CalFresh Alumni Project - Tekara's Story

Our CalFresh Alumni project champions successful Americans who once received CalFresh/SNAP (food stamps) but who are now independent, contributing members of our community, as well as individuals who currently rely on the program during a time of need.  With a temporary lift from this government program that continues to help feed millions of Americans every day, these people are persevering and accomplishing great things. They make San Diego stronger every day.  Read their stories; tell us yours.

Meet Tekara Gainey. Tekara works in community engagement and public affairs for a San Diego nonprofit organization. Tekara shares her experience as a CalFresh/SNAP recipient and how it supported her journey to become the successful, independent woman she is today.

Tekara Gainey

Tekara Gainey


At what point in your life did you receive CalFresh/SNAP (food stamps) and why?

I’ve received SNAP at various junctures throughout my life. My earliest memory of SNAP is as a young kid growing up in a single-family household. I later relied on SNAP when I was putting myself through college, both in pursuit of my Bachelors as well as my Masters degrees.

How long were you on CalFresh/SNAP?

In total, I was on CalFresh/SNAP for 7 years.

How did CalFresh/SNAP help you in your time of need?

My mother was working full time and we relied on SNAP to help put food on our table. This was back when SNAP was issued as vouchers. I remember going to the corner store and using our vouchers to purchase basic food items like milk, eggs, and bread. As a student, SNAP helped to alleviate some of the burden associated with working, attending school and paying bills.

How did receiving food assistance make you feel?

Relieved. I was already under an immense amount of stress working and going to school full time, barely able to afford rent, transportation, books, phone bill…the list goes on. Knowing that my capability of putting good, healthy food on the table was not compromised offered a lot of relief. I didn’t have to choose between eating lunch or eating dinner. I could do both. It was one less thing, on a list of many things, I had to worry about.

What are some common misconceptions you have heard people use about CalFresh/SNAP?

I've heard many people claim CalFresh/SNAP is only available to families (adults with young children), persons who are unemployed or homeless individuals. I’ve also heard people say CalFresh/SNAP couldn’t or shouldn’t be used at well-known grocery stores such as Trader Joes or Whole Foods. When speaking about people receiving CalFresh/SNAP, I’ve heard people claim recipients are abusing the system, lack the drive and will to get off SNAP, and are underserving of nice things (i.e., bags, shoes, clothes, etc.). An acquaintance once told me she was surprised to learn I was receiving SNAP benefits because I seemed so “put together”. I guess I wasn’t supposed to comb my hair that day!

What are you most proud of in your life? Or what are your dreams for the future?

I am proud of the life I’ve created for myself. I live in a beautiful city, have a wonderful, supportive, and strong groups of friends and family, and I am doing work that I am passionate about and that is making an impact.  

What do you want people to know about food assistance programs like CalFresh/SNAP?

Food assistance programs like CalFresh/SNAP give people control over their lives and choices. During my time of need, prior to receiving food assistance, my choices were often made for me, based on my circumstances. Deciding whether I should spend $50 to purchase a work uniform or put aside money for lunch for the week was a no-brainer. If I wanted a job, I needed the uniform. Going 8-10 hours without eating because I couldn’t afford breakfast AND lunch was not my choice, but rather my circumstance. CalFresh/SNAP made me the ultimate decision maker again, just as it does with others.


Our CalFresh Alumni Project features individuals who have used CalFresh in the past or are currently enrolled in the program and using it as temporary assistance to get ahead during a time of need. CalFresh is California's version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program. By telling the stories of those who have benefited from SNAP/CalFresh, we can more effectively raise awareness and advocate to maintain this vital program.

If you would like to take part in our CalFresh Alumni Project and share your experience with CalFresh/SNAP, contact Liz Faris at liz@sdhunger.org or 619-501-7917 ext. 106. Your story will be shared on our blog, in our newsletter, on our social media sites, and in communications with elected officials who have the power to preserve this important program. If you prefer, you may remain anonymous. Your story will still have a big impact!

Calling all Craft Breweries! Partner with us on the 2017 CalFresh Challenge.

The San Diego craft brewing community is known for its enthusiasm for supporting good causes and giving culture. This is why we are seeking to partner with local breweries on our 2017 CalFresh Challenge. 

According to our analysis, more than 485,000 people in San Diego County don’t always have enough to eat. That’s one in six of our neighbors, loved ones and friends who don’t have access to enough food for an active healthy life.  Each year, the San Diego Hunger Coalition holds its CalFresh Challenge as a way to raise awareness and money to fight hunger in our community. CalFresh is our state’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. For one work week, we encourage people who don’t have to worry about not having enough food to try living on a food stamps budget. In San Diego County, the average CalFresh budget for one person is $4.18 per day or $20.92 for five days.

This year the CalFresh Challenge will be held May 8 -12 during CalFresh Awareness Month. We are looking for partners in the craft brewing industry to help us make this the best challenge to date. Here are some ways you can participate: 

• Use craft beer to carry the message.
The average pint of craft beer in San Diego costs around $6, about $1.73 more than the daily $4.27 CalFresh allotment per person. We are looking for a local brewery to brew an original CalFresh beer for the month of May and sell it for $4.27, or offer this special price on an existing beer during the month to benefit the San Diego Hunger Coalition. This way customers can see what they spend on a pour of their favorite craft beer is more than the meager government supplement some people receive to help put food on their tables.

• Provide a donation for our CalFresh Challenge event.
As an incentive for people to participate in the challenge we will hold a post-challenge event. The event is an opportunity to celebrate those who completed the challenge, recognize the top challenge fundraisers, and bring people together to have fun for a good cause. We are seeking donations to give as prizes to our top fundraisers and to raffle off at our post-challenge event. We'll accept gift certificates, merchandise, and any other goodies you are able to give.

• Participate in the Challenge yourself and share your experience.
We are always looking for new people to take the CalFresh Challenge, especially those with large followings who can help extend the reach of our message to end hunger in San Diego County.

