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“Simply stated, SNAP works” – We Need to Continue to Invest in Our Future

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  Mathmatica Policy Research did a study that led them to conclude “simply stated, SNAP works”.  (The SNAP which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly known as the food stamp program and is known as CalFresh in California).  Mathmatica’s research demonstrated that because they participated in the program, children had significant improvements in their consistent access to food, also known as their “food security”.

The Mathmatica food security study surveyed 3000 families and compared the status of families newly-enrolled in the program with those who had been in the program for six or seven months.  In the initial part of the study, 37% of newly-enrolled families were food insecure, while those who had been on the program six months or more were at 27%.  When they checked the newly-enrolled group after six months they had seen their food insecurity decline from 37% to 25%.  This type of research shows the wisdom of feeding those in need in our community.

If an individual is food insecure they cannot find enough food or purchase enough food for themselves.  In a society as rich as ours, with huge agricultural surpluses, there is no reason an individual should be food insecure.  More importantly, there is no reason a child should be in that position.  Increases in SNAP/CalFresh that were part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) were eliminated in November of 2013.  After that, Congress cut $8 billion in funding for the program over the next ten years.  Because of these actions, average benefits for recipients will drop below $130 a month.  I know there are some people who can make that work, but I also know from my attempts to live on the average CalFresh budget for a week, that the benefits are not enough.   These budget cuts will have a negative impact on people’s ability to feed their children.

My father grew up during the Great Depression and he told me stories of receiving blocks of cheese and bags of sugar from the government.  I don’t think he was ever hungry, but he lived in a house where concern about the next meal was a part of their life.  He saved every scrap of leftovers until the day he died and his choices in the grocery store always were always based on price.  I think we are in danger that the budget decisions that are being made are creating a generation that will be as food insecure as those who lived through the Great Depression.

It’s frustrating that we are cutting a program that provides hungry people the ability to get food.  People are on the program for a short period of time (average of nine months) and research shows that the effects are positive, whether you measure improved nutrition or food security.  By giving people SNAP/CalFresh benefits, we are making sure that our children receive the food they need.  We are making an investment in the future of our society when we help hungry families.

A Family Affair: Family Volunteer Day at the Food Bank

Guest post by Pamela Adelman Ball: We were the apples group. There were also grapes, broccoli, and carrots. This wasn’t Fruit of the Loom, but a recent Family Volunteer Day at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. The fruits were a fun touch though, and certainly set the tone for the day.

Family Volunteer Days are designed for families with young children to visit the Food Bank and learn more about hunger in our country, and what the Food Bank is doing to help those in need. I was impressed at the turnout — both sessions were filled to capacity, with dozens of families coming out on a St. Patrick’s Day Sunday, interested in introducing their kids to these important issues.

I brought my five-year-old daughter, Peyton. While we are looking to instill in her compassion for others and the importance of being an active participant in her community, we’ve been uncertain how to talk to her about potentially frightening topics such as hunger or the disadvantaged. Luckily the staff and volunteers at the Food Bank had a way to introduce this in a manner kids could understand. The 90-minute event included coloring, counting, stickering, tying knots, and checking out some cool sci-fi-ish technology — what could be more fun for a child?

 

The counting and stickers were labeling and packing fruit cans; coloring was a paper lunch bag campaign to convince elected officials not to cut funding for food stamps; tying knots was sorting apples into bags. The sci-fi was touring the massive warehouse and cold storage area. Throughout the event, Food Bank representatives spoke about hunger, ways the organization was helping, and ways we as a community could contribute.

Some of the take-home points were shocking: 1 in 6 Americans struggle with hunger, and 1 in 4 people receiving emergency food from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano are children. The Food Bank feeds approximately 149,000 people each month, and not just homeless; some of them are just like you and me. Kids are going hungry at school, so in partnership with after school programs in low-income areas the Food Bank provides fresh fruits and vegetables to 9,000 kids in 80 schools. As a result each child receives a 3-5 pound bag of produce to take home every week during the school year.

While it was sad to be reminded of how much need exists right her in our community, it was also heartwarming to hear how much is being done to help. As for my daughter? I was happy to hear her take-home point was right on target: “Mommy, that was really fun.”

 

If you are interested in the next Family Volunteer Day, please let us know.

Trevor and the Giant Pear Bin

Guest post by Trevor’s mommy, Cindy: As a child, my family was very active volunteering in our local community.  We visited with convalescent patients, joined clean-up events, participated in walk-a-thons, assisted with weekly bingo games at the VA hospital, and much more.  But my favorite of all was sorting food donations and filling baskets to give to those in need.  Now that I am a mother, it is important to me that my son Trevor learn the value of volunteering in our community.  I want him to know the joy that comes from helping others and making a difference.

Trevor by a crate of pears When Trevor was 2, I started researching volunteer opportunities with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.  I learned that they hold Family Volunteer Day events several times a year… but children must be 5 years old to participate.  For three years, I have repeatedly checked the website to make sure the minimum age was still 5.  The week my son turned 5, I contacted Lauren Strouse and asked to be notified when the next Family Volunteer Day was scheduled.  Finally, after waiting for years, we attended our first Family Volunteer Day.

I was very impressed with how well the event was run.  After a brief orientation, we were split into four groups and rotated through the different activities.  We started with a tour of the warehouse, where we learned all about the Food Bank, who they serve, and how they have grown and changed over the years.  We were amazed to hear how many millions of pounds of food the Food Bank distributes each year.

Trevor’s favorite part of the tour was looking in the giant refrigerator that holds the perishable food.

Our next station was art.  We learned about the “Have a Heart” budget advocacy campaign.  Then we each made valentines to send members of the Assembly and Senate.  These will be hand-delivered to Sacramento.

Next, we donned gloves and approached giant container of pears.  Our job was to count out 12 pears and bag them for easy distribution to the recipients.  This was Trevor’s favorite part of the day.  (Mine too!)  It was very satisfying to watch our stack of bagged pears growing and growing as we worked.  The pears looked delicious- I was very happy to know that they would be going to people who might otherwise not have access to the fresh produce that some people take for granted.

At our final station, the children worked together to create an imaginary family.  (Ours had a mom, dad, son, daughter and cat.)  The kids took turns spinning the “Wheel of Life” to see what would happen to our fictional family and what financial implications each event might have.  The first spin landed on ”Refrigerator breaks.”  This really hit home, as our refrigerator stopped working right after my husband was laid off and we found ourselves living on unemployment that covered our mortgage and nothing more.  Fortunately for us, we had savings and were still able to afford food, but I could truly understand how devastating a broken appliance could be to a family that was barely surviving financially.  The next spin was “Christmas.”

Our fictional family could not afford gifts or a nice meal.  Thank goodness for the Food Bank and other organizations that help those in need.

Family Volunteer Day is an outstanding event.  We all learned so much and had a great time.  On the drive home, Trevor asked when we could return to bag more produce.  Very soon, I hope!

If you are interested in the next Family Volunteer Day, please let us know.