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Gillibrand wants central NY food bank to expand into food processing

Tom Magnarelli
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand during a recent visit to the Food Bank of Central New York with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner.

For the last four years, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she has been trying to create five food hubs to help centralize food processing and distribution upstate. Gillibrand said one food bank in Rochester is stepping up its operations and she wants one in Syracuse to do the same.

Gillibrand said the Foodlink regional food bank in Rochester has a commercial kitchen and food processing machines. Instead of only repackaging and sending out food, Foodlink can also clean and slice produce which makes them attractive to commercial food distributors in New York City.

“We’re going to set them up with Baldor who is the international food distributor who wants to bring a truck to upstate New York, fill it, bring it back and sell it for five times the cost and it makes money for the Foodlink,” Gillibrand said. "They're meeting so much need of not just repackaging food and sending them to places, but actually doing food production and cleaning and packaging."

And Gillibrand wants the Food Bank of Central New York to have the same capabilities so that it could distribute and process food for charitable and commercial use. She recently volunteered there with Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. But Gillibrand admits it does take money for the upgrades. She said the next step for Syracuse is to get loans from the United States Department of Agriculture and other sources to build a commercial kitchen and cleaning operation.

Food Bank of Central New York Executive Director Kathleen Stress said it is a great opportunity.

“We have a small level commercial kitchen here, we haven’t had the opportunity to expand it to make or process meals," Stress said. "I talked with Gillibrand about the opportunities both from grant funding and how you would operate an expansion like that. We have school pantry initiatives we're starting and that would help increase access to food."

Just from July to December, Central New York’s food bank delivered five million pounds of food, about four million meals to 346 programs in the region for the needy. The food bank covers 11 counties in the region. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.