CalFresh Policy Change Is a Win-Win for Low-Income Neighbors and Farmers

October 18, 2019

After a hard-won advocacy effort by the Food Bank and aging and disability rights groups, for the first time in decades, CalFresh eligibility was extended to SSI recipients in June.  Since then, over 14,000 San Franciscans have applied to receive food benefits!  Our own multi-lingual CalFresh Outreach team has helped over 1,000 newly eligible neighbors apply. 

One of the additional benefits of this historic policy change is an increase in the usage of CalFresh benefits at farmers markets in our community. The Heart of the City Farmers Market in San Francisco’s Civic Center has been operating an independent, farmer-operated non-profit farmers market since 1981, but CalFresh uptake at this market has exploded since the policy change, with the number of people purchasing using CalFresh benefits increasing by 90% over the same time last year.

Thanks to the support from the Stupski Foundation, which has identified improving access to the CalFresh program as a priority, the Heart of the City team has expanded staffing, set up CalFresh on-site enrollment stations, and purchased a second EBT machine to process CalFresh transactions more quickly. On their busiest day this fall, they served 1,538 customers, with CalFresh sales of $10,528! This is a fantastic example of how government, philanthropy, and the private sector can work together to improve food access for low-income people in our community.

Market Match Program Doubles CalFresh Purchasing Power

This growth has been enabled by an innovative healthy food incentive program called Market Match. Market Match is a dollar for dollar match, which allows CalFresh users to double their purchasing power at the farmers market. Annually, Market Match helps over 211,000 CalFresh recipients and increased the take-home revenue for 1,900 California farmers.

Benefits are Inadequate to Compensate for Cost of Living

Despite these exciting developments at the local level, many newly eligible CalFresh recipients are receiving the minimum benefit allotment of $15 a month, which definitely isn’t enough to keep a full fridge in our expensive community. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap research, the average cost of a meal here is $4.59, so incentive programs like Market Match are invaluable for helping our low-income neighbors meet their food needs.

There are efforts at the Federal level to address the inadequacy of benefit levels, including Closing the Meal Gap Act (H.R. 1368) backed by Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) and 113 House Members.  Check out the list of co-sponsors to see if your Representative has endorsed this effort.  If they haven’t, find out who represents you and reach out to demand they support this important effort!

Check out our staffer, Angelica, welcoming folks at the CUESA Farmers Market in the Mission

Queen’s Story | Grateful for CalFresh

August 2, 2019

71-year-old Queen shows off her wide, regal smile – befitting her name – as she emerges from the Career Link Center in San Francisco’s Mission District.  She was scheduled for an appointment in this county office recently, to learn more about the new state program giving SSI recipients access to CalFresh benefits for the first time ever.

“Even 25 extra dollars will mean a lot to me,” she says as she looks over her paperwork in anticipation of her appointment.

It’s been a difficult time for this single expat from the tiny western African nation of The Gambia.  She moved to San Francisco more than ten years ago – hoping to make a big splash by opening up her own clothing boutique with authentic items from her homeland.  Shortly after arriving though, Queen had to have major knee surgery, and was also diagnosed with glaucoma around the same time. Both ailments sent her spiraling into a deep depression.  She couldn’t work, and before she knew it, she found herself surviving on less than a thousand dollars every month in SSI benefits.  Access to healthy food was hard to come by, leading to days and weeks when she wasn’t eating much. Queen was starting to really worry about her health.

Life got a little more bearable when Queen found housing at Bethany Center – a housing center for senior citizens in the Mission District.  She quickly enrolled at a nearby Food Bank pantry, healthy eating resumed, and that lead to Queen feeling the difference.  “I wasn’t smiling very much before…and my energy level was very low, but I feel stronger and I think it’s because of all the great food I get at the pantry.”

Now Queen is ready for access to even more food after learning that she’s eligible to receive 50 dollars in CalFresh benefits each month. “I heard I could stretch my dollars even further at the farmers market through the “Market Match” program.” she said.  “Being able to pick up even more healthy fruits and vegetables to make sure I never go hungry again makes me very grateful.”


Newest Trump Administration Proposal Would Leave 3 Million Americans Hungry

August 1, 2019

Every day, our staff helps working parents, seniors, and adults with disabilities apply for the federal food stamp benefits they need to make ends meet.  That’s why we are we are deeply troubled by yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to take direct aim at our country’s most important and effective anti-hunger program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps; now called CalFresh in California).

