Ways to Give
Mayella is a Food Bank participant and pantry volunteer. This is her story.
“The first time I came home with a bag of Food Bank groceries, it was like a weight had been lifted. My husband and I could not find work, and it was by chance that a pantry volunteer overheard that we were going hungry. When she gave us food, it changed my life.
Today, I’m a volunteer at that same pantry because I want to give back to my community.
The holidays are extra special at the pantry: we put on music, and I bake cookies for everyone. I don’t have a lot of money, but I can bake, I can share, and I can give my time.
For my family’s holiday meal, my husband and I go fishing, and then I cook everything I get from the Food Bank. My kids go back to school and tell everyone they’ve had a holiday feast. They don’t know the stress it is to put food on the table. They’re just happy to have a big holiday meal. And that’s the way the holidays should be.
Thank you for helping make sure the Food Bank can give me and my family, and everyone who needs some help, a very special holiday.”
It’s 5 am, and the roll-up door closes with a metal clunk. Secured inside the truck’s cargo hold are dozens of pallets of food, ready to be delivered to pantry sites throughout the city.
Food Bank driver and lead dispatcher Marc Zaminsky checks the log one last time and fires up the truck. He pulls out of the Food Bank’s driveway onto the quiet streets of San Francisco.
His first stop is Marshall Elementary School, located in the Mission District. He pulls up to the curb, then uses the truck’s lift to lower the pallets of food to street level. Marc then wheels the food inside.
Today’s delivery features cantaloupe, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, rice, raisins, boxes of cereal, oranges, potatoes, carrots, apples and eggs. Volunteers take care to display the fresh produce and other products so they are ready when families arrive to select their groceries for the week.
Next up is a Single Room Occupancy hotel a few blocks away. The pantry coordinator is waiting by the door. She walks to the curb to greet Marc. The hallway is too narrow for the pallet jack so the pantry volunteers pitch in to help carry the boxes inside. The pantry will open in 30 minutes, so the volunteers quickly unload the boxes and set up the pantry tables.
Afterward, three more stops are made, at a community center, a church, and a middle school, until finally, the cargo bay is empty. Marc checks off his log and heads back to the Food Bank.
Back at the Food Bank, Marc pulls into a loading bay, and the work begins again. The truck is loaded with pallets of food. The heaviest items, like potatoes and melons, layer the bottom of the pallet. Lighter, crushable items like cereal and eggs go on top.
Once the truck is loaded, Marc checks in at the dispatch room for any last minute changes. Then, he heads back into the city to bring more food to the people who need it.
“This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. When you arrive at the pantries, people are smiling and happy to see you. There’s joy because you’re bringing them relief, you’re bringing them food,” says Marc Zaminsky.
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 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!