2023 California Policy Wins

October 17, 2023

Here at the Food Bank, our mission is to end hunger in San Francisco and Marin. On its face, the solution might seem simple: provide nutritious food so people facing hunger can thrive, not just survive. But while providing food on the ground is an essential part of our services, we know it’s not enough to simply address the hunger we see today – we must also work to address its root causes and change the policies that allow hunger to continue in our communities and plan for long-term solutions.

That’s why, in partnership with our community and other supporters, our Policy and Advocacy team works to promote proposed laws and create new policies that benefit everyone (check out our policy platform). We advocate at all levels of government, from local to state to federal – and we’d like to share with you some key wins we’ve achieved in the California legislature.

“Changing policy is a marathon, not a race,” said Marchon Tatmon, associate director of policy and advocacy at our Food Bank. “Nonetheless, we’re proud of how we’ve worked together with other advocates to achieve some pretty audacious goals. Our strength is that we’re always in conversation with our community to inform our policy priorities.”

California Anti-Hunger Policy Wins in 2023

 

  • CalFresh: According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), about one in eight Californians relied on CalFresh (also known as food stamps) in 2022. The state adjusted this existing program to make it more effective, including:
    • Allocating $15 million to fund a pilot program raising the minimum CalFresh benefit to $50/month (currently, minimum benefits are $23/month).
    • Funded increased summer benefit amounts at $47 million, providing families with school-age kids more money to spend on food – a critical lifeline when free school meals disappear during summer vacation.
    • Secured $40 million to speed up the implementation of California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) benefits, which are similar to CalFresh benefits for undocumented immigrants.
    • Legislated reimbursement funds for skimmed CalFresh benefit dollars and increased benefit theft protection.
    • Secured $9.9 million for a broader Fruit and Vegetable pilot program giving extra CalFresh money for purchasing produce.
  • School Meals for All: Chances are, more kids are hungry than you think: according to the same report from PPIC, roughly half of the children in our state will participate in CalFresh by the age of six. Together with other activists, we successfully lobbied for more than $300 million to fully implement free school meals for all kids in California.
  • Social Security: Many older adults and adults with disabilities rely on this safety net to pay most or all of their expenses, including buying food. We helped secure a grant increase of 8.6% to raise the incomes of these vulnerable groups.
  • CalFood: Secured $60 million in funding for food banks across the state to buy California-grown produce, strengthening our local economy while also providing fresh fruits and vegetables to neighbors facing hunger.

These policy wins over the last year bring us another step closer to ending hunger – but our work isn’t done yet. In coalition with partners, participants and other activists, we’re determined to continue advocating for just, compassionate and equitable public policy that truly makes a difference for our communities.

Breaking the Cycle with Homeless Prenatal Program

June 29, 2023

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are life-changing challenges even at the best of times. But for pregnant people staring down the barrel of poverty and homelessness, paying for rent, food, medical care, and everything a growing baby needs to thrive is a near-insurmountable task. That’s where Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP) comes in. Located in the Mission District, HPP offers a staggering breadth of services for low-income families. We spoke with Linda Huerta, the distribution coordinator for HPP’s weekly food pantries.

Food Bank (FB): How did you get involved with Homeless Prenatal Program?

Linda Huerta: I learned about HPP first through our Community Health Worker program, which is a 16-month, paid, accredited job training program that prepares clients and other women from the community for careers in community health. I make sure our 400 families can get nutritious food – this week, we had broccoli, tomatoes, bananas, eggs, and more. I’m always thinking about how we can make the distribution more equitable.

Pacifiers are just one of the host of family items that participants can pick up at HPP

FB: Does HPP provide any other services to the community?

Linda: Absolutely – folks don’t just get food when they visit us on Fridays. It’s also diapers, pacifiers, and teething crackers; housing assistance and CalFresh application help; legal services and other family support. These things are available all week, but it’s so accessible to be able to offer more help or sign people up at the same time as the food pantry. And if we can’t help them, then when they come to get food, we can let them know if there’s another organization that can work on their problem.

FB: How does HPP break the cycle of family poverty and homelessness?

Linda: There are so many ways we work towards ending poverty, and a big part of that is food – it allows families to budget their money; maybe dollars that they were gonna spend on food can go to something else that supports them, especially with how expensive food is getting. It makes me feel good inside, honestly, to know that I can do this for my neighbors. Food means nutrition. Food means energy, food means love. And then we can build off that to offer even more services.