As a partner in the 2017 CalFresh Challenge, we can provide your brewery with the following. We are also open to discussing any additional ideas you have.

• Handouts, menu inserts and pre-written social media posts for you to use to promote your brewery’s participation in the challenge.
• Promotion of the brewery and CalFresh beer on our social media accounts and blog.
• Recognition of the brewery in any media releases issued about the challenge and inclusion of the brewery’s logo on all CalFresh Challenge digital and printed materials.
• A shout out for your brewery during the post-challenge event.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization. All donations are tax-deductible. Our federal tax ID# is 30-0507718.

If your brewery is interested in joining as a partner in the 2017 CalFresh Challenge, please contact Liz Faris at liz@sdhunger.org or (619) 501-7917 ext. 106. 

Help Protect SNAP by Sharing Your Story!

Many of us have overcome barriers to get to where we are today, and this may have included not having enough food in the house. If you or your family ever received food stamps/SNAP (known as CalFresh in California), the San Diego Hunger Coalition wants to share your story to help make sure this vital program remains available for others during their times of need. The San Diego Hunger Coalition is a nonprofit that brings organizations across San Diego County together in the fight against hunger. We lead coordinated action supported by research, education and advocacy.

Former SNAP/CalFresh recipients include representatives in Congress, famous celebrities, professional athletes, CEO’s and community leaders at all levels. By telling the stories of those who have benefited from SNAP/CalFresh, we can more effectively raise awareness and advocate for important policies to end hunger.

SNAP is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program. Locally, the majority of people receiving CalFresh get the temporary help they need and are on it for less than two years. An important part of the Hunger Coalition’s work includes reducing the myths and stigma around SNAP/CalFresh. These misconceptions affect policy, funding, how food assistance programs are administered, and whether people feel comfortable seeking the resources they need to help their families.

We make it easy for you to help change this by sharing your story as part of our CalFresh Alumni project.  We will send you a few interview questions you can respond to by email, over the phone or in person. We then write a brief blog post about your experience that will be shared on our website, newsletter, social media, and in communication with elected officials who have the power to preserve this important program. If you prefer, you can remain anonymous. Your story will still have a big impact!

If you are interested in sharing a little bit about how food stamps provided a bridge to where you are today, please contact the San Diego Hunger Coalition’s Communications Officer Liz Faris directly at liz@sdhunger.org or (619) 501-7917 ext. 106.

Become an Activist for a Hunger Free San Diego – and Help Put Food on the Table

We are building on the Hunger Advocacy Network's four major policy victories from last year. In 2017, we’re providing more opportunities for you to join us. We invite all members of our community to participate in large-scale systems change to improve food assistance. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead

We are calling on you become an Activist for a Hunger Free San Diego. Sign up for email action alerts to stay up-to-date about how to strengthen access to food resources. As a Hunger Free Activist, you will:

  • Stay up-to-date on issues of importance to our community
  • Receive a variety of options for participation so you can decide your level of engagement.
  • Access the information and tools you need to be effective – from specialized advocacy training to talking points.
  • Enjoy privacy. We will not share your name or information with anyone outside our organization without specifically asking for permission.

Your voice can make a real difference in the lives of everyday San Diegans struggling to feed their families. Please sign up here today. Then share that you are a Hunger Free Activist on social media. (Facebook / Twitter

Food Security & Healthcare Convening

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We're pioneering new ways for people to access CalFresh assistance - through their healthcare providers. On December 14th, more than 50 healthcare and food security stakeholders from across San Diego County gathered at the Price Charities Center to discuss best practices for screening and addressing food insecurity in patients.

Public Health Institute’s Holly Calhoun keynoted the Integrating Food Security into Healthcare Settings forum. She opened the session by illustrating the national landscape of innovative work already being done across the US.

Featured panelists from UCSD School of Medicine, Family Health Centers San Diego, Sharp Healthcare, Feeding San Diego, and 211 San Diego continued the conversation by describing their local efforts to identify and connect food insecure patients to CalFresh and food assistance. They highlighted how a provider's unique relationship with patients can ensure wellness through traditional healthcare as well as access to healthy food.

Forum participants were enthusiastic about the pilot programs' results. Many discussed how to strengthen evaluation measures to continue to capture data and learn from one another. Multiple healthcare organizations expressed interest in engaging in this work. See photos from the event here and read our research report, Launching Rx for CalFresh in San Diego County: Integrating Food Security in Healthcare Settings.

We look forward to continuing the conversation and collaborative work in 2017!

Nine ways we're breaking down barriers to CalFresh

A Year in Review: Changing Lives with CalFresh

As we look back on the past year, we’re motivated by everything we and our partners accomplished together to help our fellow San Diego residents access the food assistance they need.

Now, we’re sharing our favorite 2016 wins with you. Thanks to your support, we:

  1. Led San Diego County to integrate food security resources like CalFresh into healthcare settings with Rx for CalFresh.
  2. Trained 383 staff, volunteers and interns to provide CalFresh application assistance at 25 partner agencies across San Diego County.
  3. Worked with CalFresh application assistance partners to help more than 10,000 households access nearly $17 million worth of food.
  4. Helped more than 200 people access food assistance by resolving technical issues with their CalFresh applications.
  5. Promoted CalFresh application assistance to college students through successful legislation (AB 1747 Weber).
  6. Connected community college students with CalFresh applications assistance through five new partnerships.
  7. Collaborated with senior-serving community organizations to engage more seniors in accessing CalFresh.
  8. Streamlined the CalFresh application process by working with the County Health and Human Services Agency to expand programs like Same Day Service across the county.
  9. Directed more than $200,000 to local nonprofits helping low-income individuals and families apply for CalFresh, as a contractor for the state CalFresh Outreach Program.

