Hunger Advocate Spotlight: Steve Summers

Steve-SummersDuring the height of the Great Recession, Steve Summers saw how the economic downturn was forcing families to struggle and causing food insecurity rates to spike. He too was impacted after losing his job and, eventually, his apartment. Though he had been volunteering in the Food Bank’s warehouse for years, he heard about our advocacy work and thought, “I could really have a voice here.” Since then, Summers has been a non-stop anti-hunger advocate, traveling to Sacramento and encouraging others to join in the movement against hunger and poverty.

How has being an anti-hunger advocate affected your view of hunger and poverty?

The thing about being so impacted by the recession and the alleged recovery is that you can really feel stigmatized and think, “I can’t believe this is happening.” When you start to advocate, your realize there are thousands of people in your position. You realize that hunger and poverty is a function of our economic and our political system—it’s not about personal failings.

Hunger and poverty is a function of our economic and political system—it’s not about personal failings.

What are you most proud of?

The highlights are the successful policy changes that immediately get food into people’s hands, including the recent repeal of the CalWORKs Maximum Family Grant. Also, seeing the political system firsthand is rewarding. I come away thinking, “With enough numbers, this could really make a difference.”

How do you handle frustrations? When bills or budget items don’t get through—what keeps you going?

Try to turn it into action. Ending hunger and poverty is a long-term goal. That’s also why we’re always looking for a new generation of people to keep carrying this forward.

Which historical figure do you admire most?

Astronomy is one of my hobbies and I’ve always admired Galileo. He discovered scientific proof that the earth revolved around the sun which went against a lot of the teachings of the time. Still, he spoke the truth and they locked him away under house arrest for the rest of his life. I admire him for speaking truth to power.

If someone doesn’t have time to travel to Sacramento, can they still be an anti-hunger advocate?

Yes! As a voter, a tax payer, or a Californian, you already have the right to be an advocate. You can advocate by email, phone, or drop by representatives’ district offices and talk to a staffer.

Steve and Senior Policy Advocate Shanti at Hunger Action Day

Steve and Senior Policy Advocate Shanti Prasad preparing for meetings with legislators on Hunger Action Day

As a voter, a tax payer, or a Californian, you already have the right to be an advocate.

This is one of the great things about the Food Bank's Speak Up Project, which is a free advocacy institute that gives people the tools to advocate and be leaders in the movement to end hunger.

What are your best State Capitol travel tips?

Drink plenty of water and bring sunscreen! Also, on any given day in the Capitol, there are going to be a ton of other advocacy groups. Talk to them! They’ll be interested in your issue, and you’ll be interested in theirs. It’s unifying to see everyone involved in issues they care about.

 

We need your voice. Visit our Advocacy Action Center to learn more about the Speak Up Project and how else you can support our advocacy work.

 

CalFresh for Food Today—and Tomorrow

Liz Gomez Q&A

Liz Gomez, Associate Director of Client Services, oversees the food bank's 15-person CalFresh Outreach team.

In 2001, Liz Gomez was managing Alameda County Community Food Bank’s emergency food helpline, connecting people with same day food assistance. She often noticed clients calling the helpline often weren’t enrolled in CalFresh, a federal nutrition program which, at the time, was called food stamps.

“It became apparent people needed help applying,” Gomez said. Clients often didn’t think they were eligible for the program, and information wasn’t easily available in languages other than English. “We wanted to make sure people received help with food today, and also had access to food on a more consistent basis,” she said.

Gomez started promoting CalFresh through community outreach and began helping people fill out applications. Today, Gomez is the Associate Director of Client Services and the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach program has grown to become one of the state’s leading programs. The 15 person team helped 4,622 Alameda County households enroll last year.

“We wanted to make sure people received help with food today, and also had access to food on a more consistent basis."

Despite numerous successes, Gomez says there’s still a lot of work to be done in helping more eligible people enroll and access fresh, healthy food. To finish off CalFresh Awareness Month, Gomez sat down to talk about the outreach team’s history and what’s next.

