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Millions More Californians Could Use CalFresh Benefits to 'Eat Real'

Food Day highlights hunger in California.

By Joel Campos, Senior Manager for Education & Outreach Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County

Wednesday, October 24th commemorated the second annual Food Day, highlighting the movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food. With millions of Californians experiencing food insecurity and struggling with limited access to food due to lack of money and other resources, enrollment in CalFresh (formerly the food stamp program) is a way for low-income families to "eat real" and keep hunger at bay. 

Second Harvest Food Bank promotes the CalFresh program throughout the year, engaging in community outreach and performing application assistance, in partnership with the County of Santa Cruz. This Food Day, we want to let low-income Californians know that they may be missing out on receiving benefits that could give their family purchasing power to buy more healthy foods.

CalFresh is an important part of the solution to our state’s hunger crisis and a necessary safety net for low-income Californians struggling during tough times. A recent UCLA study about hunger showed that CalFresh benefits stabilized individuals and families struggling against hunger by providing access to nutritious and affordable food during a time when the number of low-income adults in California who could not afford enough food increased.

Though CalFresh gives millions of low-income Californians access to more healthy and affordable foods, there are still millions more who qualify but are not enrolled. Santa Cruz County ranks 45th out of the 58 California counties in CalFresh participation. There are many more income-eligible families who would benefit from CalFresh.

In addition to helping individuals and families, CalFresh benefits local economies by returning $1.79 for every $1 of CalFresh money delivered to California through support of local businesses.  It is estimated that if everyone who is eligible for CalFresh participated in the program, approximately $2.8 billion would come back to California.

Food Day shines a spotlight on the power of healthy food to positively transform families and communities. By making better choices about what goes in their grocery carts and on their tables, Californians can reduce their risk of obesity and other serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. CalFresh benefits help low-income Californians take home more healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

As these quotes from local resident CalFresh recipients attest, CalFresh makes a big difference in the nutritional quality of the foods low-income people can afford. Recipients can purchase fresh produce at grocery stores and participating farmers’ markets. This nutrition program impacts not just recipients’ diets, but their overall quality of life.

“CalFresh enables me to eat fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Without these benefits my quality of food would be less and therefore my quality of life and overall health.”

“With help from the food bank and CalFresh, we eat food that grows our minds and bodies. CalFresh helps feed my son healthy food … to grow a strong and healthy next generation.”

“I just turned 30 and I’m a recent college graduate. I’m $30,000 in debt. I’m unemployed. My EBT [CalFresh benefits card] is the only thing between me and the street. And I’m not special. There are hundreds like me. And many have it worse.”

We urge anyone experiencing unemployment or struggling in these tough economic times to contact us for a CalFresh pre-screening. We can also assist with CalFresh applications. Call Second Harvest’s Community Food Hotline Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm at 831-662-0991 to connect with an outreach worker or visit www.benefitscalwin.org to apply for the program directly through the County’s benefits web portal.

For more information about Second Harvest Food Bank, visit www.thefoodbank.org.

For more information on Food Day, visit www.foodday.org.

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