In 2017, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us. Our partners on the ground know how great the need for food assistance is, but the next administration has set its sights on dismantling and weakening programs like CalFresh. It will take all of us, raising our voices and telling our stories, to build on the progress we have made together.

We’re thankful for your contributions to make sure no one in San Diego County has to go hungry. This year, we look forward to working with you to continue making these stories heard

Bringing Breakfast to the Classroom

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All children deserve access to school breakfast to support their learning. Decades of research prove that school breakfast greatly improves academic performance and student behavior.
However, more than 60% of low-income students in California do not eat a regular breakfast, which limits their ability to succeed in school.

In October 2016, Escondido Union School District (EUSD) made a move to change that statistic by rolling out Breakfast in the Classroom at Felicita Elementary School. EUSD plans to expand to more elementary schools in coming years.

Already, daily student participation in the breakfast program has increased by 60%. Now, 465 students, which is close to seven out of ten at the school, enjoy free breakfast each morning and teachers tell us it’s a great way to begin the school day.

Thanks to the work of California Food Policy Advocates, San Diego Hunger Coalition, and other anti-hunger organizations statewide, an additional $2 million in the California state budget will enable public schools to start or expand after-the-bell breakfast programs.

San Diego Hunger Coalition’s Robin McNulty provided testimony to advocate for expanding Breakfast After the Bell statewide and has written a case study on the program’s past success at Lemon Grove Elementary School. This proven impact helped encourage Escondido to roll out breakfast in the classroom.

Breakfast After the Bell models see a substantial increase in student attendance, positive academic performance, less student tardiness and visits to the health office.

The state government will provide grants of up to $15,000 per school site, with priority given to high poverty schools. This funding is a huge win for ending hunger in the classroom.

For more information on these state funded grants click here or contact Robin McNulty.

New Health Permit Regulations for Meal Sites: What to Know

Photo: "Playground" by dadblunders is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo: "Playground" by dadblunders is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After-school meal programs help ensure kids have adequate energy for homework and active play—and that they won’t go to bed hungry. 

Over the past year, several of our partner organizations struggled to adjust to new health permit regulations and fees, and it has been a barrier to providing meals for kids who need them. 

As we enter 2017, here’s what you need to know to comply with new permitting policies from California’s Department of Education.

  1. Make sure your permits are up-to-date
    To update your health/sanitation and fire/building safety permits, your organization must submit a current permit or a satisfactory report from a recent inspection.
  2. Stay tuned for updated program guidelines
    The California Department of Education is creating a Management Bulletin for program sponsors and health departments to properly administer at-risk meal programs.
  3. You may have to adjust the types of meals you serve  
    Many of our partners have been required to switch to serving pre-packaged, nonperishable foods if they don’t have a commercial-style kitchen to serve hot foods.
  4. Take another look at your budget
    Along with updated regulations come annual permit fees of $200/permit and inspection fees of $284/visit, which place an additional financial burden on anti-hunger organizations. Be sure to factor these new fees into your 2017 budget.

These new changes are part of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which aims to simplify the transition for providers from summer food service programs to afterschool meals while school is in session. Still, the financial burden from the new permitting and inspection process can make it more difficult for service providers to accomplish their purpose – offering nutritious meals for children at risk of hunger.

Click here for more information to make sure your organization is in compliance with these updated policies, or contact Robin McNulty at robin@sdhunger.org or 619-501-7917.

Celebrating 2016 Victories for Hunger Relief

In 2016, the Hunger Advocacy Network channeled expertise and support from member organizations to support important State legislation. From direct lobbying to education, we helped secure success for key bills and budget asks to ensure that all people in San Diego have access to enough food for an active, healthy life.  With advocacy, we can influence public policies, programs and funding to help more people access the food they need. After reading about last year’s successes, we hope you’ll sign up to become an Advocate for a Hunger Free San Diego.

Together, we leveraged our collective voices to achieve the following success for our community:

  • Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit – This initiative will extend and increase incentives to allow for donations of fresh produce to food banks throughout the state.
  • Food Assistance for Higher Education – Establishes the Public Higher Education Pantry Assistance Program for supporting an on-campus food pantry and hunger relief efforts for low-income students.
  • Breakfast After the Bell - $2 million in funding to expand access and participation in the school breakfast program.
  • Nutrition Incentives Funding - $5 million in State funding - that will be matched by Federal funding - to strengthen the Market Match program that makes fresh fruit and vegetables more affordable for low-income families.

With advocacy, we can influence public policies, programs and funding to help more people access the food they need. While we celebrate the important successes of 2016, we must proactively expanding our reach and partnerships to protect the gains we’ve made.

Congratulations to Our 2016 CalFresh Task Force Award Winners

The collaborative power of the CalFresh Task Force is fueled by the passion and innovation of its members.  The annual CalFresh Task Force Awards honor individuals and organizations making major strides toward ending hunger in San Diego County. Awardees are nominated and selected by Task Force members.

CalFresh Outreach Partner of the Year

The Enrollment Center Navigators at 2-1-1 San Diego

Can a team of four bring food to 1,083 households in need in less than a year? Yes, if they’re the CalFresh rockstars of the Enrollment Center Navigators at 2-1-1 San Diego. Not only did the Enrollment Center Navigators bring an ongoing benefit of $92,376 worth of food to San Diegans struggling with food insecurity, but they did it for households who were previously denied CalFresh or had barriers to completing their applications. Since January 2016, they have leveraged technology like text messages to transform 540 cases at risk of denial into 540 households approved for the CalFresh benefits they need to put food on the dinner table each night.  

CalFresh County Liaison of the Year

Mat Brown, Access/Access 2Health- Central and South Region

Food insecurity doesn’t end with a single, approved CalFresh application. Households must complete a Semi-Annual Report (SAR 7) midway through their certification period in order to maintain their benefits. Unfortunately, lack of access to food often goes hand-in-hand with lack of access to other basics like computers, mail and transportation. These basics are often necessities for completing the forms needed to maintain access to CalFresh benefits. But Mat Brown’s leadership and ingenuity is changing that.

