In 1978, a group of interested community representatives met at the Community Action Organization to develop a comprehensive method of food crisis intervention. We became the 39th food bank of the Second Harvest chain in 1979, distributing food to 18 agencies. Incorporation in 1981 was under the name of Community Food Center of Western New York, Inc.
A 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse site at 701 Seneca Street was secured in 1983 at a hefty rental rate of $1.00 for the first year. By the end of 1984 the Food Center had distributed the first millionth pound of food and began working with New York State through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As the need grew, so did the Food Bank; in 1985 we began distributing to four counties – Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara. Shortly thereafter the affiliate membership grew to 198 charitable agency programs.
In 1986 distribution had ascended to 5 million pounds, and this prompted the Food Bank to acquire a 5,235 cubic foot freezer. Recognizing the need to maintain accurate receipting and distribution records on the increasing amount of food items handled, a computerized inventory system was installed in 1987.
By January 1989, tremendous growth of our organization necessitated the move to our facility at 91 Holt Street where we have a 37,000 square foot warehouse. The organization’s name was changed to Food Bank of Western New York, Inc., in 1989, and we began receiving USDA product the same year. It was also in 1989 that the first 1 million pounds of product were distributed in one month. This feat was overshadowed in 1991 by the distribution of our 50 millionth pound of product. To be able to accept a growing amount of donated frozen product, the Food Bank had a 70,000 cubic foot freezer built in 1992.
In 1995, the year that the 100 millionth pound of product was distributed, the Food Bank had to seek out new food sources and programs to replace the dwindling USDA commodity food. In 1996, a time when demand for help was not decreasing, there was growing concern about the effects of further cuts in state and federal food assistance. Local fund-raising efforts had increased in importance. Produce for People was initiated to increase acquisition and distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In 1997, the Kids Café program (an after school program) was initiated and expanded quickly to seven sites, our new Food Bank logo was developed, our web site was initiated, and a massive multi-media marketing campaign was launched. This campaign was fueled by the release of the Hunger 1997: The Faces & Facts study commissioned by Second Harvest and food banks across the nation.
As both need and growth continued, in 1998, after considerable deliberation and cost analyses, a building renovation program was started to prepare for the challenges of the next millennium. A feasibility study was undertaken, and the resulting information opened the way for a capital campaign to cover the renovation project. This two-year project combined all staff in one building, amplified the agency distribution area, enhanced the display and access to perishable and frozen products and greatly improved the warehouse storage capabilities. This goal was met and Stage I of the building renovation was completed by the end of 1999.
The Food Bank began the new millennium by officially opening the Grass Roots Community Garden (a volunteer run garden of fresh vegetables grown on an adjoining lot), joining in the Empowerment Program efforts (to help less fortunate individuals acquire the skills needed to become self-sufficient), adopting a Strategic Plan for 2000-2003 and redesigning our web site.
In 2001, the Food Bank was very successful in expanding the Food Express program (delivering products to agencies and distributing directly to clients), developing the Agency Assistance program (a program to permit emergency food providers to upgrade their equipment used to store perishable food), improving the Agency Food Outlet (glass door coolers and freezers in the area where agencies pick up their orders) and installing a scanning system in the warehouse. The Kids Helping Other Kids program as well as the Good Cookin’ program were expanded. The end of the year saw the release of the most recent Hunger 2001: The Faces & Facts study.
2002 saw the Food Bank’s collaboration with Goodwill Industries in Breaking the Line and the Urban Revitalization Center. Hunger in America Study 2001 was released, and The National Association of Letter Carriers’ food drive set a new record - 1.151 million pounds of food. Another record of $309,000 was collected through the Check Out Hunger Campaign. The Kids in the Kitchen program expanded while the Kids Helping Other Kids program won an award from America’s Second Harvest.
2003 saw the following at the Food Bank of Western New York:
• Nutrition education workshops such as Kids in the Kitchen and Good Cookin’ as well as other efforts (Kids Helping Other Kids, Emergency Infant and Baby Food Expansion Program, and Urban Opportunities Food Pantry - our collaboration with Goodwill)
• The Garden Education Program “took root” and grew
• The Food Express Program Advanced to another level with our new vehicle. This fully refrigerated truck delivers fresh produce and other highly nutritious food directly to our agencies’ clients.
• The average shared maintenance fee paid by our agencies was 3.7 cents per pound
2004 - Designated $281,000 to Agency Assistance Program. Developed new vision statement.
2005 - Capital campaign for $1,500,000.00 publicly announced. Emergency backup generator installed, and vehicle storage facility constructed. Over 13 million pounds of product distributed. Ranked 28th out of 275 WNY not for profits with 96.2% of expenses dedicated to services.
2006 - 12 trailer loads of product sent to Hurricane Katrina relief effort. A record $446,000 was designated to our AAP. NY Farm Bureau held its 2005 state annual meeting in Buffalo.
2007 - We were awarded a new Ford refrigerated cube truck from Paul Newman Foundation and Ford Motor Company. Expanded nutrition education programs. Initiated the Puppet Theater for children ages 4 to 7. Food Bank and Agency Disaster Relief Preparedness program developed. A new distribution site was opened in Chautauqua County.
2008 - Clem Eckert, who served the Food Bank for over 12 years, 10 of which as President/CEO, retired and was replaced by Tom Heine. A Client Choice Program and Product Recall Process were initiated. Community Blue donated a new van to the Food Bank. Because of Tom Heine’s illness, Marylou Borowiak began her tenure as Interim President & CEO. Chautauqua County’s Community Foundation donated a walk-in freezer for the distribution site.
2009 - A second Food Express truck was added to our fleet. Carolyn B. Thomas and Helen Urban, two co-founders of the Food Bank of WNY, and Tom Heine, the Food Bank of WNY’s President & CEO, passed away; Marylou Borowiak became the new President & CEO of the Food Bank of WNY. The Food Bank of WNY was instrumental in providing for basic needs in the local Cattaraugus-Chautauqua flood disaster.
2010 – The milk voucher program, a way of distributing more nutritious product to our agencies’ clients, was introduced. E.W. Dann Stevens, a co-founder and Chair Emeritus, passed away. The multi-purpose room was renovated to accommodate the nutrition/education classes. We updated our fleet of vehicles with a new refrigerated trailer and a dry box trailer. Our mission statement, vision, and logo were updated.
2011 – Collaborated with St. Susan’s to introduce Partners Fighting Hunger in Chautauqua County. Funds were raised to purchase a new box truck to distribute food to member agencies. We partook in the Going Green project for both the interior and exterior lighting of the building. The Backpack Program was expanded, and our website was enhanced. Food safety training was completed for all member agencies.