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.

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 ‘Churn’ Means More Missing Meals in SF and Marin

December 1, 2016

CalFresh – known nationally as SNAP and formerly as ‘food stamps’ – is a cornerstone of our food safety net in California. Almost 4.5 million people participate in CalFresh statewide, and more than 60,000[1] people participate in San Francisco and Marin combined. CalFresh participants receive an “EBT card” – which functions like a debit card that gets replenished with CalFresh benefits each month; participants then use CalFresh benefits to buy food in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Unfortunately, CalFresh churn is a big problem among many recipients.

Churn is when an eligible recipient unexpectedly loses CalFresh benefits, usually because of missed reporting requirements, only to re-enroll within one to three months.

In order to stay on benefits, CalFresh households must report eligibility information periodically. At six months after initial application, participants must notify the county of any household circumstances that have changed through a form called a SAR 7; at one year, they must re-verify all household information and complete an interview. The idea is that household circumstances sometimes change, and having a regularly scheduled time when participants submit documents and verifications ensures their status with CalFresh remains accurate.

But in practice, many households suddenly find themselves with an empty EBT card, unable to buy groceries. Imagine standing at a grocery check-out counter, only to find that your debit card unexpectedly had a $0 balance? What would that mean for feeding your family and paying the rest of your bills that month?

An interruption in CalFresh benefits, even for a month, can have real, damaging consequences for a family that is living on the edge of financial stability. For example, a household with the average CalFresh benefit of $304 per month would lose about 100 meals during the month when benefits are interrupted.

Statewide, one in five Calfresh applications received is from someone who was on CalFresh in the last 90 days.

Why does this happen? Confusion about the semi-annual reporting process, difficult-to-read letters from the county, language barriers, a missed interview, or a recent change in address or phone number can all result in benefits being terminated. It is not difficult to imagine a situation in which a busy family with multiple jobs, hectic schedules of school and childcare, combined with the stress of paying bills and keeping household paperwork in order, could end up missing CalFresh deadlines. Once benefits have been lost, households sometimes have to reapply for benefits all over again.

In addition to hurting recipients, CalFresh churn is inefficient and troublesome for county administrators. Instead of helping new clients enroll or improving the program overall, workers spend valuable time completing new applications for cases which should never have been discontinued in the first place.

We estimate that in San Francisco and Marin, $280,000 in CalFresh money are lost each month due to churn.

Over the next month, the Food Bank Advocacy Team will share a series of blog posts about CalFresh churn. Next week, we will dive into our county-level data in San Francisco and Marin. In subsequent weeks, we will explore more specifically what causes churn, and provide recommendations to diagnose churn and implement effective solutions.

Join us as we explore this topic!


[1] DFA 256 Report, August 2016:
[2] CDSS CalFresh Household Profile, FFY, 2014: