Like other parts of the country, the Central Coast has poverty and social challenges, but when it comes to hunger, it stands out from most other places in one key way: we’re leaving many more resources that could relieve hunger sitting on the table.
That was the backdrop for last week’s CalFresh Forum in Watsonville, organized by Second Harvest and Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. A hard-hitting lineup of advocates, program administrators, elected officials, and more lauded the program’s success in fighting hunger, explained the economic benefits it brings to the community, honored hard-working CalFresh Champions, and educated the audience of 150 on strategies for enrolling more people in need and ensuring its continued success.
Speakers included Kim McCoy-Wade from the California Department of Social Services, State Senator Bill Monning, Kevin Heuer from Second Harvest Food Bank, Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, and more. Attendees sharpened their program expertise in special breakout workshops, and everyone enjoyed a gourmet lunch prepared by volunteers from Teen Challenge Monterey Bay.
“We can make sure every person has sturdier rungs on that ladder to the middle class.”
CalFresh helps low-income households meet their food and nutrition needs and is a key piece of the social safety net, yet California has one of the lowest participation rates in SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal program). And while Santa Cruz County has increased its outreach efforts in recent years, it has one of the lowest rates of CalFresh participation. About 45,000 county residents qualify, yet only 57% of them (25,530 individuals) participate in the program (4th quarter, 2016). Statewide, about 67% of eligible people are enrolled. Reasons range from inadequate awareness to difficulty signing up or renewing, issues of social stigma or pride, and more.
There are many reasons food security and health are important to overall community health—hungry children can’t learn, hungry adults can’t work, and the harmful social effects ripple outwards. And it’s also a matter of social justice.
As Heuer told the crowd, Americans don’t expect a free ride, but we do expect equal opportunity, “and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every person has sturdier rungs on that ladder to the middle class.”
What’s more, when residents do not claim the food benefits they are entitled to under the program, the funds remain unclaimed. So not only do people in need miss out on needed food and nutrition, but the county misses out on the resulting economic benefits, which are estimated at over $50 million.
As Joel Campos, Second Harvest’s Director of Community Outreach, noted, “When CalFresh recipients purchase food in markets and grocery stores, it begins a chain reaction of economic activity, from grocers to farmers, distributors, workers, vendors, and more.
CalFresh is one of those programs with such proven effectiveness, efficiency, and economic responsiveness that Second Harvest and our skilled Outreach team works tirelessly to help it reach its full potential for the people of Santa Cruz County.
“Second Harvest Food Bank’s CalFresh Forum is just one more sign of Santa Cruz County’s long-standing commitment to CalFresh excellence,” said Andrew Cheyne, Director of Government Affairs for the California Association of Food Banks. “In fact, it is so successful that other counties are looking to replicate this model.”
Click here for images from the event. And for more information please visit
www.thefoodbank.org/need-food/calfresh3 (general info)