What has been key to CalFresh Outreach’s growth?
From the beginning, we knew we couldn’t do this alone— we got together with a group of service providers that included the City Of Oakland, various school districts, Women, Infants & Children offices, and of course the Alameda County Social Services Agency. We discussed challenges people had in accessing CalFresh and developed a comprehensive plan to tackle some of those barriers.

How have those partnerships helped you evolve?

The CalFresh Outreach team helped over 4,000 households enroll last year.

The CalFresh Outreach team helped over 4,600 households enroll last year.

Our key partnerships have gone a long way. For example, in 2007 I was still driving over to the Alameda County Social Services Department and dropping off clients' applications every day. I thought, “There has to be a more efficient way.” We started working with the county to transition to a secure and private method of submitting applications electronically. At the time, we thought we’d be submitting no more than 50 per month. Today, we submit over 500 applications per month, all of which are about 90 percent complete. About 85 to 90 percent of the applications we submit are ultimately approved. After the county office receives the application, it is assigned to an eligibility worker and they complete the enrollment process.

Only 66 percent of eligible Californians are enrolled in CalFresh—one of the lowest participation rates in the country. Why is that?
California is a big state with 58 counties, and there isn’t a central database like there is in other states. This means that even small changes, including policy and programmatic, can be a cumbersome process.

"It takes a lot of education to dispel misconceptions and myths that exist around CalFresh."

There are also some complicated rules in California. For example, if an older adult or a person with disabilities receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) they aren’t eligible for CalFresh. Again, this is unique to California, and the different rules make eligibility more complicated. Language barriers also exist, especially in Alameda County, though we offer our services in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

Plus, there is still stigma around public benefits. It takes a lot of education to dispel misconceptions and myths that exist around CalFresh. A lot of our outreach work is about putting the right messaging in place and educating people on the facts.

How does your team overcome those barriers?
Our marketing strategy is research-based. We’ve learned which attitudes and beliefs keep people from applying for the program.

What have you found?

Out of a survey of 500 residents, the top two motivators for someone to apply are the direct benefit on a household’s overall budget, followed by the benefit of having access to more food. So our materials emphasize how CalFresh can help you stretch your food budget and buy more fresh fruits and vegetables.

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The CalFresh Outreach team and Alameda County Social Services setting up at a college job fair.

We also did a mapping study—many of our campaigns focus on zip codes where there are a higher proportion of households who aren’t enrolled in the program.

What’s next for the CalFresh Outreach Team?
We we want to reach as many people as possible so we have to get creative. Beyond grassroots outreach, we also coordinate a comprehensive outreach and marketing campaign, which includes online digital ads, marketing at the DMV offices, direct mail campaigns, and are developing a mobile app to help facilitate referrals for CalFresh and emergency food. We’re also continuing to train other community agencies about the basics of CalFresh and recruiting partner agencies to engage in this effort. We’ve always needed to think outside the box when it comes to strategies that help more people apply and access fresh, healthy food. We’ve come a long way, yet there is still so much more to do to connect people with food assistance.

 

Learn more about the food bank's CalFresh Outreach program.

“Food is the Fuel”

Oakland International student, Dominic, created this beautiful t-shirt design for our Mobile Pantry volunteers

Every day, we are touched by the stories of the neighbors we serve. Thank you so much, Dominic, for your creativity and thoughtfulness!

My name is Dominic Pablo Ahilon, and I am a 11th grade student at Oakland International High School, where we have a Food Truck come every month to give healthy food to our families. I designed a t-shirt for the Food Bank volunteers. Here I will talk about how I got the inspiration for my design and what every detail means. First of all, I can say that every  artist has his/her own source of inspiration. My source of inspiration to become an artist was a very special person, a friend of mine, and when that person left my life, I had to stop doing art. But this T-shirt project made me start making art again, because it inspired me to get involved and support my friends who volunteer at the Food Bank.