Linda smiles after our conversation in HPP’s back garden

Linda closed our conversation by telling us, “It really does take a community. We can’t all do it alone, we need partnership.” Our Food Bank is proud to be a part of the solution by joining hands with organizations like HPP to make a difference in our neighbors’ lives.

Empowering Community with En2Action

June 29, 2023

“I’m always saying, pay attention to the quietest people. It doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say; it just means they’re not comfortable saying it yet,” observed Andrea Baker, the executive director of En2Action, a San Francisco nonprofit that works to promote equity and transformative social good. Elevating community perspectives to enable change is critical to her organization’s work. “Our job is to build comfort,” said Andrea. “That’s when they start finding their voice.”

A flyer for participants interested in enrolling in CalFresh, with the headline "Want to save money on food?"

En2Action is a vital community partner of the Food Bank and has extensive experience conducting robust community engagement that centers racial equity and gathers input from diverse communities to inform community and economic development planning. En2Action is collaborating with the Food Bank on several initiatives that address root causes of hunger in San Francisco and Marin, including the Root Cause Action Learning & Leading to achieve Food SecuritY in Marin Project, also known as RALLY Marin.

Led and facilitated by En2Action, the RALLY Marin Project is a one-year planning grant and engagement effort supported by Feeding America that centers the wisdom of people experiencing food insecurity, engages a task force of community-based organizations and multi-service providers with a goal toward removing systemic barriers to CalFresh benefits in Marin County, which disproportionately impacts people of color.

“Our work with RALLY Marin is, again, about elevating community voices. We are reaching out to food providers, pantries, and other organizations that go beyond just providing food. In particular, with this program, we’re looking at CalFresh and why more folks of color are not utilizing it, particularly in Latinx communities.”

A group meeting at En2Action.

Rooted in Community

When we spoke to Andrea, the nonprofit had just moved into the new Southeast Community Center in Bayview-Hunters Point. A Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-led organization, En2Action’s work includes a history of initiatives that intersect food, racial justice, and economic equity. Looking out of the office space windows, she observed that many of the challenges facing the neighborhood and other communities of color in the City are rooted in historic racist policies such as redlining and urban renewal that displaced thousands of Black Americans — erasing generational wealth in the process.

“How do most families build wealth in this area? You build it through real estate; you buy a home. It supports your kid going to college. You can help somebody open a business. That was taken from us,” she says. She notes that those antecedent inequities, compounded by the region’s high cost of living, contributed to San Francisco’s shrinking Black population — from around 13% in the 1980s to under 5% today. “I have seen this neighborhood go from 75% African American to where we are today; just about 30% of the Bayview population is Black.”

Andrea wants to help the remaining enclaves of color in the City thrive and believes food is a catalyst for community development.

“Food has been a way out for many people of color and immigrant communities. It’s been a way out for a business, a catering business, a food truck, a restaurant,” says Andrea. Four years ago, En2Action launched the Bayview Bistro food hub, transforming a vacant lot into a festive gathering space featuring a variety of savory cuisines from Bayview-based vendors. But when the pandemic halted in-person gatherings, life moved online almost overnight, forcing the nonprofit to pivot. The shift was challenging, as they had to acquire a commercial kitchen and develop Bayview Bistro boxes for online food ordering. Its reach was expanded further through pandemic resources to fight hunger. “And that kept our vendors going. Some vendors who’ve worked with us said, ‘I kept my lights on.’ And that was an amazing thing.”

Dontaye Ball, owner of Gumbo Social, wears a hoodie emblazoned with "Eat More Gumbo."
Dontaye Ball, owner of Gumbo Social

The learnings from Bayview Bistro and other neighborhood-focused economic development programs, including Sell Black — a digital marketing program to increase the online presence of Black businesses — contributed to the development of its Ujamaa Kitchen. Modeled on the fourth principle of Kwanzaa — cooperative economics — the initiative is an incubator for food entrepreneurs that features a six-month culinary boot camp, certification to operate a commercial kitchen, and a myriad of business mentorship services. Ujamaa Kitchen alum Chef Dontaye Ball, whose pop-up restaurant Gumbo Social specializes in gumbo and soul food, has high praise for Andrea.

“You just look at her impact on our business. Once we got access to that kitchen, that opened the door to be able to push Gumbo Social forward,” Ball said. “Over $35,000 in sales came directly from referrals or opportunities that came directly from En2Action,” he added. “For some people, that’s not a lot, but for us, it’s a game changer. That’s two months of payroll; that gives us an opportunity to build for the future.” That future included a brick-and-mortar Gumbo Social restaurant that opened in early June in the Bayview. And that is an outcome that En2Action enthusiastically applauds. “It’s really important to me, to us, that we are not simply giving fish. We are teaching folks how to fish,” said Andrea. “Food is an empowering thing.”

Getting Perspectives on Marin

A San Francisco-Marin Food Bank branded van drives through the Marin hills.
Our Mobile Food Pantry is part of food outreach in Marin County.

For several months En2Action’s community empowerment lens has been focused on a region rife with systemic inequities 50 miles north of the Bayview. RaceCounts.org ranks Marin County as the second most racially disparate county in California, finding the Latinx community the most impacted across all disparity indicators. Twenty-five percent of Latinx children in the county live below the federal poverty level. The RALLY Marin initiative, led by En2Action, features a unique partnership with a task force of community-based organizations seeking to identify and elevate food insecurity solutions that prioritize the lived experiences and perspectives of people most impacted by the issue. Key to finding those solutions is the targeted community outreach conducted through RALLY Marin, which includes listening with intentionality to the concerns of Latinx residents who may qualify for food assistance. The results have been more than revealing.

“The level of information from community members we were able to hear was authentic, and heart-centered,” said the Food Bank’s Senior Program Manager Alex Danino, reflecting on the focus groups led by En2Action in late April. “There were super-rich discussions that spoke to the challenges and the opportunities for growth,” she added. As part of the team developing recommendations and plans for implementing learnings from RALLY Marin, Alex was impressed by the participant feedback in the listening sessions. “I believe the feedback will tell us how and what we can do next on our outreach efforts,” she observed. “A new way of doing our work is emerging, including how we are working with community partners, the county and co-creating options for access, all based on community voices.”

Alex Danino (top) and Liliana Sandoval (bottom)

Liliana Sandoval, Associate Director of Programs, Outreach for CalFresh, looks forward to the outcomes revealed from the focus groups. “En2Action is going to gather all that feedback, analyze it and propose solutions that we could then take for more access and utilization of CalFresh,” Liliana said. And she adds that important questions will arise from these community engagement efforts. “How could we bring Marin County administrators into the fold and get them involved in co-creating solutions? What can the county do with this information that we’ve gotten directly from people who have not accessed the program because of barriers? Just what work needs to be done at all levels?” En2Action will continue its outreach, partnership, and analysis efforts through RALLY Marin, delivering a Community Plan in the early summer.

As for Andrea Baker, she firmly believes providing community members opportunities to be heard and ask authentic questions about their needs are catalysts for real change, whether in Marin or San Francisco’s Bayview. “If we can engage, empower, and then provide the resources for people to act, then I think we can get a whole lot of stuff done,” she said. Pointing to an En2Action team gathered in a meeting room, “You know, the 12 of us here can’t do it all, but if the 12 of us here, every year, can impact one person and those people can go out and impact one more person, I’m all for that. I can live with those numbers.”

A RALLY Marin focus group.

CalFresh Ripple Effects: Miguel’s Story

June 14, 2023

Miguel's artwork hangs in front of his window: 3 black and white cubes made from Venetian blinds.
Miguel’s recent artwork

At Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry, Miguel lights up when he starts talking about his art. He sets down his grocery bags and whips out his phone to show us his latest creation, hanging in front of his second story window: a mobile made entirely of syringes (with the needles removed, of course), that blows and gently spins in the breeze, while explaining: “I used to work for the opera, until I retired five years ago. I also made costumes for theatre groups, foundations and drag queens. I have a program going after I retired, [making] mobiles and artwork with the recycled materials I [find] on the street, thrown away.”  

A Loss for the Community 

Miguel is a longtime member of the arts scene in San Francisco, a gay man who’s been HIV+ for nearlyMiguel is smiling, with his handlebar mustache, red scarf/necktie and maroon sweater. 40 years, an activist, and a pantry participant since 2020 in his neighborhood of the Western Addition. He’s also one of roughly 101,000 CalFresh (known as SNAP federally) recipients in San Francisco who saw their grocery budget decimated overnight. This is due to the federal government’s decision to cut emergency allotments, which boosted CalFresh benefits by an average of $160 for recipients in San Francisco during the pandemic. That’s a loss of nearly $12 million a month in food assistance for our neighbors. 

