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WMCHealth Launches Hudson Valley Food for Life Council

New think tank of leaders in the food arena brings a collective impact approach to promoting access to healthy local foods

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Recognizing the role of food and good nutrition in staying healthy, fighting disease and promoting healing and general well-being, the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is putting its weight behind a new initiative to address food policy issues in the Hudson Valley.

Headed by powerhouse leaders in the food arena such as Feeding Westchester, Chef Peter X. Kelly of Xaviars Group, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, ShopRite, Pace University College of Health Professions, Westchester County and others, the new Hudson Valley Food of Life Council will address access to nutritious food across our community.

“With all the miracles that modern medicine brings, we have yet to conquer one of the most important basic health needs: access to nutritious food,” said Michael Israel, President and CEO of the WMCHealth Network, which represents 10 hospitals in eight counties across the region, with 300,000 served annually. “By harnessing some of the best food-focused minds in our region, and applying the principles of collective impact, we intend to align and develop action-oriented solutions that will result in meaningful industry and community engagement around food access and nutrition.”

The Food for Life Council held its first meeting on September 27 at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture to outline some of the most pressing food policy issues that face our local communities and to design an action agenda that brings a collective impact model to bring meaningful solutions. Among some of the top issues identified were:

• Food Insecurity – Food Insecurity is ‘‘a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food,” and is a systemic and pervasive condition in our community. An estimated 200,000 children, seniors and families experience food insecurity in Westchester. Likewise, 20 percent of the population, or 1 in 5 residents face food insecurity in the Hudson Valley.

• Access to Healthy Foods – Healthy eating combined with physical activity is, for all people, the foundation of a healthy and productive life. However, only 1 in 10 adults eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Low-income and rural communities face particular difficulty in accessing low-cost, fresh and wholesome foods. At WMCHealth we see so often that food is at the center of the health axis - both a cause and a cure of preventable chronic disease - and the huge driver of healthcare costs across the nation and in our own backyard.

• The Economic Connection – WMCHealth believes that local food supports healthy, local economies. An emphasis on local investment and local food sourcing will bring the added benefit of promoting local economies, particularly in our food-driven industries, local jobs and a local commitment to the health of all of our neighbors.

Members of the Hudson Valley Food for Life Council include:

Community Based Organizations/Not-for-Profit

• Michael Israel, President & CEO, WMCHealth Network
• Kara Bennorth, Chief Administrative Officer and EVP, WMCHealth Network
• Sue Gerry, SVP Strategic Alliances & Partnerships, WMCHealth Network
• Barbara Kram, Sr. Director, Corporate Marketing and Communications, WMCHealth Network
• Leslie Gordon, CEO, Feeding Westchester
• Toby Pidgeon, VP of Programs, Operations & Administration, Feeding Westchester
• Martha Lopez, Assistant to Westchester County Executive, Advocacy and Immigrant Affairs
• Colette Phipps, Program Coordinator Research and Development, Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services
• The Rev. Franklyn Richardson, Grace Baptist Church, Mount Vernon 
• Isabel Villar, Executive Director, El Centro Hispano


• Christen Cupples Cooper, Founding Director, Nutrition and Dietetics, College of Health Professions, Pace University
• Phillip McGrath, Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management, Westchester Community College
• Michael Tomeseski, Chef Instructor at Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES
• Dr. Raymond Sanchez, Ossining Superintendent of Schools

Food Purveyor/Farmer 

• Gibson Durnford, Westchester County Agricultural Council, NYS Department of Environmental Protection.
• Sara Elliott, Director of Programs, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
• Kathleen Finlay, President, Glynwood Farms

Supermarkets/Food Suppliers 

• Jerry Simonetty, Hudson Valley Fresh
• Sarada Bernstein, ShopRite Supermarkets Restaurants
• Jimmy Ely, Riverview
• Charles Fell, The Artist's Palate
• Ron Gallo, Inn at Pound Ridge
• Michael Kahpan, Purdy's Farmer & the Fish
• Michael Kelly, Liberty Street Bistro
• Peter X. Kelly, Xaviars Group
• Leslie Lampert, Café of Love
• Waldy Malouf, Culinary Institute of America
• Rafael Palomino, Sonora
• Giovanni Scappin, Cucina

About Food for Life

WMCHealth’s Food for Life initiative focuses on developing programs that contribute to the overall health of communities we serve in a 6,200 square-mile radius of the Hudson Valley, affecting more than 3.5 million residents. In recognition of the role that food and good nutrition play in fighting disease and overall health, WMCHealth is committed to promoting healthy eating and access to wholesome, local foods while supporting regional food industries, purveyors and stakeholders. These initiatives range from fighting food insecurity to offering community education programs for patients and the public, as well as showcasing the importance of healthy eating and locally grown foods and their connection to the well-being of people, families and the economy of the Hudson Valley.