Hailey’s Story | The Helpers Need Help Sometimes 

November 13, 2018

Someday, UC San Francisco medical student Hailey hopes to save many lives – but for right now, she is the one who needs a little bit of saving.

The 25-year-old has her sights set on becoming a surgeon. But living in San Francisco and attending one of the most prestigious medical schools in all the land has its drawbacks – specifically, the cost of living.  “I don’t have an income right now – it’s all student loans – so every month is a struggle when it comes to paying rent and surviving,” she says.

Hailey recently learned she was eligible to enroll in CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps. The Food Bank has an entire team of employees, dedicated to helping eligible individuals enroll in the program. One of the most successful locations, in terms of sign-ups, is the UCSF Parnassus campus.

Now, Hailey gets $190 from CalFresh to spend on groceries.  “It’s given me flexibility in my monthly budgeting and has allowed me to make healthier choices every day.”

She’s not alone. Since the beginning of the year, the Food Bank has worked with campus officials and the San Francisco Human Services Agency to make CalFresh a part of UCSF’s overall financial aid strategy. Enrollment events were held once or twice a month during the fall semester, and the program is really starting to take off.

“Since we started working with UCSF early this year, 186 students have been approved for CalFresh through our events, resulting in over $34,000 a month in benefits,” says Food Bank CalFresh Outreach Manager, Francesca Costa. “We are so grateful for UCSF’s partnership in supporting students through the CalFresh application process. The tearful hugs and deep gratitude from students we have helped enroll make it clear that we are meeting an important need here on campus.”


A Letter from Paul | Beyond Election Day

November 8, 2018

Now that the election is behind us, there continues to be much work ahead in the fight against hunger. Hunger is a bi-partisan issue, and we at the Food Bank will continue to work with politicians on both sides of the aisle to advocate for programs that provide food assistance and alleviate poverty.

We invite you to join us.  In the coming months, we’ll need your support on key policy issues, including:

  • 1) The Farm Bill, the biggest driver of U.S. food and farming policy, is overdue for reauthorization. We rely on this vital legislation to put food on the table for millions of low-income Americans because it includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” formerly food stamps and called CalFresh in California). Right now, the House and Senate are working to reconcile their separate versions of the Bill. Some reports indicate that the House will produce a final bill during the lame-duck session, maybe as early as next week.  We will be advocating for a Farm Bill that protects and strengthens SNAP, one of the most efficient and effective solutions to ending hunger and poverty in America.
  • 2) Public Charge: We are alarmed by the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed changes to ‘public charge’ regulations, which would increase hunger and poverty by penalizing immigrants who accept nearly any kind of means-tested public assistance. Participating in programs like CalFresh, Section 8 housing, and Medicaid/Medi-Cal would become reason to deny an immigrant from obtaining lawful permanent residency (a green card) or get admitted to the United States. We don’t believe families should have to choose between putting food on the table and a future in this county. We urge you to help us oppose this proposal by making a public comment before December 10 on the federal register.
  • 3) Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWD): Close to 3,000 people in San Francisco are at risk of losing CalFresh (food stamps) benefits on December 1 because a federal waiver for work requirements will expire. As a result, San Franciscans who are between 18 and 49 years old and have no dependents nor disabilities must work at least 80 hours a month to continue receiving CalFresh benefits.  Regardless of how low the rate of unemployment becomes in our counties, we do not believe withdrawing CalFresh benefits will create a better situation for the recipients or for the community.  We are working closely with our community partners to ensure that everyone at risk of losing CalFresh benefits has been notified, screened for an exemption to retain their benefits, and made aware of other food resources/assistance.

Distributing nearly a million pounds of food every week always feels more urgent during November and December – when we strive to ensure that everyone in our community can enjoy the simple pleasure of a festive, nourishing holiday meal. Please know that while we continue to deliver millions of pounds of food to our community, we will also continue to work with lawmakers and advocates to preserve safety-net services for our most vulnerable neighbors. We have the ear of representatives on the local, state and federal level, and we believe that Food For All should be a motto that the entire country adopts.

Get the latest news about how you can help us advocate by subscribing to our monthly eNews and following us on social media.

With gratitude,

Paul Ash, Executive Director, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank


Big victories in Sacramento in 2018

June 22, 2018

2018 has been a big year for State budget advocacy. From a huge victory for seniors and people with disabilities, to greater support for food banks – we are grateful for our local legislators who have been allies every step of the way!

SSI recipients and CalFresh!

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a program that provides modest monthly grants to seniors and people with disabilities living on a low income. The maximum grant for an individual is about $910 per month. Due to a harmful state policy enacted in 1974, people on SSI have been barred from applying for CalFresh benefits.  In fact, California was the only state in the country where being on SSI made you ineligible for CalFresh.