Existing Policy Supports Working Families
This newest attack on the food stamps program targets a policy called Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility. This policy lets states adopt less restrictive requirements for household assets –  so families, seniors, and adults with disabilities can see modest increases in income and savings without losing their food stamps benefits.  The Administration calls this a “loophole” that permits those with higher incomes and assets to get public assistance who don’t necessarily need it.  But research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that the policy actually helps support low-income, working families by preventing them from falling off the “benefit cliff” as their income rises slightly and allows them to start saving for the future.

Hunger Would Spike for 3 Million Americans
By changing the way states determine who qualifies for SNAP, the administration would effectively kick more than 3 million people – including thousands in San Francisco and Marin – off the SNAP program – basically telling these millions of vulnerable people that they’ll soon have to look elsewhere for vital nutrition every month.  This attack joins earlier proposals from the Administration to slash benefits for unemployed and underemployed adults, make massive cuts to the program in the federal budget, and move the goal line by arbitrarily changing the way poverty is calculated.  This is a coordinated attempt to erode our social safety net, and will succeed only creating a poorer and hungrier nation by denying Americans the assistance they need to lead healthy, productive lives.

Join Us and Fight Back

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank remains firmly committed to using our voice to elevate the importance of nutrition programs like SNAP which are a lifeline to our neighbors in need.  Please stand with us and raise your voice in opposition to this proposal.

Advocacy: Summer Hunger Solutions

July 10, 2019

The Problem:  Hunger doesn’t take a summer break

The Food Bank works hard all year to make sure kids have access to fresh, healthy food through our Healthy Children Pantries, our Morning Snack Program, and efforts by our very active CalFresh enrollment team.  But for many of these children, summer break means they miss out on school meals and miss out on nutritious food they need to thrive and return to school in the fall ready to learn. These kids are also affected disproportionately by summer learning loss, which hits low-income children harder than their high-income peers. That means that these children often return to school academically behind higher-income peers and struggle to catch up before classes even start.

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has created new programs and is advocating for policies to directly address summer hunger.

The Solution: Creative programs and policies

To combat this summer hunger gap at the local level, the Food Bank continues our support of the Summer Continuation Pantry model.  For the second year we are operating a large-scale pantry at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  There, upwards of 400 families are being served nutritious groceries – so children attending several nearby schools can continue to get the nourishment that they need.

We’re advocating for action at the Federal level

Childhood hunger during the summer months is not just a Bay Area issue.  Nationally, only 1 out of every 7 kids who need free meals in the summer is getting them.

Thankfully, our federal elected officials are responding to demands of advocates to improve access to free summer meals for kids.  The Food Bank has signed on in support of The Stop Child Summer Hunger Act introduced by Senator Pat Murray (D-WA) and Representative Susan Davis (D-CA). The bill would provide low-income families whose children are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card to help them obtain nutritious food during the summer, just like with food stamps.

Along with our national anti-hunger partners, the Food Bank is calling for major investments in federal programs like the Summer Food Service Program and Summer EBT that would dramatically reduce summer hunger, provide far more student enrichment opportunities, and create jobs.

We are committed to making sure that hunger does not hold back any child from living up to their full potential.


Trump Administration’s Poverty-Line Proposal Would Cut Benefits for Millions of Low-Income Americans

May 29, 2019

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget proposed a change to how the federal government officially measures poverty. They proposed using a lower inflation measure to calculate yearly adjustments to the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), which would end up cutting billions of dollars of benefits from federal health programs and throw millions of low-income Americans off the food, shelter, and medical benefits they need to survive.

Many vital federal programs like SNAP (food stamps), school meals, and Medicare use this official poverty measure to determine eligibility and benefits.  This proposed change would make millions of people – who are right on the cusp of making ends meet – ineligible for these programs.

Making Ends Meet is Already a Struggle

We know that the Federal Poverty Line is already insufficient to measure what low-income people face in our incredibly high-cost region. According to the 2019 Federal Poverty Guidelines, a family of four is impoverished if they make $25,750 a year. With Bay Area rent for one-bedroom apartments averaging around $3,000, that would mean a family would exceed their annual income just to remain housed. Changing the measure would do nothing to improve their circumstances, and in many cases would actually do great harm by making them ineligible for the services they need to survive.


Hang on, what’s the Federal Poverty Line again?

The current poverty line was created in 1963, based on 1955 consumer spending data and is updated by the Consumer Price Index in each year since.  It’s worth dwelling on this for a second: the way we as a nation measure poverty is based on a 56-year-old analysis of 64-year-old data on food consumption, with no changes other than inflation adjustment. No wonder it is insufficient to capture true need in the 21st century!