“I applied for the [CalFresh] benefits at the beginning of COVID. I was having a hard time with money. And it was very nice, especially when they started putting the extra funds in it,” Miguel told us. Miguel says he was receiving close to $200 during the pandemic, but after speaking with a CalFresh representative that same morning we met, he learned he’d be receiving just $23. That’s why the Food Bank Policy & Advocacy team is advocating to raise the minimum benefit to $50 in the state Senate this year – because for Miguel and many others, “it’s not worth going through all the [paperwork] trouble for $20.” 

Meals are Best Shared 

Miguel poses in front of his artFor Miguel, his CalFresh benefits were a supplemental support that helped him stretch his budget and extend a little kindness to other friends who were struggling during the throes of the pandemic. “I was able not only to get things for myself, but I was able to invite friends to get food with me so we can have dinner together. I did it with two friends, maybe every two weeks. Eating alone is not really the best thing. Having company and being able to provide something a little extra, that was very nice. It really made a difference for me and my friends.” 

In addition to dinners with friends, Miguel finds support through groups like the 50 Plus Network from the SF AIDS Foundation, which connects long-term HIV survivors through meetups and events. Miguel and his current housemate also stop by the Rosa Parks Senior Center most days for lunch, and utilize the Food Bank’s weekly pantries, where Miguel picks up groceries for them both: “The sweet potatoes are for my roommate, because he can’t come to the pantry – he’s disabled. So [the pantry] not only helps me, it helps someone else.” 

A Positive Ripple Effect

As federal lawmakers strip proven poverty-fighting programs and safety nets from our neighbors, andMiguel waves goodbye from his apartment window. leave food banks to pick up the slack, it’s essential that the Food Bank maintains access to the fresh produce, proteins, and grains that 53,000 neighbors rely on weekly to nourish themselves. “The benefit is greater than just food,” Miguel explained to us. “At my age, I don’t think there’s any stigma – I encourage other people to apply for these services. I have diabetes, so I have to be careful about what I’m eating. And besides the food, I can use the money [I save] on other things that are beneficial for my health or enjoyment. It’s a ripple effect; it magnifies your life in all these positive ways.” 

With $23, You Can’t Buy Much

February 16, 2023

“I just went to the store, and a carton of eggs was over $10. And now I’m only going to receive $23? What can I buy with that?” 

This is the predicament that Gladys, and nearly 82,000 other households in San Francisco and Marin are facing this month due to the end of CalFresh (aka SNAP, or food stamps) emergency allotments. During the pandemic, CalFresh recipients received a boost to their monthly budget for groceries. For Gladys, these emergency allotments were a buoy to hang onto as inflation remained high – but they came to an end nationwide in February.  

Staring Down a Benefits Cliff  

“I pick up groceries from the food pantry in the Canal (San Rafael) on Tuesdays, and the rest I buy with my food stamps. Last month, I received $211. Now, the letter from the county says I’ll receive $23, at most $29,” Gladys told us over the phone in Spanish. As a senior, grocery shopping is already made difficult by mobility issues: “My son will often go shopping for the both of us. I’m scared I’m going to fall.” Now, it will be doubly difficult without the emergency allotments she depended on previously.  

Gladys works as a caretaker for a woman in her neighborhood, and lives and splits rent with her adult son. It’s hard to make heads or tails of the prices she sees at the grocery store: “When I do go shopping, I see that everything is so expensive: beef, chicken, eggs. And if I want bread or something else?” Her voice trails off, as if to say, “Forget about it.” 

Food Banks Already at the Brink 

In San Francisco and Marin, the benefits cliff will be especially steep: emergency allotments for our counties averaged out at $150 and $160, respectively. Currently, the California Department of Social Services is directing affected CalFresh recipients to supplement their budget by heading to their local food banks – even though many CalFresh recipients like Gladys were already frequenting food banks to make ends meet. But the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, and others in the area, are stretched to the limit by inflation, shrinking government support, and declining donations. 