Brown has overseen the County of San Diego's telephonic Semi-Annual Report (SAR 7) pilot, which allows CalFresh beneficiaries to complete their SAR 7 over the telephone. The impact of this program has been immediate and powerful, allowing households who lack access to computers, mail services or transportation maintain access to the food they need. In just the first three months, the pilot program has helped 1,760 households maintain stable access to food. As word spreads through the County, more people use the program successfully each month.

CalFresh Outreach Partner & County Collaboration of the Year

The Partnership of Health Coverage Access and Feeding San Diego

Applying for public assistance is a stigmatized, complicated process, but the passion and leadership of Health Coverage Access and Feeding San Diego is changing that. The two organizations have partnered to lead workshops that demystify and destigmatize services like CalFresh so that more families can access the solutions they need. Feeding San Diego and Health Coverage Access bring same day services to unique populations. This year they have worked on providing outreach for the homeless and they will expand to provide outreach at school sites in 2017. Health Coverage Access staff go above and beyond to offer as many interviews as they can down to the last minute, often staying past the scheduled time and assisting clients with complicated cases. They are are always willing to take the time to look up a client’s information to help make their situation a little more clear. 

Dominic Camplisson, Tony Morris and many other staff are using new, school-style formats to bring more help and information to more families. San Diego Hunger Coalition and its CalFresh Task Force look forward to expanding this successful model in 2017 to reach even more community members.

CalFresh Outreach Partner & Community Collaboration of the Year

The Partnership of Sharp Grossmont Hospital, 2-1-1 San Diego and Feeding San Diego

Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Care Transitions Intervention (CTI) knows that access to food and good health are inextricably linked. Through a partnership with 2-1-1 San Diego and Feeding San Diego, Sharp Grossmont is leading the new frontier of hunger and healthcare solutions. After identifying food insecure patients through a new screening process, Sharp Grossmont can both refer households to CalFresh application assistance through 2-1-1 San Diego and provide medically-tailored, non-perishable food boxes produced by Feeding San Diego. Partnerships like this are leading San Diego County and the nation in holistic healthcare systems and healthy community building.

Thousands of Our Military Families Go Hungry Because of a Legal Loophole

At first glance, Robert and Alyssa (names changed) are a picture-perfect military family stationed in San Diego. While he serves in the Navy, she cares for their infant daughter and works a few hours per week at the local school. Despite the rosy image, making ends meet is a challenge. “We try to make our money stretch, but life happens,” says Alyssa. “There are many things that we deal with that are different for military families than for civilian families…it can be hard.” Robert and Alyssa are not alone. Feeding America reports that nationally, one in five of the households they serve includes a military member or veteran.

Our fellow citizens join the military to serve our country. They too clip coupons and a manage a tight budget, yet military families face unique obstacles that make it more challenging for a family to put food on the table each month - especially for those stationed in San Diego County.

“Food is the most common and pressing need we see from military families in crisis,” says Tony Teravainen, U.S. Navy (Retired) and CEO of the San Diego non-profit Support The Enlisted Project (STEP). Low military incomes combined with high San Diego living costs make for tight budgets. Yet many of these families are not able to access the same federal assistance programs that other Americans rely on every day. So when inevitable life events happen – an expensive car repair or a child in the emergency room - it can become impossible to make ends meet for months.

“To make sure their kids have enough to eat, military parents may go hungry or forgo medicines and other basic needs. Thousands are forced to seek the help of emergency food services just to get by for another few days,” says Teravainen.

Those that dedicate their lives to serving our country deserve better.

We need to give military families the same access as civilian families to federal food assistance. CalFresh, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is one of the most effective anti-hunger programs available. CalFresh is designed for civilian and military families alike, but while civilians across the U.S. rely on SNAP, many military families are ineligible because of where they are stationed.

On average in San Diego, CalFresh provides $4.27 per person, per day for food. That might not sound like much, but it can help a struggling family with a limited income. It also gives families the dignity to purchase the food they need at their local grocery store rather than standing in line at a food bank.

So why do many military families miss out on this resource? CalFresh eligibility is based primarily on income, and calculating military income gets complicated. It’s in these details where hungry military families get left behind.

Military families are provided with a Basic Allowance for Housing, which is determined by where they are stationed, among other factors. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that sets CalFresh eligibility requirements, considers the housing allowance provided to military families as income -- even though the IRS doesn’t.

San Diego housing costs are twice the national average, so families stationed in San Diego are given a higher allowance.  Although the IRS does not consider the housing allowance as income -- and it’s not considered income for other federal assistance programs – for some reason it’s counted when calculating eligibility for CalFresh. 

This tangle in the red tape leaves tens of thousands of San Diego’s military families struggling needlessly.

You can help remove this barrier. San Diego Hunger Coalition represents the voice of these families and the nearly half a million San Diegans who don’t have ready access to healthy, affordable food. We share their experiences with policymakers nationwide and advocate for improvements to anti-hunger policies and programs. Ensuring our military families can provide healthy food for their children is a bipartisan and common sense issue, but it will take a coordinated effort from Americans like you to close this loophole. 

Make your voice heard. Sign this petition to let congressional leaders know that military families facing hunger is unacceptable. Donate to the San Diego Hunger Coalition to fuel a strong, swift advocacy effort that can’t be ignored. Bring more voices to this movement by sharing the petition and this article with your friends and colleagues. Together, we can provide our military families with the dignity and food security they deserve.

Connecting College Students to CalFresh

Photo courtesy of Miramar College

Photo courtesy of Miramar College

Higher education is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty. However, the rising cost of education has made getting a college degree extremely difficult for people with limited resources. Making sure that students can meet their basic needs, like food and housing, can help them succeed.  