But this year – thanks to fierce advocacy from Californians for SSI, a coalition of organizations and SSI recipients from across California – the Legislature and Governor Brown took action to end this policy. Starting in the summer of 2019, SSI recipients will be able to apply for CalFresh!

“This is a historic victory for the 46,000 people living on SSI in San Francisco and Marin counties, and is the single biggest advancement in the fight against hunger in many decades,” says Becky Gershon, Policy and Advocacy Manager for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.

Meanwhile, living on SSI is still quite a struggle, especially in high-rent counties like San Francisco and Marin. Check out our latest video from an SSI listening session, hosted by St. Anthony’s Foundation:

Increased $$ for food banks!

Operating food banks requires infrastructure: trucks, refrigeration units, pallet jacks, forklifts, and all sorts of other equipment that helps to keep fresh groceries moving. Unfortunately, equipment can get old, and break down, but ask any food bank operations manager and they’ll say they’d rather spend money on food to nourish more people than upgrades to infrastructure. We started a postcard writing campaign, urging Governor Brown to set aside funding for Food Bank infrastructure, and it worked.  The Governor approved $5.5 million in state funding this year to help food banks with the cost of upgrades!

We also sent postcards, signed by many of our supporters and volunteers, urging the Governor to include more funding for the CalFood program, which gives money to food banks to be able to purchase California grown foods.  Governor Brown came through again, allocating $8 million to that program.  Both funding measures will be shared among the 40+ food banks in California.

Thank you to all of you who signed these postcards during volunteer shifts in our warehouse, or those who signed our email petition. We believe that this collective effort played a role in the Governor’s decision-making.

Stay Connected!

Throughout the rest of the summer, the Food Bank’s Policy and Advocacy team will be working hard to promoting more State legislation that we have identified as important steps towards ending hunger. You can see the full list here.  We also urge you to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so you can help us spread our message at critical moments. Finally, stay engaged and get instant updates by following us on Twitter at @SFMFB_Advocacy.

Sarah’s Story | Second Chance with CalFresh

May 1, 2018

Sarah breaks out her CalFresh (food stamps) EBT card at a neighborhood supermarket and gives a relieved smile because she is able to purchase the healthy, fresh vegetables that she needs to maintain and improve her health.

Every year, the Food Bank helps hundreds of neighbors like Sarah enroll in CalFresh because we know that accessing healthy food is essential for low-income neighbors who are striving to overcome challenges.

Bad luck and broken dreams

It was several years ago when Sarah suffered a pair of episodes that cast a dark cloud over her life.  In 2011, while walking up a flight of stairs on a rainy night, she slipped and tumbled over the banister, free falling two stories to the ground below. “I still have a lot of pain and range-of-motion issues, not to mention some emotional scars, from that fall,” She recounts.  Then, not even a year later, her father passed away after a long illness.  The pain from her fall, and the pain of losing her father combined to launch Sarah into a state of deep depression. She lost her job and eventually her apartment and became homeless.

Before these misfortunes, Sarah dreamed of owning her own health spa. She grew up in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood in an upper-middle class home. After high school, Sarah moved to Los Angeles to “make her mark on the world.”  But when her father started having health issues, she moved back to the Bay Area to be closer to him.  Sarah found a job in a high-end health spa in Sausalito and really took to it.  “I had a real knack for working in that place, and I thought I was going to own my own spa business one day,” she says.

Building a better life

Today, lingering health challenges have made it hard for Sarah to find work. But that hasn’t stopped her from striving for a better life.  She recently secured her own apartment, is receiving treatment for her injuries, and is eating healthier thanks to her CalFresh benefits.

“I get about $180 a month through CalFresh, which is a big help by allowing me to buy fresh vegetables and protein and other things,” she says. “When I finally get back on my feet financially, I hope to stop getting CalFresh.  But for now, it really is a life-saving thing for me.”

Take Action for CalFresh

Unfortunately, her worrying isn’t over. Sarah says she’s fearful that politicians will cut much of the funding for CalFresh when they vote on the 2018 Farm Bill. Losing CalFresh could send her spiraling back to her darkest days.

“If I had a chance to tell a politician about CalFresh, I would say it’s working, that it’s helping people like me be better,” Sarah says. “If anything, more money needs to be added to the program, not less, because there are people in this city who are way worse off than me.”

If you are in need of CalFresh benefits, the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach team can help; learn more by clicking here.

If you want to help neighbors like Sarah move forward and realize their dreams, sign up for our Policy and Advocacy Newsletter and we’ll send you alerts when we need your help with petitions and phone calls to elected officials.

Advocacy Wins 2017

November 1, 2017

We are happy to report that there is a lot to celebrate from California’s 2017 legislative session.