“It’s An Injustice” 

Food banks are a band-aid, not a long-term solution for the erosion of safety nets. So while our Policy and Advocacy team continues to push at the federal level for benefits that better reflect the cost of living in our counties, and our CalFresh team continues assisting households in applying and securing the benefits they qualify for, we need our community members and local elected officials to rally in support of our neighbors facing food insecurity.  

It will take all our collective efforts to mitigate the harm stemming from the end of these emergency allotments – because for Gladys and thousands of others, this decision is nothing short of devastating. 

“I just don’t agree with this. No one agrees with this,” Gladys shared. “We won’t have food. It’s an injustice.” 

Emergency Allotments Make A Huge Difference

January 19, 2023

Our CalFresh team doing outreach in the community.

Imagine being 80 years old, retired, and getting by in San Francisco with income from your pension and Social Security – just $1,789 needs to cover $1,000 for rent and utilities, plus other expenses. Now imagine you are also the guardian for your three-year-old granddaughter. How do you cover all the costs?

This is the reality for Mrs. S*, who applied for CalFresh with the help of the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach Specialist Crystal Deng. Mrs. S initially applied on her own, but the bureaucracy was confusing, and she missed some steps. Her application was denied.

Mrs. S’s experience is not unique. The CalFresh application process is convoluted and cumbersome – if you forget a piece of verifying information or miss a call from a county official, you can lose out on benefits. That’s where the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach Team comes in. Crystal helped Mrs. S, like hundreds of other participants, apply and get approved for benefits. Now Mrs. S can afford more fruit, vegetables and other healthy food for her and her granddaughter.

“CalFresh helps participants alleviate their financial stress,” shared Crystal. “Benefits also help them increase access to healthier food and have extra money to stretch their food budget so they can choose the food they like.”

CalFresh Outreach Specialist Crystal Deng shows how she helps participants enroll in the program.

But our CalFresh Outreach Team is worried. During the pandemic, emergency allotments put even more money in the pockets of those receiving benefits. The average recipient in California was receiving $262 per month as of January 2022, an increase from $141 in 2019. Unfortunately, those allotments will expire in February.

“The cost of living in San Francisco is very high and people are struggling with jobs, housing and food,” shared Crystal. “Right now, with the [pandemic-era] emergency allotment the average person is receiving $262. That makes a huge difference.”

Without the allotments some people qualify for as little as $23 a month. Pre-pandemic, Crystal often heard people tell her the application wasn’t worth it for such a low amount – $23 doesn’t buy much in the Bay Area.

The end of emergency allotments will be a major blow for our community – San Francisco households receiving CalFresh will lose an average of $160 per month. There are 72,000 households in San Francisco that receive CalFresh that will need be seeing the rug pulled out from under them next month. Our Policy and Advocacy team is advocating for greater benefit amounts that better reflect the high cost of living in our community, and stronger safety nets and support for food programs like ours. In the meantime, Crystal and others on our CalFresh Outreach Team will continue assisting our neighbors to ensure they receive the benefits they both deserve and need to support their families.

 

* Name changed for privacy, at request of participant.

What Food Means to Us

December 14, 2022

For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather around a shared meal. Pantries are perused, cookbooks are cracked, and calls are made to relatives for their special recipes (if you missed it, check out our community cookbook with contributions from participants, volunteers, and staff!).

Here’s what we know at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank: in sharing a meal, we share our humanity. We’ve spent the last 365 days gathering stories from the community and asking: “what does food mean to you?”

“Food means nourishment”

One sunny February morning, we visited our partner Code Tenderloin in San Francisco and heard from volunteer Arielle: “Food means nourishment – of the mind, body, and soul. Food makes you feel good, gives you confidence and courage that maybe you don’t have when you’re hungry. Maybe best of all is you can share it with people – it’s the way to a person’s heart.”

Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director, Donna Hilliard, added: “I think, with our culture, food is everything. When we come together, we eat. When we celebrate, we eat. When we’re sad, we eat. Sharing meals especially means a lot. For the folks at Code Tenderloin, all of us have been on the ground, so we serve our food with love. That’s why so many people are comfortable coming back – we want them to feel like our extended family.”

Arielle, left, is a student, mom, and volunteer at Code Tenderloin. Donna Hilliard, right, is Code Tenderloin’s Executive Director.