This year, there has been a greater focus on the issue of food insecurity among college students with the release of a new study that showed that half of all community college students are struggling with food and/or housing insecurity. Another study found that four in 10 University of California students do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food. 

The California Department of Social Services is working with advocates across California to make it easier for eligible low-income students to receive CalFresh. At San Diego Hunger Coalition, we are working to address hunger among college students on a local level.

Wins for College Students from the CalFresh Task Force

Over the last six months, CalFresh Task Force members have created new solutions for connecting college students to food resources, beginning with CalFresh, a monthly food budget supplement. Representatives from San Diego State University’s Student Disability Services Department and San Diego City College’s Extended Opportunity Program Services (EOPS) attended our last countywide meeting on September 1, 2016, and the group discussed ways to reach students who may be struggling with hunger and may be eligible for CalFresh. 

Three Recent Successes from the CalFresh Task Force:

1.    Five new partnerships now connect San Diego County community colleges with organizations that help students access CalFresh:

  • Miramar College and San Diego Food Bank
  • San Diego Mesa College and 211 San Diego 
  • San Diego City College and Feeding San Diego
  • Mira Costa College and Feeding San Diego
  • Southwestern College and La Maestra Health Center

2.    Now, local colleges have new outreach and application assistance models, including guidance for onsite CalFresh enrollment, thanks to collaboration between community college representatives and CalFresh application assistance organizations. 

3.    Colleges interested in opening food pantries on campus have more resources to help them get started.

What’s next?

The Hunger Coalition’s work to connect college students to food assistance continues. As these new partnerships develop, we will also move forward with our work to simplify the process for college students with disabilities to access CalFresh. In addition, we’ll work with college campus retailers to allow students to use their CalFresh benefits to purchase meals on campus using an EBT card.

Paper Plate Stories: Celebrating Six Victories to End Hunger

As part of September’s Hunger Action Month, Hunger Advocacy Network member organizations across San Diego County collected stories from clients, volunteers, and community leaders about how hunger affects them and their communities. These people wrote their stories on paper plates to share with elected officials and the public how hunger impacts those in our community every day. These efforts are especially important as the California legislature makes its final decisions on legislation that would have a positive impact in reducing food insecurity.

Every year, the partner organizations of the Hunger Advocacy Network consider all the legislation proposed by the California Assembly and the Senate. We focus our advocacy efforts on initiatives that will make a lasting impact on reducing food insecurity in San Diego County.

Along with our statewide partners, including MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, California Food Policy Associates, California Association of Food Banks, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Hunger Advocacy Network continues to leverage the combined expertise of our 21 member organizations to advocate for policies in Sacramento that address the needs of San Diegans that go hungry. With the State legislative cycle drawing to a close, we have a lot of success to be proud of and plenty of momentum to continue our efforts.

Six Legislative Changes that will Reduce Local Hunger

The Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit (AB 1577): This credit helps reduce waste by encouraging farmers to donate excess fruits and vegetables to food banks to feed families throughout the county.  Every dollar in credit leverages approximately 10 – 20 pounds of donated food. Along with our statewide partners, we were able to increase the credit to 15% and extend the program through 2022. Approximately 80% of the produce distributed by Feeding San Diego and San Diego Food Bank is the result of this important tax credit.  

YESThis program was included in the State budget agreement that was signed by Governor Brown.

Food Assistance for Higher Education Students (AB 1747):  As the cost for college rises, fewer working class families have the resources to support their children in securing a degree and there are increasing incidences of student hunger and homelessness.  Proposed by local Assembly Member Shirley Weber, this legislation offers meaningful steps in supporting students struggling with food insecurity by establishing the Public Higher Education Pantry Assistance Program for supporting on-campus food pantries and hunger relief efforts for low-income students.  

YES Governor Brown signed this important legislation on September 12, 2016.

Market Match Nutrition Incentive Funding:  The California Market Match program was launched in 2009 to encourage low-income families receiving nutrition benefits to purchase fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. This program doubles the purchasing power of nutrition benefits, such as CalFresh and WIC when used to buy California grown fruits, nuts and vegetables at farmers’ markets.  The California budget agreement that was approved by Governor Brown, includes an investment of $5 million dollars in this important program.  This will allow the state to leverage $5 million in Federal matching funds resulting in at least $10 million for the expansion of local nutrition incentive programs. 

YES This funding was included in the California budget agreement approved by Governor Brown.

Streamlining CalFresh Eligibility (SB 1232):  Low wage workers face significant barriers to participation in the CalFresh Program. Few have paid time off or reliable transportation to get to the county welfare department for the application process. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 reporting, only 53 percent of eligible working families in California receive this federally funded food benefit. This legislation would ease the burden on families by requiring state and county agencies that administer the CalFresh Program to use existing employment and income verification databases to simplify the eligibility process for CalFresh applicants. 

YES Governor Brown approved this legislation on September 12, 2016.

Ensuring School Breakfast for Children: One in four kids in San Diego County arrive to school without breakfast. Numerous studies have shown that eating breakfast can bolster academic achievement, reduce absenteeism and tardiness, and improve classroom behavior. Breakfast After the Bell programs bring breakfast into the classroom, ensuring all children have the nutrition they need to succeed. Our own Robin McNulty provided critical testimony on the effectiveness of this program to the State Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance.

YES Governor Brown approved $2 million in funding in the State budget for public schools that want to startup or expand after-the-bell breakfast programs.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for the State Supplementary Program for the Aged, Blind and Disabled (SSP) (AB 1584): The state supplementary program awards monthly grants to help prevent seniors and other disabled adults from living in poverty. This benefit provides income support to individuals who are aged 65 or older, blind or disabled. Starting in 2008, cuts made by the Legislature and the Governor reduced grants to individuals to amounts well below the federal poverty level. This bill would be an incremental step in lifting over 1 million California seniors and disabled adults out of poverty by re-establishing the automatic cost-of-living adjustment as a permanent component of SSI/SSP.  

