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Henrietta Post
  • Tom Ferraro, Foodlink founder and executive director, dies of pancreatic cancer

  • Thomas C. Ferraro, lifelong anti-hunger advocate, community leader, and visionary entrepreneur who founded Foodlink, one of the nation's first food banks, died early this morning of pancreatic cancer. He was 67.
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  • Thomas C. Ferraro, lifelong anti-hunger advocate, community leader, and visionary entrepreneur who founded Foodlink, one of the nation's first food banks, died early this morning of pancreatic cancer. He was 67. “It is with great sadness that we share the news of Tom's death,” said Julia Tedesco, Chief Development & Communications Officer at Foodlink. “Tom had an unquenchable passion for addressing the societal injustices that kept individuals in poverty and struggling to feed their families. It was this passion, combined with his deep humility and extraordinary sense of humor that made him an inspirational leader not only to the employees of Foodlink, but to the thousands of people he worked with in our community. He was a remarkable mentor to us all.” Born and raised on the west side of the City of Rochester, Mr. Ferraro served as the Executive Director of Foodlink for 36 years. His commitment to the issue of hunger began in the early 1970s, while volunteering at a food cupboard in the 19th ward. At that time, only three food cupboards existed in Rochester, and all were reporting a steady increase in individuals seeking their services. In 1978, as an employee of Action for a Better Community, Mr. Ferraro appeared on the Eddie Meath Show to make a communitywide appeal for food donations. A representative of Thomas' English Muffins called with a massive donation of bread products—and the regional food bank was born. Foodlink (known then as the Genesee Valley Regional Food Clearinghouse) was incorporated as an independent organization in 1983, and distributed 620,000 pounds of food the same year. In 1988, Foodlink moved into its first real distribution center, a West Avenue building donated by Wegmans, and within a year increased its food distribution to five times its previous level. In 2000, Foodlink relocated to a building on Exchange Street, donated by the Kolko family and a decade of unprecedented growth followed — resulting in a relocation to its current 90,000 square foot headquarters on Mt. Read Boulevard in 2011. Under Tom's leadership, Foodlink grew into a 500-member organization distributing more than 18 million pounds of food and resources each year to area soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, group homes, senior centers, day cares, after-school programs and other non-profit organizations. Foodlink runs more than 30 unique, food-related programs aimed at ending hunger, improving nutrition, empowering individuals with food literacy, and strengthening the regional food system. Throughout his career, Mr. Ferraro was recognized for his entrepreneurial spirit. He was among the first “food bankers” in the nation. He served on the original Feeding America (known then as Second Harvest) Board of Directors, working with his peers to develop the concept of food banking nationally; he also assisted in the formation of the other seven New York State food banks as well as the creation of the New York State Department of Health's Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) which continues to provide millions of dollars to hunger relief, food safety, and nutrition education programs each year. Mr. Ferraro was also known for his innovative approach to anti-hunger programming and nonprofit management. He followed his instinct and believed that to solve major problems, one must be willing to take risks. “There is no thinking outside the box,” Tom often said, “there is only living outside the box.” For more than three decades, his focus was to move the focus beyond the symptom of hunger and toward its root causes, by working to build community health and wealth while providing holistic services to those in need. He firmly believed that food banks have a responsibility to engage in workforce and economic development initiatives, to assist in building the capacity of other nonprofit organizations, and to be leaders in both public health and broader food system reforms. Though he felt uncomfortable with being described as such, Mr. Ferraro was a humanitarian in the true sense of the word. The welfare of others was the primary concern of his life. Through his work, he helped to sustain and give hope to hundreds of thousands of individuals, and his policy work at the state and national level reached countless more. “Tom personally changed the lives of so many people he met,” said Julia Tedesco. “He was willing to meet and network with anyone who requested time with him, he embraced the energy and enthusiasm of young professionals, he helped other entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground, he gave employment opportunities to individuals that no one else would take a chance on, and he unfailingly put people first—even if it meant temporarily disrupting the flow or efficiency of the organization. He believed that to make the world a better place, you must begin by serving the people directly in front of you—by paying them a living wage and benefits, providing educational opportunities and above all, listening to their needs.” Mr. Ferraro was the recipient of numerous distinguished community awards, including the Farash Foundation's Inaugural Farash Prize for Social Entrepreneurship, a prestigious community award aimed at recognizing and rewarding the best innovative approaches to our society's most pressing problems. For additional awards and other information, please visit the Foodlink website. Mr. Ferraro is survived by his mother, Marion Ferraro; beloved wife of 20 years, Regine Calvar; sons Michael, Philippe and John; granddaughters Victoria and Isabelle; and countless family members, lifelong friends, partners and employees. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made. In his absence, Foodlink will continue to provide its full range of programs and services. Jeanette Batiste, Chief Operating Officer, and Julia Tedesco, Chief Development & Communications Officer, will jointly lead the organization as interim Co-Executive Directors. Both Batiste and Tedesco have been with the organization for five years and will work closely with the Board of Directors to ensure that Foodlink continues the high-level of operational efficiency, innovative anti-hunger programming, and community collaboration for which it is known. Those wishing to donate funds on behalf of Mr. Ferraro are asked to consider contributing to the Foodlink Foundation in Mr. Ferraro's name at PO Box 60766, Rochester, New York, 14606.

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