CalFresh recipient Yurin told us how a balanced meal means wellness for her family. “It’s something fundamental to health,” she shared. “Having good food, healthy food, is vital to every person every day.”

And at a bustling Pop-up Pantry in San Francisco’s SoMa, participant Russ chatted with us after picking up his groceries. “It means everything,” he said, showing us a watermelon he was excited to slice into. “I’m learning how to eat healthier now that I can get more and better food from this pantry. I turn 65 next August. You can live a lot better as you learn how to cook, what to eat, and what not to eat.”

Yurin is a Marin resident, mom, and CalFresh recipient.

Making Space for Joy

“Food brings us together, you know? If you got a group of people together, bring a meal. Ain’t nobody fussing when you’re eating.” Cliffton is a longtime San Francisco resident and an artist – recently, he painted ‘Spirit of the Fillmore’ in the Buchanan Street Mall. He’s also a participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry. “Food is nourishment for the body,” he continued. “Your body won’t allow you to be negative in that moment, because it’s getting good food.”

That’s the not-so-obvious benefit of a full pantry: with no worries about where the next meal will come from, our neighbors can bring a little more sweetness into their lives.

Laura Cedillo, center, is a Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center. Cliffton, right, is an artist, longtime San Francisco resident, and participant at our Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry.

Laura Cedillo, Program Manager at our partner Native American Health Center [https://www.nativehealth.org/], told us that “food means someone’s looking out for you and taking care of you.” Laura and her team pack bags of healthy groceries for anyone who needs them in a second-story space that’s part health clinic in the Mission. She views food as memories as much as sustenance. “When I think of food, I think of family, and I think of being cared for. It’s like, hey, how do I love myself? One of my best friends is Mohican from the New York area, and I remember on her birthday she was like, ‘I’m going to make myself some butternut squash.’ And now every time I make butternut squash, I remember my friend. I remember people I love when I cook.”

 

More than Just Calories

We heard loud and clear from almost everyone we spoke to that food is much more than something that fills your stomach for a few hours.

“I believe food means connection to others,” said Maria, who is both a participant and a volunteer at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in the Mission. “You can meet someone at the food pantry and get to know them and also know they care about you. Because all the people volunteering here, they care about all of us – that’s why they’re here.”

Maria, left, is a resident of San Francisco’s Mission district, and is both a participant and a volunteer. Pastor Richard Roberts, right, heads our partner San Francisco Community Fellowship.

“To share food is to get to know people, right?” said Pastor Richard Roberts at San Francisco Community Fellowship  one of our partners in the Excelsior. “It’s not just feeding them physical food, it’s emotional support and understanding, and getting people to a space where they feel comfortable and accepted. That’s what food means to me.”

As he spoke, Pastor Roberts watched volunteers pack grocery bags while photos of churchgoers at weddings and service days smiled down on them. For him, creating a community and holding a food pantry are all part of the same spirit.

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health: what it means for San Francisco and Marin

October 5, 2022

Last week, President Biden set an audacious goal: eliminate food insecurity by 2030. His commitment came as he presided over the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in over 50 years. 

“The energy in the room as the President of the United States of America made that commitment was kinetic,” said Tanis Crosby, executive director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, who attended the conference. “To hear the reaction from people who are or have experienced food insecurity, advocates, teachers, academics, and more was profound.” 

This is the commitment anti-hunger advocates and food banks have been demanding from the federal government for decades.  

 

#FoodForAll means support for all

Ending hunger will take collective effort from all of us – including policymakers. Ahead of the White House Conference, we mobilized feedback from our community partners as part of the Feeding America Elevating Voices to End Hunger campaign. Their feedback, along with the voices of thousands of people experiencing food insecurity, other community-based organizations, and food banks nationwide helped formulate policy recommendations to the administration.  

 “Together with Feeding America, we uplifted voices to hear from people experiencing hunger. That, full stop, is our advocacy focus,” said Tanis. “We learn what works and where policy needs to improve from listening to people telling us what they need. That’s how we achieve our goal of ending food insecurity.” 

The responses from the listening sessions were clear: we must address the high cost of housing, rising inflation, low wages, unaffordable healthcare, racism, and other institutionalized discrimination to end hunger. One attendee summed it up: “people need more freedom to enjoy a life where they’re not worried about the basics.” 