NO Unfortunately, Governor Brown vetoed this full effort on September 25, 2016. However, along with advocates across the state we were successful in securing a small one-time increase to the SSI/SSP program in the State Budget Agreement.  

Thanks to the efforts of advocates like you, we’ve been able to help inform our policy makers and generate real systemic change for San Diegans facing hunger. However, there is still more work to be done. Please join us in our efforts to ensure that all San Diegans have access to food at all times for a healthy future. 

If you are interested in more information on how you can make a difference as an advocate, please contact Diane Wilkinson at the San Diego Hunger Coalition at diane@sdhunger.org or by calling 619-501-7917.  

Ending Student Hunger with Second Chance Breakfast

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A successful day at school starts with nutrition. Unfortunately, the one in four children who arrive to school without having eaten breakfast are missing out on the fuel they need to concentrate and learn. There’s good news in San Diego: local schools that have implemented Breakfast After the Bell have seen a more than 200 percent increase in the number of students who participate in breakfast programs. 

How collaboration helped more students start the day with nutrition

Over the past year, San Diego Hunger Coalition has been a designated mentor to the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to help implement alternate school breakfast programs. We provide technical assistance including site visits and remote consulting for the school district.  

Data on breakfast participation and interviews with students revealed that traditional breakfast models (served before school starts) had only increased student participation by two percent. The SDUSD team and Robin McNulty, our Director of School Meals Programs, recommended a Breakfast After the Bell model called Second Chance Breakfast, or “Grab n’ Go,” for middle schools. As the name implies, students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, usually between first and second periods. The food items are offered from mobile carts located in high traffic areas where there are many students.

From June 2015 to September 2016, the San Diego Unified School District targeted 20 middle schools to implement food carts as an alternative to the school breakfast served in the cafeteria. They have seen significant increases in breakfast participation at three middle schools and two high schools. One middle school, Wilson Middle, had an incredible increase of 260 percent in breakfast participation – going from only 60 breakfasts served in September 2015 to 495 breakfasts served in June 2016.

We are proud of the progress San Diego Unified School District has made in serving more children breakfast, and excited to show how Breakfast After the Bell can have a tremendous impact on students’ ability to succeed in school.

What We Can Learn From This Summer’s Meal Programs

Photo courtesy of San Diego Unified School District

Photo courtesy of San Diego Unified School District

During the summer months, thousands of children lose access to an important source of nutrition – school meals. It’s estimated 91,655 children in San Diego County are at risk of going hungry when school is out.

Sites in low-income areas across San Diego County offer free meals during the summer to keep these children from going hungry. Unfortunately, many kids don’t participate due to barriers like:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Difficulty accessing transportation
  • Safety concerns

The Summer School Meals Task Force helps alleviate these barriers to ensure all kids have access to summer meals when school is out. This task force is a leading resource for starting new summer meal sites and improving existing sites, with the goal of increasing participation in summer meals countywide. 

As we look back on this summer, we thank these anti-hunger heroes for their tireless work to get the word out about summer meals sites:

  • Summer Food Service Program sponsors
  • School districts
  • Park and Recreation Departments 
  • County and City Library branches 
  • YMCAs
  • Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Childcare centers
  • County of San Diego HHSA nutrition educators
  • Service locations
  • Community partners
  • Charitable food organizations
  • Elected officials
  • Local businesses

You can see a full list of the Summer Meals Task Force participating organizations here. The final counts for number of meals served and number of service locations will be available in late 2016 from the California Department of Education.  

As we celebrate the progress we made with our partners this summer, we remain committed to overcoming the barriers that keep kids from accessing food when school is out. San Diego Hunger Coalition will also continue work to make good nutrition convenient and affordable in kids’ everyday environments during the school year

Want to get updates on how we’re connecting San Diego children with the nutrition they need? Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

Why Thousands of Military Families Don’t Have Access to Food Assistance

Civilian families across the U.S. depend on SNAP -  known as CalFresh in California - to purchase the food they need to make ends meet. But thanks to a tangle of legal red tape, many military families in need are denied access to this vital food resource.

Roughly 1.4 million men and women serve as active duty personnel in the United States military. Their families comprise another nearly 2 million people. Just as the men and women in uniform serve and sacrifice for the safety and security of our nation, so do their spouses and children. These families cope admirably with the stress and instability of frequent moves and deployments and, sometimes, injury or death of their loved ones.

They also sacrifice financially. Unemployment of military spouses reaches up to 30% according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which has been attributed to frequent moves, deployments, a lack of job opportunities in some station locations, and increased parenting responsibilities due to the service members’ long hours. With reduced ability to have two breadwinners, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that in 2012 more than 40% of military personnel nationwide had difficulty making ends meet, rising to 56% of entry level personnel. Yet many of these families are not able to access the same federal assistance programs that other Americans rely on every day.

A Tangle of Red Tape

Rather than building and maintaining additional government-owned base housing, the Department of Defense (DoD) often relies on the private sector to address the housing needs for currently serving military families.  Military service members living off base receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The BAH is based on geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status. The intent of the BAH is to provide uniformed service members adequate and equitable housing compensation based on housing costs in local civilian housing markets.  Since BAH is provided in lieu of on-base housing, federal tax law exempts BAH from taxation as income; however, there is lack of uniformity in how the BAH is treated in various basic needs assistance programs for military families. For example:

  • The IRS does not consider BAH taxable income and does not consider BAH to be earned income when determining eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program.
  • The Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program gives states the option to not count BAH as income for the purposes of determining eligibility and benefits.
  • Treatment of BAH in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program varies state by state.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that states must count BAH as income for the purposes of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility. 
  • Eligibility for free and reduced price school meals is also impacted by a military family’s housing.

