CalFresh Outreach celebrates 10 years of groundbreaking work

Back in 2003, we recognized a trend among calls to our Emergency Food Helpline that would change the face of how the Food Bank — and many food banks nationwide — operates.

Liz Gomez

The Food Bank's CalFresh outreach began as a part-time project for Elizabeth Gomez in 2003. Today, she leads a team of a dozen outreach associates.

Thousands of households were reaching out for help each month, yet very few eligible families and individuals were taking advantage of government benefits that would help them put a healthy meal on the table. The most common of these benefits is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — commonly known as Food Stamps.

The reasons for not participating were usually lack of awareness, myths that wrongly led people to think they weren’t eligible, lack of resources to apply, or — commonly — a combination of these.

And thus, our Food Stamp outreach program was born.

Known as CalFresh in California, SNAP not only helps deserving families keep their cupboards full – and drives hundreds of millions of dollars into the California economy each year. A lot of that has to do with our Outreach efforts.

Join us in celebrating CalFresh Awareness Month (May 2013) and the program’s 10th birthday! And don’t forget to blow out a candle for yourself – as it’s your support that makes programs like this run.

CalFresh Outreach Timeline

2003: Elizabeth Gomez, then an Emergency Food Helpline coordinator, begins dedicating part of her time to screening callers for SNAP eligibility. Together with an AmeriCorps volunteer, they establish one of the nation’s first food bank Food Stamp Outreach Programs, screening callers in English and Spanish.

2005: Outreach receives its first government funding — a $100K grant from the USDA. The grant allows us to add a third full-time employee with Chinese language capabilities. That same year, we began working with community partner agencies to offer onsite enrollment workshops.

2007: We began working with Alameda County Social Services Agency to submit applications online on behalf of clients. Online submissions drastically reduce the amount of time it takes for applicants to be approved and begin taking advantage of much-needed nutrition benefits. The same year we also added Vietnamese language capabilities.

Food Bank outreach associates Kim and Hue host a CalFresh application clinic at Asian Health Services in Oakland.

Food Bank outreach associates Kim and Hue host a CalFresh application clinic at Asian Health Services in Oakland.

2009 – 2011: A crippling recession means significant growth for CalFresh Outreach. The number of CalFresh applications submitted more than double, as does the size of our staff. Our Outreach Department would need to seek temporary space outside of the food bank to accommodate the growth!

2011: Through efforts led by Outreach staff and Food Bank advocates, Governor Jerry Brown signs every nutrition bill that crosses his desk, helping improve access to CalFresh for thousands of California residents.

2012: The Food Bank expands its office space to accommodate the Outreach department. The renovated wing includes fully-equipped family consultation rooms. Applications originated by Food Bank outreach staff in 2012 generate $6.4 million in benefits and an estimated $11.5 million in local economic activity! The success of our program leads to new funding from Alameda County, allowing us to expand our outreach staff to 13 — led by Elizabeth Gomez, now the CalFresh Outreach Programs Manager.

CalFresh benefits are available for qualifying individuals and families and can provide
$180 to over $1,137 per month in cost-free benefits to help purchase groceries.

Think you or someone you know may qualify? CalFresh Outreach associates are available
Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., by calling (510) 635-3663, press “2” for CalFresh.

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