On Tuesday, May 2nd The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors honored May as CalFresh Awareness month with a Gold Resolution. With community partners and representatives of the Sonoma County Human Services and Health Services present, Supervisor Hopkins celebrated the key role that CalFresh plays in making many Sonoma County residents more food secure.
May is CalFresh Awareness Month
CalFresh Awareness Month started in May of 2011 and is the official month dedicated to increasing public awareness of CalFresh. The state, counties and community based organizations are committed to bringing awareness, dispelling myths and assisting clients with CalFresh applications. The CDSS Chief Deputy Director, Todd Bland, sent out a letter to all of California’s county welfare directors inviting them to participate in celebrating CalFresh Awareness Month.
What exactly is CalFresh?
CalFresh is the California name for the federally funded program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) at the national level. It is a monthly supplement to a household’s food budget. On average, the program offers $4.38 per person, per day disbursed to a debit card (called an EBT card) that can be used to purchase a limited category of food products (no tobacco, alcohol, toiletries or hot foods). CalFresh helps to improve the health and well-being of qualified households and individuals by providing improved access to healthy and nutritious foods. Many are unaware they are eligible to receive benefits.
CalFresh in Sonoma County
In Sonoma County alone, around 36,000 people receive CalFresh benefits monthly and the average benefit per case is around $220 per month. According to the California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), “If CalFresh reached all potentially eligible individuals, Sonoma County residents would receive an additional $55,200,000 in federally funded benefits each year. Those benefits would result in $98,800,000 of additional state and local economic activity.” Also according to the CFPA, our Program Access Index (a proxy for participation rate) was .443 in 2014.
Although the county has made great strides in increasing the rate of participation, they need the community’s help in getting the word out! That is what drew several community groups to come together regularly with Sonoma County Health Department and Human Services Department and identify CalFresh Awareness Month as a shared strategy to engage our community in this conversation. According to the Hunger Index Working Group (www.sonomahungerindex.com), over 34 million meals go missing in Sonoma County each year. “CalFresh provided nearly 26 million meals last year, but there are still families missing meals that do not receive this benefit,” according to George Malachowski, Program Development Manager of the Sonoma County Human Services Dept. and founding member of Hunger Index. “Making sure more households receive CalFresh is important part of making sure individuals, children and families do not miss meals. CalFresh by itself will not provide all the missing meals in Sonoma County, so we also need to build partnerships to close the meal gap and ensure people have a regular source of food. ”
Where CalFresh is accepted
CalFresh benefits are accepted at most major grocery stores, corner stores, produce stands, and more recently at farmers’ markets (for a list of all farmers’ markets participating in CalFresh please go to www.sonomacalfresh.org).
Petaluma Bounty runs Farmers’ Market L.I.F.E. (Local Incentive for Food and Economy), a Market Match initiative that provides a dollar-for-dollar match for CalFresh purchases at participating farmers’ markets. Since 2015, participating markets have distributed over $175,000 in CalFresh and incentives. “Farmers’ Market L.I.F.E. allows us to feed our community quality food, increase sales for small farmers, and increase low-income consumers’ purchasing power!” Suzi Grady, Director of Petaluma Bounty shares, “I’m excited about participating in CalFresh Awareness Month because I want everyone to know about CalFresh, how to enroll, and where it is accepted even if they don’t qualify. That way, they will know where to go if and when they or someone they know falls on hard times.” Further, Farmers’ Market L.I.F.E. continues to expand the number of farmers’ markets participating in their collaborative but have not exhausted their pool of incentives. “There is more money available to CalFresh customers to access through using their EBT at farmers’ markets. Ideally, we’d like to have all available funds benefit CalFresh customers and our farmers.”
For the 2017 season, Farmers’ Market L.I.F.E. has included Santa Rosa Wednesday Night Market, Kenwood, The Springs (Boyes Hot Springs) along with the 11 other markets already participating. For a full list of markets involved, please go to www.farmersmarketlife.org. Kelly Smith, Executive Director of Agricultural Community Events runs 10 of the market locations participating in L.I.F.E. She appreciated the collaboration around CalFresh and what it has brought to her markets. “Our CalFresh customers are an important part of making farmers’ markets successful. We’re so happy to offer Market Match at all our markets and its important to our farmers too.”
Activities around the County in celebration of CalFresh
Community groups and County Departments will be involved in a variety of activities for CalFresh Awareness month. See below for a partial listing or go to www.sonomacalfresh.org.
- Farmers’ markets participating in L.I.F.E. will increase the daily maximum match to $20 for people making purchases with CalFresh. Click here for flyers in English and Spanish
- SNAP-Ed Nutrition Classes offered in Spanish and English at participating libraries
- Food Demonstrations by Center for Well-Being at participating markets
- Enrollment support at participating farmers’ markets by Catholic Charities
- ValueMart tours at Redwood Empire Food Bank