and their family,” said Dee Schwartz, Chief Program Officer. “People that struggle to put food on the table have gotten a triple whammy of lower benefits, higher costs, and fewer community resources. The pressure this puts on families is immense and local food cupboards play a central role in addressing it to support people in need.”   

So, what is a food cupboard, how does a food cupboard work, and what is its role in addressing increased food insecurity?

Essentially, a food cupboard is a community-based organization that provides food assistance to individuals and families in need. Food cupboards work by collecting and storing donations of non-perishable food items, as well as perishable items like fresh produce and dairy in refrigerated storage units. They often also provide household goods, pet food, and other essentials that might be a challenge to purchase for people who are experiencing food insecurity. Food cupboards play a critical role in addressing increased food insecurity, especially during times of economic downturns, natural disasters, or other crises that impact people’s ability to access food. They provide a safety net for individuals and families who may be struggling to make ends meet, by offering free or low-cost food that helps supplement their grocery budget. Local food cupboards are often the first line of defense for those who find themselves without access to food. This can be especially important for vulnerable populations, such as seniors or those with disabilities, who may be more severely impacted during these times.

While many food cupboards require people to come pick up food directly, some food cupboards also deliver food to those who are unable to come to their location due to mobility issues or other challenges. For instance, The Brighton Food Cupboard delivers food directly to individuals and families, thereby ensuring the dignity and anonymity of those served and reducing the obstacles associated with transportation and access.

Local food cupboards play a vital role in ensuring that individuals and families have access to nutritious food. By providing free or low-cost food, food cupboards can alleviate the financial burden on those who struggle to put food on their table. Another thing local food cupboards can offer is knowledge of the local community and their unique food needs. Having a local team ensures the cupboard can accommodate the varying dietary needs of a community including Kosher, vegetarian, and gluten free options. They can also make connections with other community organizations, specifically the local school district, to ensure the food cupboard is meeting students’ needs that could include snacks or other programs that address food insecurity.

Food cupboards operate on a donation-based model, where individuals and businesses donate food, money, and other resources to support the organization’s efforts. Volunteers then sort and distribute the donated items to those in need. One of the most important aspects of a food cupboard is the people who work and volunteer there. Volunteers are crucial to ensuring the smooth operation of the organization. They help sort donations, stock shelves, and distribute food to those who need it. Without volunteers, it would be impossible to provide this critical service to our community.

A crucial aspect of food cupboards is the donations they receive. While food donations are always appreciated, monetary donations are also essential. Monetary donations allow food cupboards to purchase items which are either in short supply or can be purchased at lower costs than a person donating could buy it for. For example, while a person might buy a jar of Peanut Butter for a few dollars, a local food cupboard has the connections and resources to buy half a dozen jars for that same cost. Donations also help cover operating costs, such as rent, utilities, and other expenses.

In addition to providing food assistance, many food cupboards also offer additional support services and, when run by a local human services organization, can address specific needs in the community. “Because we serve our clients through more than just food, we can connect older adults to aging services, families to counseling, and make other connections to both JFS Rochester and other programs throughout the community,” says Schwartz

All JFS programs including the Brighton Food Cupboard aptly represent our core value: “For Good. For All.” This encapsulates our commitment to providing services that are beneficial to all members of the community, regardless of their background or beliefs. In an ever-changing world, JFS remains steadfast in its commitment to serving people throughout Greater Rochester. JFS continues to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of our community, especially important when even needs for the most basic of things – food – increases.

For information about becoming a The Brighton Food Cupboard client, to donate food, or to sign up to be a volunteer please call (585) 271-5355.

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