The second annual CalFresh Forum, an inter-agency collaboration helping community-based organizations work together to increase local participation in CalFresh, took place on Monday, May 6th. Over fifty people attended the event, organized by Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County in partnership with the Central Coast Hunger Coalition, Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey, Familia Center and Champions for Change.
CalFresh makes a huge difference in the nutrition and economic well-being of low-income households. Yet, California has the lowest participation rate in the nation. In Santa Cruz County, less than half of those eligible receive the benefit. We rank 45th out of 58 counties statewide.
The shared goal of Second Harvest Food Bank and Santa Cruz County Human Services Department is to end local hunger through increased access and participation in the CalFresh Program, which in turn helps the local economy. Annually, our County is losing $47 million dollars in federal CalFresh benefits, which would generate approximately $87 million dollars in local economic activity.
In Santa Cruz County, hundreds of advocates, eligibility workers, outreach workers, and county employees work to increase access to and enrollment in the CalFresh program. This video was made to encourage them in that work and let them know that it is appreciated.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared May 2013 CalFresh Awareness Month. Michael DeLaRosa, Human Services Dept. Santa Cruz County reminded the audience, “CalFresh is the first line of defense against hunger in our community.” He then reviewed the County’s awareness campaign, which includes advertising on buses and local radio stations. Information on eligibility requirements is also being distributed through schools and grocery stores.
The hard work of advocates over the past ten years has made it much easier for eligible people to receive benefits. You can now apply by phone, mail/fax applications, or online. Barriers such as the finger-imaging requirement have been eliminated. Yolanda Henry, Director of the Familia Center, received the CalFresh Champion Award for her devotion to the cause. “People who have never had to visit a food pantry before are finding themselves needing help and having to push beyond their fear,” said Henry upon receiving the award. “We have the opportunity to help them with CalFresh.”
Keynote speaker George Manalo-LeClair, Executive Director, California Food Policy Advocates, talked about the ability of CalFresh to lift people above the poverty line. “People think the benefits are not enough to make a difference,” said Manolo-LeClair. “This is a misconception. The money people save by receiving CalFresh can be used to pay other expenses, reducing the stress and health problems that develop when people have to choose between paying bills or buying food.” All community based organizations have the opportunity to increase CalFresh utilization simply by explaining the program to clients.
Attendees were able to choose from various workshops led by CalFresh outreach advocates and experts. Other speakers at the event included Twin Lakes Church Pastor Rene Schlaepfer and Willy Elliott-McCrea, Executive Director of Second Harvest.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the event and everyone who worked so hard behind the scenes to make it a success.