The full Feeding America Elevating Voices to End Hunger report outlines the aspirations of our communities and  anti-hunger policy recommendations—informed by people facing hunger prioritize dignity, increasing access, expanding opportunity and improving health. 

 

It’s more than just food

When Tanis arrived at the White House Conference, she and other anti-hunger advocates asked for key policy recommendations grounded in what our communities said they needed. In breakout sessions, the Administration heard directly from advocates about the tangled web that holds people back, as advocates called for removing red tape and streamlining access to benefits people are entitled to.  

We know hunger is not just a COVID-era problem, and it will take all of us to drive the change we need. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank applauds the Biden-Harris Administration for recognizing the intersectionality of these challenges. “The acknowledgement that there is no single culprit behind food insecurity was heartening,” said Tanis. 

This is our core philosophy: food is a basic human right, and we must address both the causes and consequences of food insecurity to end it. Doing so will require a multifaceted approach.  

 

Looking forward

“The White House Conference was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the federal government to take concrete action to address hunger and its root causes,” said Tanis. “The impacts of hunger are compounding and pervasive and they do not affect us all equally. This was a powerful opportunity for the Food Bank to speak directly to federal lawmakers and advocate for meaningful policy change.” 

The last White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health resulted in game-changing legislation that introduced key policies like SNAP (food stamps) nationwide. We’re optimistic the same will come from this year’s Conference.  

Specifically, the Food Bank is advocating for: 

  • Protecting and strengthening SNAP (food stamps, called CalFresh in California). By far the most effective federal policy to end hunger, SNAP puts money for food directly into people’s pockets. 
  • Permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit to strengthen social safety nets for families. 
  • Increasing the minimum wage to offset skyrocketing income inequality and cost of living and adjusting eligibility guidelines for federal programs accordingly to avoid a “benefits cliff”. 
  • Protecting and strengthening The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is a vital source of food support for food banks across the country. 
  • Improving access to federal food, human services, and health assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid, so that eligible people aren’t missing out on vital benefits. 

“In the end, it’s not about what happened at the Conference, but what we do next and how,” said Tanis. “Solutions co-created with communities that experience hunger are how we solve food insecurity. I’m looking forward to continuing that within San Francisco and Marin, and I’m excited to see meaningful federal change in the months and years ahead.” 

Farm Bill FAQs: Q&A with Meg Davidson

September 15, 2022

What’s the Farm Bill? How does it impact my neighbors and I? Why should I care? 

Well, as our Policy and Advocacy Director Meg Davidson puts it: “Do you eat? Then you should care.” 

Let’s dive into how the Farm Bill shapes our nationwide food systems, funds essential federal nutrition programs, and how you can get involved in advocating for continued support for the hunger-fighting programs our community relies on. 

Food Bank (FB): So, what exactly is the Farm Bill? 

Meg Davidson: The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that serves as the federal government’s main tool for making sure the nation’s food system keeps running. It sets the priorities for both farming and the primary nutrition safety net programs for the next five years. The 2024 Farm Bill is being negotiated right now. 

Think about the Farm Bill as a building with three pillars: 

  • The first pillar provides farmers with a safety net against the inherent ups and downs of agriculture. 
  • The second pillar is the nutrition safety net, helping Americans in need put food on the table. 
  • And the third focuses on the environment – protection of the water, air, and earth to ensure that farming isn’t doing more harm than good. 

FB: As the Food Bank, how does the Farm Bill impact our work? 

Meg: The Farm Bill funds federal nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), and CSFP (Commodity Supplemental Food Program), all of which are integral to the work we do. SNAP, aka CalFresh in CA, is a nutrition benefit program that helps one in nine Californians put food on the table. TEFAP is the USDA-supported method through which the Food Bank distributes 6 million meals to our neighbors every week. And CSFP is a program that helps 10,000 seniors in San Francisco and Marin stretch their budgets and nourish themselves. 

FB: How are we pushing to make SNAP, and other benefits, stronger? 

Meg: We’re looking to improve the adequacy of SNAP benefits by increasing allotment amounts and eliminating barriers for populations who need nutrition support – for example, college students and immigrants. We’re working to expand access to SNAP by removing administrative hurdles, like 3-month limits for working adults and restrictions on how SNAP benefits are spent.  