The Basic Allowance for Housing was never intended to be considered income. We need to uniformly exempt the BAH from consideration as income or asset for any government assistance program. This is a common sense fix to streamline how military housing allowances are assessed across government programs. Our military families should never have to worry about how they will provide enough food for their children.

We can untangle the red tape and help these military families put food on the table.

We need your help. Will you sign this petition to help make sure our military families don't have to go to bed hungry? Together, we can help our nation's heroes.

Sign the Petition

The Hunger Advocacy Network, facilitated by the San Diego Hunger Coalition, represents the voice of these families and the nearly half a million San Diegans who don’t have ready access to healthy, affordable food. We share their experiences with policymakers nationwide and advocate for improvements to anti-hunger policies and programs.

Serving Up More Than Food This Summer

PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

PHOTO CREDIT: SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

During summer vacation, many kids who rely upon free or reduced price school meals don’t have enough to eat. Sites in low-income areas across San Diego County offer free meals for children at risk of going hungry, but many are hard to access or parents aren’t aware of them. To bring more meals to kids at risk of hunger, many San Diego summer meal sites are combining nutrition with fun, educational and family-friendly activities – everything from magic shows to computer programming classes.

Our Summer Meals Task Force has found that pairing meal sites with existing kid-friendly, educational programs is an incredibly cost effective strategy for increasing awareness and participation. It also helps to remove stigma from the experience, giving kids in low-income areas the chance to enjoy carefree summer learning activities along with their peers. 

The summer meal site at the Casa De Oro library is a shining example of the potential for summer meal sites. Here are just a few of the activities the library provides alongside its summer meal program.

  • Magic shows
  • Board games
  • Summer reading contests
  • Birdhouse painting classes for parents to enjoy while their kids eat and play
  • Video games
  • Dodge ball
  • Special socializing programs for teens
  • Pajama Day
  • Story time for toddlers and preschoolers
  • Different educational activities for each day of the week including
  • Learning about geography and foreign cultures through coloring
  • Computer and coding classes
  • Handwriting and cursive lessons
  • Arts and crafts
  • Lego building

These integrations in a summer meal program not only ensure that kids get enough to eat by removing stigma and increasing awareness and participation, they also build stronger communities, enriched family life and a love of learning amongst children.

Interested in finding a summer meal site? Here are the basics: 

  • All kids 18 years old and younger are eligible for free meals.
  • There is no paperwork required, enrollment, sign up or cost needed to participate.
  • Parents can find the site nearest them in two easy ways:
  1. Send a text message. Text FOOD to 877-877.
  2. Call 2-1-1 San Diego for details. Dial 2-1-1.
  3. Click here to enter your zip code

Tackling The Unique Hunger Challenges of Rural Communities

People struggling with hunger in the rural communities of San Diego County often face severe barriers to accessing vital food assistance through CalFresh. When Lisa (name changed) found herself homeless and without enough food, she attempted to enroll in CalFresh to obtain the nutrition she needed. Lisa qualified for expedited services and,  if she lived in urban San Diego County, she may have been able to apply for CalFresh and start purchasing food through the program that same day. But in her rural area, Lisa had to wait without CalFresh support for a full week. 

Without a car or consistent phone reception, Lisa faced a number of serious challenges. Fortunately, one of our East County CalFresh partners, Mountain Health and Community Services, stepped in to help Lisa with the CalFresh enrollment process. But even using all the tools available at Mountain Health and Community Services, Lisa wasn’t able to obtain CalFresh for more than a week.

In order to help people like Lisa access the food they need, the Hunger Coalition has partnered with Mountain Health and Community Services and San Diego County’s Health and Human Service Agency to make accessing CalFresh easier and more efficient for people who live in rural areas of San Diego County.

Unique Challenges in Rural Communities

  • Transportation: Rural areas have fewer bus lines, less stops and longer wait times, making it difficult to apply for CalFresh in person. For those who have cars, the nearest County office can be up to an hour away. In times of need, this gas money and time away from work and childcare is difficult to find.
  • Communication: Cell phone, landline and mail service is limited in rural areas.
  • Food Access: Many rural areas are food deserts with a limited number of grocery stores. Many people in rural areas have to rely upon convenience stores, where healthy food may not be available and prices are much higher.
  • CalFresh and Tribal Reservations: Tribal areas have specific CalFresh regulations that make the application process more confusing and time consuming.
  • Limited Resources: Social services like meal sites, food pantries and homeless shelters are much less common and more difficult to access in rural areas – if they exist at all. 

Recent Success In Bringing CalFresh Access To Rural Areas… 

Our CalFresh Task Force continues to work together and with different County government entities to solve these problems. Here are a few recent victories: 

  1. Most people in rural areas use a P.O. Box for their mail, since they don’t have postal service to their homes. Previously, CalFresh applicants with a P.O. Box were required to go through extra steps to provide additional documents and data that required more time and complications. Our CalFresh Task Force worked with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to successfully remove these extra hurdles for people in rural communities.
  2. We worked with Mountain Health and Community Services to train County staff at the El Cajon Family Resource Center on the unique challenges of clients in rural areas and the best ways to improve service.
  3. San Diego Hunger Coalition met with managers at the El Cajon County office, as well as County leadership to develop new, innovative strategies for bringing rural communities better access to CalFresh. These conversations have led to, among other exciting potential improvements, the development of new ways to administer the CalFresh interview required in the application process for rural clients.

…And More to Come

We’re look forward to announcing more victories in the near future. Want to be a part of the change? You can get involved: subscribe to our newsletter, follow along on social media, make a donation.

Disrupting The Cycle of Poverty and Hunger At Community College

Community college students are rapidly becoming one of the most food insecure populations in America. A recent survey of 4,000 community college students revealed that half of students were food insecure and 40 percent had struggled to find enough food to eat in the last thirty days.

