CalFresh Alumni Project - Alyssa's Story

Meet Alyssa Earley.  Alyssa supported herself with CalFresh during a busy year in college when she was stretched thin between being a full-time student, doing an unpaid internship and working part-time. Today, Alyssa is independent and thriving as the Senior Development Associate for a private wealth management company. 

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

I received CalFresh for about a year in college, around 2012/2013. While a full-time
student at Mesa College (where my family’s income qualified me for a tuition waiver and I
received federal student aid for living expenses), I also worked at a catering company on
weekends and an unpaid internship during the week. I applied for CalFresh after I noticed
my incredible focus on frugality with food and how I might stretch meals throughout the
week by cutting portions in half or waiting longer until I ate. This affected my ability to
pay attention in class and while studying. As someone who was working directly with
CalFresh recipients and communicating guidelines, I realized that I probably qualified and
could greatly benefit from the program myself. Additionally, I was a big fan of the Fresh
Fund, which allowed CalFresh recipients to go to a participating farmer’s market, swipe
their EBT card for up to $20, and receive double their money’s worth of tokens to spend
buying fruits and vegetables in the market.

How long were you/have you been on CalFresh?

About a year.

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

I felt relieved when I had CalFresh, knowing I didn’t have to spend precious time
contemplating a meal purchase or choosing a cheaper, unhealthier option that I didn’t
really want. I was able to maintain a healthy diet that contributed to my overall wellbeing
and success as a student.

How did receiving food assistance make you feel?

I was relieved but also felt a bit embarrassed. I was always on guard when checking out at
the grocery store and felt like the cashier might be scrutinizing my purchases or someone
in line would notice my EBT card wasn’t a regular debit card. I was very sensitive towards
any negative comments or stereotypes regarding people on food assistance as well.

How would you make ends meet without CalFresh?

Cutting meals in half and saving for later or waiting longer between meals. Eating
something like an oatmeal packet for lunch rather than a full meal.

Have you (or did you) use any food assistance programs in addition to CalFresh (i.e. pantries,
meal delivery services, etc.)?

I did not but I was incredibly resourceful in finding events on campus that offered free food :)

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

I hope to get to a place in my life where I can make sustained financial contributions to
the programs making a meaningful impact in people’s lives and furthering comprehensive
human rights. I feel so gratefully indebted to those that have paved the way for me to
pursue my passions and live a healthful life; I want to help others “stand on the shoulders
of giants” and move upward.

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

I’d like people to know that CalFresh/SNAP is an investment, with $1 spent in SNAP
generating $1.79 in economic activity
. And that you have no idea the type of perspective
that hunger creates in a person until you’ve experienced it yourself. All legislators and
citizens should spend a week trying to eat on the average CalFresh allotment per person (that's $4.18/day in San Diego County in 2017) and see the incredible impact
that even short-term hunger has on one’s ability to focus, retain information, and your
health. Hunger can be all consuming in a person’s life and yet it is entirely preventable. I
hope more people reflect on their attitude towards hunger and programs like CalFresh,
realizing the positive ripple effect this safety net has on their community, economy, and
society as a whole.

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!

CalFresh Alumni Project - Bret's Story

Meet Bret Fisher. Bret has worked in horticulture most of his life, but is now disabled and relying on CalFresh to help put food on his table while he is unable to work. Once he is able to have surgery to relieve spinal pain, he plans to return to part-time work and practice the more creative aspects of horticulture. 

Bret Fisher

Bret Fisher

At what point in your life did you receive CalFresh/SNAP (food stamps) and why? Or if you are currently enrolled in CalFresh, why did you apply for the program?

When I was a kid, there were a couple of periods in which my father was between jobs and we needed the help of food stamps, and I also had a period during my twenties when my wife and I sought the help. But my recent application for CalFresh help is the first in quite a long time. I actually didn’t realize I was eligible for any help with it, but a couple of agencies I was speaking to about other issues brought up the possibility and suggested I look into it.  I’m on a very limited income and I struggle to eat well, and so I decided to apply.

How long were you/have you been on CalFresh?

My account with CalFresh just began- it was activated just a couple of days ago and I was able to buy some food with the EBT card. The San Diego Hunger Coalition was incredibly helpful to me! They did some advocacy work for me and kept in touch with me as I went along. I’m very grateful for the dedication they showed me in the application process.

How is CalFresh/SNAP helping you in your time of need?

In my own case, I don’t qualify for a high value in CalFresh benefits, but even the small amount of help I’m getting is very beneficial to me because I’m much more able to create a good diet. I do my own cooking and use a lot of raw food, since it’s both frugal and healthy. The benefits help very much, both in getting through financially and in giving me good options with my diet.

How did receiving food assistance make you feel?

Well, I’m sure I’m not alone in the idea that I’d much rather not have to seek aid. Not long ago I was working part-time and was happy to be much more self-sufficient. But having help like this is something I’m very grateful for, along with many other things in my life, in spite of my disability. I try to be charitable myself, and I believe in reciprocity and being generous to people, especially people who are having trouble getting by. I try very hard to give back.

How would you make ends meet without CalFresh?

In my case, CalFresh means I can eat a healthier diet. There have been many periods in which I was able to eat through the month by being very frugal, but my choices weren’t so healthy. CalFresh help means I have better quality in my diet, and I’m sure it will mean I’m going to enjoy better health.

Have you (or did you) use any food assistance programs in addition to CalFresh (i.e. pantries, meal delivery services, etc.)?

I have done that, yes.

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

I have need of surgery to relieve pain in my spine, and once I can arrange for that I hope to return to part time employment in horticulture, which is my occupation and my passion professionally. I’m at an age now where I’m due to transition away from manual labor toward more creative kinds of work in horticulture, such as designing or publishing. I have high hopes.

I know I’m not alone in facing certain painful challenges as life has gone along, and these things will test someone’s persistence and patience. I’m trying to bring the best of myself to these issues, and often I feel grateful that I’m able to grow through the difficulties and become a person I can admire. Poverty is tough. I try to face it squarely and keep a positive and grateful attitude. In the end, I believe that these difficulties have made me a more resilient and grounded person, and most importantly, I have empathy for others and love to live a life of helpfulness.

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

If you need the help of CalFresh, whether temporarily or over a long term, don’t feel badly about it. It exists for just such situations as you’re in, and it’s no shame to accept help. The agencies that administer CalFresh can be frustrating because of caseloads and such stuff, but be patient- it will work out. The San Diego Hunger Coalition is a fantastic example of an effective advocacy! They really do help you to negotiate in the situation and get access to the things you’re qualified for. And they’re terrific people, too! Very pleasant and professional.

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!