We’re also pushing to reauthorize CSFP and increase funding for TEFAP, as we continue to see heightened levels of need in our community. For both CSFP and TEFAP, we want the minimum eligibility incomes raised to reflect the high cost of living in the Bay Area. And we’re pushing for continued TEFAP investment in BIPOC farmers and local economies.  

FB: What would happen if SNAP benefits were cut? 

Meg: SNAP benefits are incredible but inadequate. The amount of money that people get is not enough to meet all their needs. Four in 10 people who receive SNAP also go to food banks to supplement their food. So, it’s important that we don’t make SNAP even weaker, because food banks are already completely tapped out. We simply cannot take on more if we were to eliminate certain populations from being deemed eligible for SNAP. There would be millions of Americans who would be excluded from this critical safety net that helps them put food on the table. 

We saw how reducing barriers during the pandemic made it easier for people in need of support to enroll in the program. We know what works, so let’s not go backwards. 

FB: What is the pushback that these programs receive at the federal level? 

Meg: There are a lot of stereotypes that affect lawmaker’s perceptions of programs like SNAP, CSFP, and TEFAP. For instance, there’s always pushback that we need to cut back on the eligibility for SNAP recipients in order to cut costs. But the reality is, SNAP is good for the economy, not just recipients: a recent USDA study estimated that every dollar in new SNAP benefits spent when the economy is weak and unemployment elevated would increase the gross domestic product by $1.54. And 80% of SNAP benefits are spent within the first two weeks of receipt, pumping money quickly back into the economy and generating more jobs. 

FB: How can community members take action? 

Meg: Start out by signing our petition and tell Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP. Adequate safety nets are the most effective way that we can prevent hunger and food insecurity in our community and ensure that our neighbors have a network of support when they fall on hard times. Then, make sure to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so you can stay up to date on timely ways to get involved.  

 

It’s up to all of us to take action to end hunger in our community, so stay tuned for more ways to engage with the 2024 Farm Bill. 

Safety Nets Creating Stability: Lisa’s Story

September 6, 2022

Lisa is a lot of things. She’s a Pisces, a gamer, and a voice in her community. A resident of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (TNDC) Kelly Cullen Community in San Francisco, she also attends their educational classes and volunteered at their People’s Garden before the pandemic. “I do a little of everything,” she laughed when we spoke to her outside the building’s weekly food pantry.

Right now, she’s living on her own with three small dogs. She has friends on her floor, a computer to game on, and a multifunctional pressure cooker that cooks rice, sautés vegetables, and air-fries meat she gets from the food pantry downstairs. “I like the pantry because I can get my extras here, the things I wouldn’t be able to buy from the store,” she told us. “Right now, I have everything. I’m stable, I’ve got housing. I don’t have any worries, so to speak.”

But it wasn’t always this way. For Lisa, a combination of government-funded safety nets and community support led her to this stability – and now she’s able to offer helping hands to others as well.

Safety Nets Are Necessary

For seniors and folks with disabilities like Lisa, government policies on food assistance have had a checkered history. Originally, people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) were ineligible for SNAP or CalFresh. But that changed in 2019. “Advocates from the SSI and anti-hunger community, including our Food Bank, all worked really hard to overturn that policy. And then activists conducted outreach across the state to connect SSI recipients to the resource,” said Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.

Lisa felt the effects of policy changes firsthand. “In the beginning, when folks on SSI weren’t allowed to collect food stamps, I found that really stressful. It’s easier now,” she said. She explained that expanded CalFresh benefits during the pandemic were also a boon. “I get a little extra on top of what I usually get, and I can set myself up better. If they stop the extra [food assistance money], I’m still good now because I have my staple foods in my pantry and meat in my freezer.”

Community Support is Integral

Lisa’s current situation wouldn’t be possible without the support she received, both from the government and her community. “A young lady named Lynn turned me on to classes with TNDC [where I live now]. She has helped me grow.” And with that growth came a desire to help others in the Tenderloin: so far, she’s advocated for pedestrian safety and a dog-friendly park in the neighborhood. “I learned a whole lot about myself, and I learned about community organizing,” said Lisa.

She also reaches out a helping hand to folks in the Tenderloin, as others have done for her. “Talking to people is my way of giving back. I can tell them places to go, and if they need my help to sign up for anything I’ll help them,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to change your life when nobody’s helping you, but when you get support, it’s easier. That’s my game plan. I’m gonna bring y’all in.”