Is this the only way we have to measure who is poor in America?

It has long been understood that the FPL is incomplete and outdated. If the Office of Management and Budget wants to look at a revised definition of poverty, it should take a look at the Supplemental Poverty Measure created by The Bureau of the Census. It does a much more thorough job estimating poverty using multiple income sources (including SNAP and tax credits) and taking into account a full range of household expenditures like housing, child care, and medical expenses.

What can we do about it?

You can submit a comment to the Office of Management and Budget here before the deadline of June 21st.  Our friends at the Coalition for Human Needs have created an easy step-by-step guide to help you submit your comment.

Thank you for continuing to join us in pushing for an end to hunger and poverty in San Francisco and Marin!


Food Bank Innovations | Serving the Unhoused Population

May 13, 2019

Pick up a local newspaper, and it’s more likely than not you’ll spot a story about the challenge of homelessness and efforts to tackle it, including recent headlines about plans to build a Navigation Center along San Francisco’s waterfront, and Marc Benioff’s $30-million donation to study homelessness.

Although the Food Bank is not making headlines on this topic, we are diligently working on improving our assistance to *unhoused neighbors every day.

Food For All

We estimate that a vast majority of the food programs serving unhoused people in San Francisco and Marin today either get fresh groceries for these meals from the Food Bank or partner with us in some way.  These include the big congregate meal sites like GLIDE and St. Anthony’s Dining Room in San Francisco and St. Vincent DePaul in Marin.  in 2018 at just these three sites, we averaged three deliveries of food each week – totaling 1.4 million pounds of food, equal to about 1.17 million meals.

“Providing our unhoused neighbors with healthy food not only reduces their food insecurity, but in some cases it increases their stability so they can address other life challenges.” says Irene Garcia, Senior Program Coordinator and leader of the Food Bank’s Unhoused Workgroup.

New and Improved Partnerships

We are building new pantries and partnerships to better serve our region’s unhoused population. That work includes adjusting menus to address limited and even non-cook needs.  The goal is to ensure that we are providing products that are appropriate for their cooking and storage facilities.

  • City Team in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood launched a pantry in spring 2018 and has grown to serve 100 households every week.
  • St. Agnes and St. Ignatius Churches in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood partnered with us to launch a pantry in summer 2018. Efforts are on-going, primarily in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to conduct outreach to unhoused individuals, families, and at-risk youth.
  • Reinvigorated our pantry at Bessie Carmichael Elementary School in 2017 with the support of EPIC Church. Located in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, approximately 20% of families who attend the school are unhoused.  The pantry is now thriving, going from serving 35 families in 2017 to 95 families today.
    • In partnership with TNDC and the Tenderloin People’s Garden, we are now also able to continue serving Bessie families throughout the summer months when school is not in session.
  • Through our ongoing partnership with Starbucks’ FoodShare program, the Food Bank is rescuing thousands of pounds of fresh, prepackaged food from the coffee chain every night after closing and delivering that food to partners like St. Anthony’s Dining Room and GLIDE hours later.

Read stories about how the Food Bank assists neighbors who are unhoused or formerly homeless:

Homeless to Hopeful

Health Food for People With No Place To Call Home

Princess’ Story

Food is a Life Saver

Starbucks FoodShare

By The Numbers

The latest 2019 Homeless Counts for San Francisco and Marin are still being tabulated, so the latest data was taken from Point-In-Time surveys conducted in January of 2017.

  • The San Francisco survey found 7,499 individuals staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, domestic violence shelters, jails, hospitals, treatment facilities, and living unsheltered on the streets.
  • The Marin County Point-in-Time survey counted 1,117 individuals living in transitional housing, shelters, and on the streets.

* The Food Bank has elected to use the term “unhoused” rather than “homeless” when referring to people without a home of their own.  We believe the term “homeless” carries with it an implied bias – that because someone does not have a home (s)he is therefore considered “less” important than others.  It’s our experience that many people call San Francisco and Marin their home and their community, even though they do not have stable housing at the time.  The difference may seem subtle to some but we feel it’s an important distinction.

*Photo by Kevin Butz on Unsplash   

Kevin Butz

Big News in Hunger for Seniors and Adults With Disabilities!

April 30, 2019

For the first time since 1974, SSI recipients in California are eligible to receive CalFresh benefits. That’s 40,000 people in San Francisco and 3,000 neighbors in Marin – seniors and people with disabilities – who will be newly eligible for food stamp benefits.