Higher education has never been more important for breaking the cycle of poverty, but poverty is becoming an increasingly prohibitive barrier to a college degree. 65 percent of jobs now require post-secondary education, but community college costs have increased 28 percent since 2000. Only 26 percent of community college students seeking associates degrees earn them within three years, and the majority of those who don’t complete their degree cite financial reasons for leaving early.

Assistance to purchase healthy food is available through SNAP, called CalFresh in California. However, only 27 percent of community college students who are eligible for the program are enrolled. CalFresh is a monthly supplement to a household’s food budget that can offer community college students independence and food security, making the path to a degree more accessible. In turn, their family may also take another step toward breaking the cycle of poverty.

Our CalFresh Task Force recognized this important opportunity and chose to utilize our quarterly countywide meeting to begin the process of building CalFresh assistance into San Diego County’s community college system.

On May 26, 2016, nearly 50 CalFresh outreach organizations, community colleges and local state universities came together to build partnerships that connect more eligible students to CalFresh. Notably, San Diego Food Bank and Miramar Community College are now working together to develop a Fall CalFresh Application Clinic for Miramar students. This partnership will leverage the knowledge of the lifestyles and needs of Miramar students with the resources of campus and community-based organizations to help eligible students access CalFresh and a life-changing degree.

Collaborations such as this are an important step towards transforming San Diego County’s higher education infrastructure, making food security and a college diploma more accessible to all.

Speaking Up for Hunger Relief in Sacramento

 

An important part of ending hunger here in San Diego County is advocating for better hunger policies statewide. San Diego Hunger Coalition and members of the Hunger Advocacy Network travelled to Sacramento in May to talk with state legislators about important pieces of state legislation to help reduce hunger in San Diego County. Read on to learn about the policies we’re fighting for (or have already won!) and how they could help to ensure that no one in San Diego County goes to bed hungry.

AB 2054 - Nutrition assistance: Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for Children

What Does It Do?

AB 2054, co-authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), will prepare California to implement Summer EBT for Children (SEBTC). When it is approved at the federal level, this program will provide low-income families with a grocery supplement during the summer months for children enrolled in the Free & Reduced Price Meal Program. A small amount of funds are issued to EBT cards each month to supplement a household’s food budget. EBT cards function like debit cards, but can only be used to buy limited types of food and grocery items.

Why is it important?

Many low-income children who rely on school breakfasts, lunches, and after-school snacks during the school year go hungry during the summer months, when school is out of session. Hunger is especially detrimental for children, and bouts of hunger during summer vacation can impair development and hinder learning and academic performance during the school year. 

The San Diego Hunger Coalition’s 2014 report, Help Them Eat at Home, found that Summer EBT cards for children are one of the most effective and cost-efficient solutions for ending summer hunger. The study also informed a federal bill, the Stop Child Summer Hunger ACT.

Status

We’re excited to report that the bill passed unanimously (80-0) in the State Assembly, and now travels to the Senate. This bill has a lot of momentum but passing is never a guarantee. Your voice makes a difference. Here’s how you can help ensure the bill passes and children across the state don’t go hungry on summer vacation. 

AB 1747 – Food Assistance for Higher Education Students

What Does It Do?

AB 1747, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), will address growing incidences of hunger among low-income college students in California by giving the state several new tools to and improve coordination between college campus anti-hunger efforts and those in their communities. 

Why is it important?

Opportunities for low-income youth to escape poverty and climb into the middle class have narrowed over the past two decades. A college degree is an important tool in climbing the economic ladder; however, there have been increasing reports of college students who are limited in their opportunities to thrive in college by hardships like homelessness and hunger. This bill will support low-income college students by reducing hardships and barriers to graduation.  

Status

We’re excited to report that the bill passed the State Assembly and is now before the Senate. 

AB 1577 - CalFood Program: CalFood Account

What does it do?

Also known as the Farm to Food Bank Tax Credit, AB 1577 would offer most California farmers a 15 percent tax credit for the wholesale value of foods donated to food banks. AB 1577 is an improvement and extension of the existing tax credit program.

Why is it important?

This bill increases access to healthy foods for low-income Californians. To obtain donated food, food banks must compete with other ways that growers dispose of excess crops – including food going to waste – and a tax credit helps tip the balance for growers to contribute to food banks. Most of the produce distributed by San Diego Food Bank, Feeding America San Diego, and their partner pantries countywide comes from this tax credit program.

Status

We’re excited to report that the provisions in this bill were included in the California budget that was signed by Governor Jerry Brown.  

Increased Budget for Breakfast After The Bell

What does it do?

This would offer more high-need schools the ability to use innovative Breakfast After The Bell programs to increase children’s access to breakfast by providing it in the classroom.

Why is it important?

One in five kids in San Diego County arrive to school without breakfast. Numerous studies have shown that eating breakfast can bolster academic achievement, reduce absenteeism and tardiness, and improve classroom behavior. Many students have limited access to breakfast programs that open before school starts. Breakfast After The Bell programs bring breakfast into the classroom, ensuring all children have the nutrition they need to succeed.

Status

We’re excited to report that the California budget for 2016-2017 included $2 million dollars in grant funds for public schools that want to startup or expand after-the-bell breakfast programs.

Increased Budget for Nutrition Incentive Matching Grants

What does it do?

The California Market Match program was launched in 2009 to encourage low-income families receiving nutrition benefits to purchase fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. This program doubles the purchasing power of nutrition benefits, such as CalFresh and WIC when used to buy California grown fruits, nuts and vegetables at farmers’ markets.

Why is it important?

In 2014, $450,000 in incentives drove $2M in spending on fresh fruits and vegetables at participating markets. That is a Social Return on Investment (SROI) of 440%, which is unprecedented in healthy eating interventions.

Status

We’re excited to report that the California budget for 2016-2016 includes an investment of $5 million dollars in this important program.  This will allow the state to leverage $5 million in Federal matching funds resulting in at least $10 million for the expansion of local nutrition incentive programs