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COMMUNITY ACTION

CAP Cayuga/Seneca: Relieving hunger still crucial part of the mission

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Hunger relief has been part of Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca’s core programming for over five decades.

In 1969, the agency received its first grant to distribute emergency food and a year later, a food co-op was established in an effort to provide Cayuga County families with the lowest food prices possible. In 1974, the Auburn Farmers Market, now an independent entity, was established to increase access to fresh produce and expand job opportunities to rural farmers.

Innovative programs continued to be added over time to address the changing needs of poverty within our community, including nutrition education, food stamp outreach, a summer feeding program, the Urban Garden Project and community soup kitchens. Many continue to operate at CAP or through our partner organizations.

Today, CAP operates two food pantries and a mobile food pantry that serve an average of 370 households monthly and a food recovery program that is a game changer in the fight against food insecurity. We are fortunate to live in a community with a robust and active network of 33 emergency food providers and compassionate advocates who are dedicated to meaningfully address hunger. Our collaborative efforts allow us to not just make modest gains but elevate awareness and encourage expanded support for relief efforts.

In 2018, through funding from the state Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, CAP began programming to increase the amount of food available for redistribution to individuals and families in need. Food recovery, especially with our local agriculture industry, presented an untapped opportunity to increase nutritious, healthy food donations.

The program recovers and redistributes non-perishable, perishable and gleaned foods to emergency food providers in Cayuga and Seneca Counties. Our partnerships with grocers, farmers, wholesale stores and restaurants have increased the amount of locally grown, nutritious foods available to customers and allows us to leverage our relationship with local food banks. In the last 10 months, the program recovered and redistributed 1339,863 pound of food from over 26 vendors.

Walmart in Waterloo, Wegmans, Tops, Lansing Markets, United Methodist Men, Hillcrest Dairy, Schrader Farms, Cavallaro Foods, Hemdale Farms, Owens Orchard, Grisamore Farms, Auburn Correctional Facility, Willard Farm Project, DEC Venison Donation Coalition, Morgan Half Acre Produce, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Auburn Rotary, Sauders, Geneva Boys and Girls Club, Pepperidge Farms, the SPCA and Cayuga County Sheriff's Office all provide food that our pantries don’t traditionally get from the food banks, offer options and help fill in the gaps.

Single serve meals for individuals who don’t have a home or full kitchen, milk, eggs, cheese, frozen hamburger, tortilla shells, sauces, teas, bread rolls and pastries are just a small selection of what the program has been able to recover and redistribute, giving families facing food insecurity a choice and some normalcy in often very difficult situations.

In addition to the food recovery program, New York state’s Nourish New York Initiative has been a lifeline for our community and local agriculture. CAP received an initial allocation of funding soon after the pandemic began to not only provide a market for farmers to sell their products, but to increase nourishment to those facing food insecurity. Funds for this program were initially raised by philanthropists desperately trying to help New York’s farmers get their products into the hands of consumers rather than dump them due to the decrease in demand caused by COVID-19. Funding was awarded to food banks across the state and allocated to Agency’s like CAP to purchase New York state grown and raised products. Since May 2020, CAP has received $441,981 in funding that empowered us to strengthen existing relationships and cultivate new partnerships with vendors Rose Valley Organic Farms, Farm Girl Greens, Hillcrest Dairy, Schrader Farms, Muranda Cheese, Craig’s Station Creamery and Owens Orchards.

These programs help us emphasize equity, improve health outcomes and support a more resilient, sustainable food supply chain. We are grateful to be working with truly extraordinary individuals in the fight to end food insecurity and hunger, many of them volunteering their time to help create a system that works for everyone.

To find out how you can make an impact, contact Chris Ehlers at (315) 255-1703 ext. 109 or email cehlers@caphelps.org.

Jennifer Rossi is the marketing and development director at Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca and can be reached at (315) 255-1703 ext. 155 or jrossi@caphelps.org.

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