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