With CalFresh benefits for a one-person household averaging $130 a month, this change can make a huge difference for someone in need. And, participating in CalFresh will not reduce SSI benefit amounts in any way.

Boosting food access and the local economy

Even conservative estimates suggest that connecting SSI recipients with CalFresh will result in many millions of dollars a year for low-income seniors and people with disabilities to spend on groceries. This won’t just improve the lives of SSI recipients, but the local economy gets a boost too. Every $1 spent in CalFresh benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity!

It took years of dedicated advocacy efforts by our Food Bank and our partners to achieve this historic change, which will improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.  It wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of our donors and coalition partners. Thank you!

In the coming weeks and months, the Food Bank’s Policy & Advocacy team and CalFresh Outreach team will work closely with the state, our counties, and other local partners to share this exciting news and assist hundreds of neighbors with CalFresh enrollment.

Learn More

  • This fact sheet from Californians for SSI provides a simple summary of the changes to CalFresh eligibility for SSI recipients

Take Action!

Are you an SSI recipient interested in applying for CalFresh benefits?

  • CLICK: Apply online:
  • CALL: Call our hotline to get application assistance in English, Spanish, or Chinese: 415-549-7021
  • COME IN: Walk into a county office to apply in person: Locations are listed on the Human Services Agency website

Are you a community-based organization interested in helping your clients enroll? 

  1. The Food Bank provides CalFresh Outreach and Application Assistance training for agencies who work closely with SSI recipients. For San Francisco-based agencies, contact Ada Lai at 415-282-1907 x258 or For Marin organizations, contact Alexandra Danino at 415-282-1907 x014 or
  2. Check out the San Francisco Human Services Agency Partner Toolkit, which includes helpful resources and outreach materials
  3. Another helpful resource is the California Department of Social Services Outreach Tool Kit for Partners
  4. Download informational flyers to hand out and post at your organization:

Want to get engaged with Food Bank’s Advocacy efforts like this?

This historic victory was made possible through the advocacy of the Californians for SSI Coalition (CA4SSI). As a partner and ally in improving the lives of SSI recipients, we want to invite you to join us on one of our CA4SSI membership conference calls every other Tuesday at 11:30am to share updates and discuss strategy. Why stop at CalFresh? Please join us as we advocate to increase the grants to people on SSI!

Check out this video of our listening session with SSI recipients on how hard it is to make ends meet on SSI:

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Leading the Charge Against Food Waste

April 2, 2019

Preventing food waste has become a hot topic lately, but the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank started reducing food waste before it was cool. In fact, we’ve been recovering and redistributing surplus foods for nearly 30 years.

Our motivation was to source large amounts of healthy fruits and vegetables for our participants in the most efficient way possible. And as a natural byproduct, about 65% of all the food we provide is considered rescued.

In the late 1990s, we saw an opportunity. California — the nation’s breadbasket — was home to an enormous bounty of surplus produce. Before we came along, that perfectly nutritious produce was left in the field to rot or be plowed under. We thought, “That’s a lot of food that could be helping hungry people.”

In response, we developed a program that is now called Farm to Family, spearheaded by Food Bank Board Member Gary Maxworthy. Through the program, farmers donated truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables to the Food Bank. We brought them to our pantries, and our participants were so grateful.

The program proved to be overwhelmingly successful and generated enough produce to share with food banks across the state. Due to the program’s growth, administration was transferred to the California Association of Food Banks in 2005.

Farm to Family now serves a statewide network of 40+ food banks, providing 150 million pounds of produce every year. In April 2016, Farm to Family shipped its 1,000,000,000th pound of produce! Yes, you read those zeros right — 1 billion!

In addition to providing millions of people with healthy food, we’ve diverted millions of pounds of waste from landfills. Producing food that no one eats wastes water, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, fuel, and land — and we’ve interrupted that process.

We also help our pantry participants make the most out of the food they receive by educating them about how to preserve and prepare the food — ensuring that every ounce of nutrition goes as far as possible. Did you know, for example, that milk is safe to drink a full 7 days after the expiration date? Check out our handy tool that explains food expiration dates and how long foods are safe for consumption.

We started our Farm to Family program with our hearts set on providing more healthy fruits and vegetables to people in need. And we’re thrilled that we’ve been able to not only help the people we serve, but also be a leader in the food waste movement.

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Letter From Paul | President Trump’s Budget

March 22, 2019

For the third year in a row, we at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank find ourselves on the defensive with a harmful budget proposal from the Trump Administration.

