The Value of Interns

The Food Bank takes great pride in the fact that we have less than a 5 percent overhead. We could not do this without our extensive volunteer core of 400 to 500 hundred putting in thousands of hours each month.  This past summer we had the opportunity to host a different type of volunteer, an intern. We were leery at first and hesitated. Why would we not jump at the chance for the desperately needed help? It was our experience that others complained that interns weren’t useful and drained their time. The effort they put into them didn’t pay off and the bottom line that it wasn’t cost effective.  Rolling the dice we said yes and two fresh faced college freshmen arrived. Did we regret our decision? The answer is an outstanding NO! Tyler and Mayra made a huge impact on both our staff and the community.  Their time was mutually beneficial and we couldn’t have asked for two more incredible people.  Below they give their perspectives, and I think they went back to school with new life skills and a true sense of accomplishment. – Wendy Lewis, Associate Director

“Working at the Food Bank has been a wonderful experience. I was able to help out in many different areas. Not only have I helped out around the office and warehouse, I have also been fortunate enough to work one-on-one with the people in our community. I’ve been able to help with the Cal-Fresh Food Stamps program by pre-screening people who are in need of assistance and seeing if they qualify to receive food stamps. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some of the children in our community by going to the Canyon Creek Learning center and handing lunches to the children in the area. Overall this experience has been amazing! I have truly enjoyed my time spent here.  It has been such a gratifying experience and it has shown me that anyone can make a difference.” - Mayra Velazquez, UC Santa Cruz

“Working at the Food Bank this summer has been a fun and rewarding experience. From bringing food to children through the Lovin’ Lunchbox program, to creating spreadsheets and reports; from answering phones to working in the warehouse, my time this summer has been well spent. I feel like I have contributed my insights and skills to a program that has taught me a lot as well. It has made me aware of how big of an issue hunger is, and how important the job is that everyone is doing here. Thank you to all of the Food Bank for making my experience a great one!” - Tyler Davis, Stanford University

Why does a Food Bank have a Food Stamp Outreach Program?

Some years ago the Food Bank took on Food Stamp Outreach (now called CalFresh). This choice was controversial because many asked why a Food Bank should use its resources to help eligible individuals get food stamps.  Over the years we have helped hundreds of families take the steps to overcome the many obstacles they face during this process. Many are discouraged due to lack of transportation, long lines at Social Services, fingerprinting and excessive documentation. Our Food Bank is able assist applicants in overcoming some of these factors.  CalFresh provides their households with healthy food, and utilize more of their limited income for other urgent needs.

CalFresh is the most effective way to provide healthy food to hungry people, and it stimulates our local economy. For every CalFresh dollar spent this equals a 1.8 dollar boost into the local economy.  California has very severe policies with regard to Food Stamp enrollment.  CalFresh is not easy to maintain; with monthly income documentation and quarterly renewal.  You also have to be fingerprinted to make sure you’re not signed up in another county.  None of these are federal requirements for the USDA name for Cal Fresh, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). These restrictive regulations cause us to be on the bottom of all the states in the union for SNAP participation.  California can do better, with food insecurity rising over 40% in the last four years, we need CalFresh.

We also advocate for positive changes, including expanded use of the new EBT Card (Electronic Benefits Transfer) to remove the stigma of paying with “stamps,” and for the elimination of finger imaging. It’s good for hungry families, it’sgood for our local economy, and it’s good for the Food Bank because otherwise we would have even more people in our food lines. Our current CalFresh coordinator, Debbie Bilek, has enrolled almost 300 applicants in less than 5 months. Imagine the impact this has made on these families as well as SLO County’s bottom line.

Carl Hansen, Executive Director

I cannot begin to tell you what a joy and a privilege it has been to work as the CalFresh Food Stamp Coordinator for the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.  To see the smiles on the faces of the people I get to serve each day after helping them obtain healthy food to place on their families tables is a reward I will never take for granted.  Many of these people have been hit hard by our country’s economic decline and have been struggling to make ends meet for their families.  They often wonder how they will ever find the money to pay their rent, buy clothes for their children, and also be able to put food on their table at the end of the day.

When I come in contact with these individuals waiting in line at our food distribution sites, I am able to offer them another alternative, the CalFresh Benefits Food Stamp Program.  I educate them on the program, pre-screen them, and when they find out that they qualify, often times they hug me and jump up and down in delight.  I am amazed at how many people do not know this program exists.

The majority of the people I serve are hard-working individuals struggling to make ends meet.  Others are disabled, elderly, have lost their jobs, or are just simply going through a tough time.  If we can take some of the burden off by helping to put healthy, nutritious food on their tables, it will often take the edge off of their stress load and give them that hope that they need to see more clearly and focus their efforts and energies on making a better life for themselves and their families.  I am thankful for the role I get to play in helping people get back on their feet.  It all starts with nutrition!

Debbie Bilek, CalFresh/ Food Stamp Coordinator