At the beginning of the year, our Policy and Advocacy Team set our sights on 11 bills and two budget issues that we knew could improve food access for our neighbors in need. Throughout the year we wrote letters to our legislators in Sacramento, encouraged our supporters to call their own legislators, and even testified at hearings in the Capitol. And thanks to our partners at the California Association of Food Banks, the California Food Policy Advocates, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty – among many organizations – we saw several important victories in our collective goal to end hunger.  Here are some of the highlights:

Starting in 2018, we will see more State funding for food banks across the state:

  • $8 million for the CalFood fund in 2017-18, which will provide State funding to food banks to purchase more California-grown fruits and vegetables – a big victory considering the fund only received $2 million last year! Thank you to those of you who signed a postcard for Governor Brown or Assemblymember Ting.
  • Senate Bill 61, authored by Senator Hertzberg, will renew and extend the Emergency Food for Families Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund. This will allow taxpayers to keep contributing to the work of food banks in California through their tax returns.

Children and students in California will have better access to nutrition at school:

  • Senate Bill 138, authored by Senator McGuire, will require school districts to identify children who are already on Medi-Cal so that they can automatically be enrolled in free school meals. The legislation also allows very high poverty schools across California to serve universal free breakfast and lunch to all of their students – not just those who are enrolled in free or reduced-price meals.
  • Senate Bill 250, authored by Senator Hertzberg, will ensure that schools cannot deny lunch nor punish students if their parent or guardian hasn’t paid their lunch bill on time.

CalFresh (food stamps) will become easier to access for families and individuals in need:

  • Several bills will make it easier for eligible people to receive and stay on CalFresh benefits starting next year. This includes SB 278, authored by Senator Wiener, which will protect CalFresh participants from penalties related to over-issuances when they were caused by county errors, and SB 282 also authored by Senator Wiener, which will provide clarity to counties on whether they can encourage people to use their CalFresh benefits at restaurants.
  • Assembly Bill 607, authored by Assemblymember Gloria, will streamline and modernize the Disaster-CalFresh program, making it easier and quicker for people to receive benefits in the case of a natural disaster.

You, as supporters of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, empower our Policy & Advocacy team to advance legislation and policies that improve food assistance at the local, state and national level.   For that we say thank you.

Click here to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so that you can help us to advocate at critical moments in the legislative session in 2018!

Monet’s Story | CalFresh Helps Busy College Student Thrive

September 22, 2017

Monet is a full-time student at San Francisco State with a double major. She’s got dreams of starting a nonprofit to help inner city youth overcome their challenges as she once did.

From the time she was 13, Monet took care of her two younger brothers as her divorced parents struggled to put food on the table. She attributes those responsibilities to her motivation to succeed today.

“We all need to survive,” says Monet. “But we can’t just set up camp in our struggle. We have to strive to do better.”

Right now, Monet juggles a full class load with a full-time job to put herself through school. But with the skyrocketing cost of housing, she has trouble making ends meet.

“Sometimes I thin out my food and eat just rice to pay for basic necessities,” she says. “And I don’t have any money to put in my savings for emergencies.”

Enter the CalFresh Outreach Team, which recently helped Monet secure CalFresh (food stamps) as well as connect her to our pantry at SF State. In addition to food distribution, the Food Bank also works to ensure that people are able to take full advantage of the federal food assistance programs available to them. With CalFresh, Monet can buy food at her regular grocery store and supplement what she gets there with fresh produce and staples from the pantry located on her campus.

“Hunger should never stand in the way of a student’s education,” said Francesca Costa, CalFresh Outreach Program Manager. “By helping Monet and other students focus on their studies instead of where their next meal is coming from, we are investing in their success in school and in life.”

Monet said that the Food Bank helped lift a weight off her shoulders. Wise beyond her years, Monet views her situation as an opportunity: “It’s challenging to survive on my own. But it brings growth.

“Taking care of myself financially, mentally, being on top of school, and being on time for work is a lot. But receiving food has helped, so I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to get grocery money. I’m so grateful for the Food Bank.”

Click here to learn more about CalFresh and how you can sign up for benefits.

Click here to read about our College Pantries.

Take Action

Right now, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP – called CalFresh in California)  is at risk of federal budget cuts. Will you take just a minute to add your name to our letter to our California legislators, urging them to protect and defend funding for SNAP? Click here to add your name.

Over 60,000 people in San Francisco and Marin Counties rely on the to buy food for themselves and their families each and every week. Without the SNAP program, low-income neighbors, who are already struggling to make ends meet, would go hungry.

CalFresh Success Story | “Food stamps helped me stay in school.”

May 4, 2017

When 29-year-old Julia was in her last year of nursing school, she finally succumbed to the stark reality of her situation. Her husband had recently been laid off from his engineering job, and with bills piling up, the couple wasn’t sure if they could afford for Julia to finish school. They were also struggling to put food on the table for their kids.

