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Tag ‘ food assistance ’

Sly: Speak out against hunger

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter on 9/4/2012 – When I started working as a truck driver at the Community Food Coalition in 1976, I had no idea that, 36 years later, I would be the executive director of an organization that has become the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.

We have grown from a small nonprofit that had two employees distributing food from a borrowed 40-foot trailer into an organization that today has 56 employees distributing 17 million pounds of food from two 30,000-square-foot warehouses.

We continue with the same work of providing food to emergency pantries, soup kitchens, faith communities and more than 180 other nonprofit organizations that give food to people in need.

In addition, we have direct service programs that provide food to low-income children, senior citizens and people in the community who need help. Through these efforts, we are helping more than 132,000 people each month in Solano and Contra Costa counties.

As good as we are at getting food to people in need, we recognize that we need to address the reasons people keep coming to us for food. We now do outreach for the Cal Fresh program (formerly known as food stamps). Nearly half the people who could be receiving this important assistance do not participate. They either do not understand that they are eligible or they are overwhelmed by the paperwork required to receive this assistance. When we help them enroll, we are giving them the ability to buy the food they need for their families.

We are also joining with others who are fighting hunger so that the community understands the situation hungry people face.

September is Hunger Action Month and we have joined our national organization, Feeding America, in a campaign to Speak Out Against Hunger. We are doing something every day in September to show that the community can fight hunger “30 Ways in 30 Days,” Whether someone is donating food to the Food Bank or writing a letter to an elected official, they are making a difference.

I am proud of the work the food bank does, but we need to do more. Hunger will stop when the community makes it happen. Join us in Hunger Action Month. Make a difference.

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The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord. To learn more about the Food Bank and how you can Speak Out Against Hunger, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth.

 

I Never Thought I Would be in This Position

I met the most amazing woman this morning at a Food Assistance Program/Food For Children distribution. She and her two kids escaped an abusive husband with the help of STAND! For Families Free of Violence. Friends helped her some, but they couldn’t support her and so she found herself in a small trailer with no plumbing and only $3 in her pocket. She never thought she would be in this place. She was supposed to be at home taking care of her two small children. For four months last year she lived on WIC and $40 in cash. WIC was a life saver. She was able to make just simple meals but she also had fresh fruits and veggies to feed her daughters.

She is now enrolled in CalWORKS which she sees as a way to help her get on her feet. The food she receives from the Food Bank helps her stock her pantry. “These programs are vital,” she says. She’s not looking for lifelong help, just enough to get on her feet and go back to school so she can get a job to support her girls. Right now as part of the CalWORKS program requirement, she is working 21 hours a week but is basically working to pay for a babysitter for her 5 and 7 year old daughters. She is grateful for the work and experience but is looking forward to figuring out what she wants to do and is considering early childhood education.

Without the CalWORKS “I would be homeless. I wouldn’t be able to feed my two girls,” she says. “They have clothes thankfully but they grow so fast. What about shoes? And they would outgrow their clothes within a year.” Thanks to the Medi-Cal program her daughters are caught up on their immunizations and their cavities are fixed. Now she can focus on her own medical needs after not having insurance for 3 years. She never knew about any of these programs or free medical clinics until she needed them. She never thought she would be in this position. “I am so grateful,” she says.

What can you do? Tell Governor Brown not to cuts programs like CalWORKS and Medi-Cal that help people like my new friend. Cutting these programs will hurt real families here in California. Tell him these budget cuts aren’t just numbers on a page, they are a crushing blow to California families who struggle to keep their children in school and put food on their tables.

CalFresh and Health Disparities: Is There a Relationship?

Guest post by Corinne L. Quinn, MSPH, CHES, Community Health Leader, The Network for a Healthy California–Gold Country Region, African-American Campaign. For approximately one year, I have served as a volunteer Ambassador of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, educating people on CalFresh eligibility and providing them with information about food resources.  Professionally, I work in Solano County with The Network for a Healthy California-Gold Country Region African-American Campaign as a Community Health Leader/Educator, promoting the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity to low-income, CalFresh eligible African-Americans.

Due to my experiences, I am able to view the complex food policy issue from two vantage points.  At one end of the spectrum, I help people figure out if they are eligible for CalFresh benefits and guide them to food pantries and soup kitchens where they can receive nutritious food if they are in need; at the other end of the spectrum, I teach people which foods are healthy, how to prepare these foods, and the benefits of eating healthy foods. I am not an expert on CalFresh or health disparities, but I am certain that the basis for what I do on every front is to reduce health disparities.

Simply stated, health disparities are the differences in health outcomes between various racial and cultural groups.  I am most familiar with health disparities as they relate to African-Americans because that is the population I work with most often.  However, health disparities exist in Latino, Asian, and other communities.  According to the California Department of Public Health Center for Health Statistics,

over 76 percent of African-American adults in California are overweight or obese.

Mirroring that statistic is that over 12 percent of African-Americans in California suffer from diabetes; heart disease and cancer are the first and second leading causes of death for African-Americans in California.

In my professional and volunteer service to the community, one thing is clear to me:  the adage

“you are what you eat from your head down to your feet”

is true.  The food that people purchase with CalFresh benefits directly impacts their health.  Research has shown that

eating more fruits and vegetables  decreases the risk of chronic illnesses. As a result, dietary guidelines for Americans now recommend that at least 50% of your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables at every meal for improved health.

Yet, problems persist as corner stores in low income neighborhoods do not provide access to fresh produce to shoppers. Equally disturbing is the abundance of fast food restaurants and convenience stores combined with the lack of grocery stores in neighborhoods which create and perpetuate food deserts.  The struggle still continues to completely and forever change the food policies and food landscape of communities across America in order to give people access to the healthy foods they need and deserve.

The affected communities have responded that they want change AND want to make a change.  This change has begun through attempts to engage and empower the affected communities through education.

The Network for a Healthy California-Gold Country Region African-American Campaign has taught nutrition education and cooking classes in partnership with an innovative program called Farm to Families (a Kaiser Permanente initiative which empowers residents of low income apartment communities in Fairfield toward a healthy life by increasing access to produce).

  Community gardens are springing up throughout Vallejo.  Through the Farm 2 Kids program, the Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables to children in schools where over 50% of the students in these schools receive free or reduced cost school lunches, meaning at least half of the households in the school are considered low-income by the federal government.  Recently, bills to increase access to healthy foods in affected communities throughout the state of California have been signed into law.

These community and societal actions are signs of hope.  I am optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Slowly, but surely, this complex relationship between CalFresh and health disparities will be completely untangled, fully explored, and understood.  Understanding this relationship fully will ultimately lead to a reduction in health disparities.