Fund supports elders, job seekers in wake of pandemic in Tompkins County

A grant from the Community Foundation of Tompkins County has enabled Challenge Workforce Solutions to provide enhanced cleaning services to Foodnet Meals on Wheels as they ramp up food delivery to seniors in need.

Established in 1967, Foodnet has provided meals and nutrition services that promote dignity, well-being, and independence for older adults and others in need. Since COVID-19 emerged as an unprecedented threat to physical and fiscal health—particularly for lower-income seniors—the agency has seen a surge in demand. “We have delivered at least 25,000 more meals than usual this year, including 9,000 frozen meals at the beginning of the pandemic so all our clients had an emergency supply,” Operations Manager Art Webb said.




They have had to implement exacting new safety protocols that have further stretched their resources and personnel.

Since 1968, Challenge has created pathways to employment for people with disabilities and other barriers. In addition to offering community-based prevocational and supported employment programs for youth and adults, the agency maintains staffing contracts with some of the county’s largest employers, including Ithaca College and Cornell. When the campuses shuttered in March, Challenge was faced with the layoff of 90-some dish room staff, but they pivoted quickly, retraining workers to provide EPA-compliant cleaning services for local businesses and institutions. Challenge was able to retain a majority of its contract staff and reinforce essential operations at Cayuga Medical Center, Longview, and Wegmans.

The Community Foundation made a strong and early commitment to supporting collaborative efforts in the local nonprofit sector to address challenges brought forth by the pandemic. Their COVID-19 Response Fund has provided over $250,000 to agencies across the county and recently authorized a $10,000 grant to Challenge to offer their cleaning services at no cost to organizations serving disproportionately impacted populations.




Jacob Rodenbaugh is a retrained Challenge dish room worker and now the Team Leader assigned to Foodnet. He has been responsible for providing 37 to 40 weekly labor-hours to the agency’s facilities and delivery vehicles. “My experience at Foodnet has been great. The managers always check in to make sure all is well, and I am treated like a member of the staff. I’m happy to give them a hand to keep things safe and clean. I’ve worked for Challenge for over four years after going through a rough patch in life and lacking what I needed to get a proper job. Challenge helped me through that,” he said.

“Jacob is awesome,” added Webb. “He does everything thoroughly and it provides a lot of relief to our staff, so we’re able to focus on our clients and meet the increased demand. We’re looking for ways to keep him on our team.”

Want the latest headlines in your inbox each morning? Click here to sign up for our Morning Edition and Sunday Insight newsletters. They are dedicated to keeping you in the know. You can also download the FingerLakes1.com App for Android (All Android Devices) or iOS (iPhone, iPad)
Support Local Journalism