“It got pretty scary for a while,” Julia recalls. “My husband and I were just trying to feed our family. We were so careful with our spending, but it just wasn’t enough.”  

After maxing-out their credit cards, Julia realized it was time to reach out for help. They applied for CalFresh, a federally-funded nutrition program (formerly called Food Stamps) that helps low-income households buy healthy foods.

Getting enrolled made a quick but lasting impact on Julia’s family. “I remember how we immediately all started eating better food. We’re talking about fruits and vegetables we had been skipping. And, food stamps helped me stay in school and earn my degree,” Julia says.

After Julia graduated, she landed a job as a labor and delivery nurse at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. With her steady income and her husband back at work, the family no longer needed CalFresh. But it’s not far from her mind: part of her job at the hospital is to help new mothers with financial challenges sign up for the program.

“If you’re not doing very well, and you’re not making enough money, CalFresh is one of the best ways to help you get by until you can get back on your feet.  It certainly helped me and my family get over the hump,” she says.

The Food Bank’s CalFresh Team is dedicated to getting eligible families like Julia’s connected to this valuable food assistance program. Last year, we helped 2,144 households apply for CalFresh, and families enrolled by the Food Bank were awarded over $5 million in benefits to buy groceries. Because CalFresh brings federal dollars into low-income communities, it is one of the best tools we have to end hunger.

Donate to our programs that help neighbors like Julia.

Learn more about our CalFresh Outreach

Read how our Policy & Advocacy Team is advocating to reform and improve the CalFresh system.

CalFresh ‘Churn’ Fueled by Outdated, Inadequate Processes

January 3, 2017

We need strong state leadership on churn in order to boost CalFresh participation rates for all counties.

We have all experienced the chore of renewing annual memberships or subscriptions. Sometimes it’s easy: you get a reminder email, you log in and update your account, and you receive confirmation that everything is settled.

But sometimes it’s not: an inconspicuous notice gets buried in the mail, or the turnaround is tight and you have to hunt for the necessary documents. Sometimes the notice is incomprehensible, and you don’t realize that you’re about to lose services. Maybe you tried to call, but customer service is only open when you’re at work, or the length of the call queue is interminable. Before you know it, the deadline has passed, and you’ve lapsed.

Unfortunately for CalFresh recipients, the program’s twice-yearly reporting and annual recertification requirements are a recipe for churn, causing them to miss out on important food benefits. At every step of the way, outdated and user-unfriendly processes make it harder than it should be to stay enrolled.

To recertify every year, a CalFresh recipient must (1) complete and mail a paper form to the county office; (2) re-submit documents verifying household income and expenses and any changed circumstances; and (3) complete an interview with a county worker.

A typical experience goes more like this: [1]

  • One paper notice is sent by postal mail, alerting the client that their recertification is due. (Email is not an option, even though everyone – even security-minded banks and health care providers – uses email because it’s more reliable and efficient.)
  • The notice is written in bureaucratic language that is at best confusing and at worst, nonsensical. Sometimes the notice is sent in the wrong language.
  • In this notice, the county assigns a mandatory interview date and time without any input from the client. Unsurprisingly, the time often does not work with participants’ schedules; most CalFresh recipients work, and the office is not open outside regular business hours. (Imagine your next doctor’s appointment being assigned to you by the doctor’s office, without consideration of your schedule.)
  • Sometimes the interview date has already passed by the time a notice is received.
  • If any of this is unclear or the assigned interview time requires a change, participants may have to start a long game of phone tag, during which time their benefits expire.
  • Further, if a client’s address changed in the last year, or if mail delivery is unreliable, participants may not receive any notices in the mail at all – in which case, they discover they have lost benefits while trying to buy food.

Churn is a problem across California, despite widespread recognition that it is destabilizing for participants. While some counties are making efforts to tinker with their processes within existing Federal and State requirements, true change will come from efforts to dramatically streamline and modernize those requirements. Without state leadership to identify and require effective consumer-centered policies and protocols, churn will continue to be a drag on California’s CalFresh participation rate.

When critical food benefits are at stake, a smooth renewal process can make all the difference. In our next blog post, we will explore how better churn data collection at the county level could help to uncover ideas for successful solutions, and how the State can help counties to adopt practices and procedures that are known to work. Stay tuned!

In case you missed them, here are the first two posts in this blog series about CalFresh churn:

Post #1: CalFresh ‘Churn’ Means More Missing Meals in SF and Marin

Post #2: The Steep Cost of CalFresh ‘Churn’

[1] Deep research in Contra Costa County found that all of these problems and more combine to create churn. ‘Using Data to Address and Diagnose Churn’ (August, 2016) PowerPoint presentation given to the CalFresh Learning Collaborative: http://calfreshlearningcollaborative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/webinar-8252016.pdf