The President’s spending plan calls for massive cuts in vital safety net programs – including $220 billion in deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, CalFresh in California) over the next 10 years.

If you’re a longtime supporter of the Food Bank, then you probably know just how devastating this proposal would be for our community. SNAP helps put food on the table for over 40 million Americans, four million Californians, and tens of thousands of people in our service area of Marin and San Francisco.  It’s THE most important and effective program we have to fight hunger and serves as a lifeline to those who don’t make enough money to provide three square meals a day for themselves and family members.


Now is the time to invest in food assistance efforts rather than diminishing them. While the economy is strong, we should bolster programs such as SNAP with benefit levels that support better nutrition. Income requirements for these programs should be designed to account for cost-of-living disparities, so that applicants in high-cost areas—such as San Francisco and Marin—are guaranteed equitable access to food assistance.

Through cruel and ill-conceived ideas, like a renewed push to replace SNAP benefits with so-called “harvest boxes”, the President’s proposed budget poses a grave threat to our most vulnerable neighbors. The harvest box proposal stigmatizes people who are struggling to make ends meet.  More importantly, it replaces SNAP, an efficient system where people shop for themselves in a grocery store and pay with an electronic benefits card, with a program requiring an entirely new distribution system that would likely be more expensive, less efficient, and provides less nutritional value for those it purports to serve.


We continue to remain firmly committed to using our voice to elevate the importance of federal nutrition programs like SNAP and call on the community to reach out to their members of Congress to oppose these cuts to SNAP and other vital programs.

Our tagline at the Food Bank is “Food For All” – a simple phrase with a big meaning. When we make healthy food available for all, our community thrives.  Any effort to undermine that is simply undermines the greatness and health of our country.

Policy and Advocacy Update | Tackling Hunger in Washington D.C.

February 28, 2019

In February, our Policy & Advocacy team joined 1,100 passionate advocates in Washington D.C. for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference.  Co-hosted annually by Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center, the conference is an exciting opportunity for anti-poverty and anti-hunger advocates to collaborate. We celebrated the bi-partisan 2018 Farm Bill – which reversed proposed cuts to federally-funded food programs.  We also geared up to fight attacks on food programs anticipated from the current administration.

NOTE: Photo courtesy of FRAC. Click to watch Congresswoman Blunt Rochester’s keynote address

Day 1 – Sunday – “We’re Not Going Back!”

We spent our first morning learning from fellow food bank representatives about new opportunities to use client-level service data to influence policy and advocacy. Then, during lunch, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE),  ignited the room  with a powerful keynote address.  She reminded us that we have come so far in our advocacy to provide neighbors with the basic human right of food, and encouraged us to continue challenging attacks on these programs.

NOTE: Photo courtesy of FRAC. Click the photo to view Mayor Benjamin’s speech

Day 2 – Monday  “The Rent Eats First”

Our second day kicked off with another outstanding speaker: President of the US Council of Mayors, the Honorable Steven K. Benjamin of Columbia, SC.  He spoke about addressing the root causes of hunger, including institutional racism, limited access to financial education, insufficient wages, and the “unlivable” cost of living in cities across America.

He highlighted income volatility – citing recent studies that show half of US families can’t pay for an unexpected $400.00 bill.  Our Food Bank learned this firsthand during the recent government shutdown, when we saw a spike in need from people who had never required food assistance before, but found themselves two paychecks short and unable to cover their expenses.

Day 3 – Lobby Day! – SNAP benefits inadequate for Bay Area’s hungry

L Meg Davidson, Food Bank Associate Director, Policy & Advocacy, R Paul Ash, Food Bank Executive Director

By Day 3, we were all ready to take our anti-hunger priorities to Capitol Hill, where we met with staff members for Senators Kamala Harris and Diane Feinstein. We also connected with staff members of Congressman Jared Huffman, who actively supports our advocacy efforts on behalf of his constituents in the northern coastal region, including Marin.

We thanked them for their leadership and asked that they turn their attention to the inadequacy of benefits for current SNAP (food stamp) recipients.


Right now, the average SNAP recipient gets $1.49 per meal, which we know with the cost of living here is simply impossible to stretch. We were joined by Patricia, a Contra Costa County resident, who shared her personal experience of having her SNAP benefits cut to just $15 per month.  We are asking Congress to reevaluate the criteria used to determine how much money a household can get in SNAP benefits.

The Conference was an energizing reminder that we are not in this struggle alone.  We are part of an incredibly diverse and tireless community of advocates and elected officials who have never stopped fighting for policies that feed and protect our neighbors who need us most.