 

This design means a lot to me because it is not just a drawing or a design. In this design I had the opportunity to express myself. The type of font I used for the letters was a tattoo font. I used this type of font because the person I mentioned is tattooed on my heart forever, so I used this tattoo font to express how I felt. The quote I used was “Food is the Fuel” because without food we would be like a car without gas. We would not think, we would not move, we would not learn. We would not have done all we have achieved in this world. So I used this quote because food is where we get our gas to move, think, and get energy. I  used a image of a person’s head filled with small images such as technology, sports, music, art, science--all the things that we do at school, and all the things that bring knowledge. Also I surrounded the head with different types of healthy food as vegetables and meals. This was to represent that from food we get all our knowledge. Which concludes that Food is the Fuel to knowledge.

 

30 Years, 30 Stories: Janaye and Janette

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During the school year, 5-year-old twins Janaye and Janette rely on free school breakfast and lunch for nutrition. Yet with summer break just around the corner, the girls now face the threat of several months without healthy food. Grandma's slim fixed income simply isn't enough to cover the extra cost.

We need your help to provide children with fresh fruits and veggies! Starting Monday, June 1, Give to Fields to Families: The 2015 Summer Produce Challenge by July 15 and your donation will be MATCHED, dollar-for-dollar, up to $100,000. Together, we can provide twice the fresh food -- and hope -- to families in our community.


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: Don C.

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People come to our Food Bank for many reasons .. and we welcome them all! For 83-year-old Don, it was a community service requirement for a traffic ticket that brought him through our doors.

Yet, even after Don had completed enough volunteer hours to fulfill his service obligation, he couldn't stay away! Don found his experience so rewarding that he's returned every week since to serve double-shift Tuesdays, bagging and sorting produce for our community.

“Every time I come in to volunteer, I’m met with hugs, handshakes, and even an occasional kiss,” he says. “Plus, the Food Bank’s work is so important.” Not only is Don a regular volunteer; he’s also a regular contributor. Thanks, Don, for supporting our work in so many ways. We're lucky that wrong turn on the road led you to us!


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: Edlyn

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Edlyn (left), with Food Bank staff, Shanti and Kate, at Hunger Action Day 2015

This past Wednesday, Edlyn Countee woke bright and early to join us on a bus to Sacramento for Hunger Action Day. With eloquence and conviction, Edlyn led a group of community members into legislators' offices to educate them on the reality of hunger and poverty in Alameda County.

Not only is she a fierce community advocate who speaks passionately on behalf of her neighbors, but she's also our longest-serving advocate volunteer! In fact, Edlyn was an original member of CAAH (Community Activists Against Hunger) and among the first attend the inaugural Hunger Action Day, seventeen years ago.

Every year since, Edlyn has played a critical role in recruiting, organizing and training community members for the big day. Thank you, Edlyn, for your powerful voice and your dedication to serving our community.


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: Empty Bowls

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Guests from Empty Bowls 2014 took home beautiful ceramics hand-painted by local schoolchildren!

For nearly a decade, our Food Bank has gathered folks from every corner of our community for Empty Bowls, an annual family-friendly evening of art, nourishment and advocacy!

Not only do guests enjoy a delicious soup dinner, live music, a thrilling silent auction and more, they do all this while helping to nourish families in need. In fact, last year's event raised enough funds to provide 316,000 meals for our neighbors!

Learn more.


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: “Speedy” Gonzales

4-year-old Jessica recently hand-delivered food and funds for neighbors in need!

As a veteran of the National Guard and Special Forces, Felipe "Speedy" Gonzales is a true warrior.

But at age 84, he now fights a battle that no one should have to face -- Felipe fights hunger. Despite difficulty walking, he stands in food lines twice a week to help make ends meet.

Thanks to the fresh produce and healthy staples provided by one of our member pantries, Felipe and his wife have the nutrition they need to stay healthy.

Felipe is not alone; in fact, our area has California's highest concentration of seniors in poverty. May is Older Americans Month, a great time to sign up for our advocacy alerts and learn how you can join our efforts to uplift seniors in our community!


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: Jessica

4-year-old Jessica recently hand-delivered food and funds for neighbors in need!

4-year-old Jessica recently hand-delivered food and funds for neighbors in need!

Every day, we welcome a variety of guests through our doors: clients who come to apply for CalFresh, volunteers ready to sort fresh produce, and often, community members who swing by to deliver donations!

After learning about hunger recently at her preschool, 4-year-old Jessica arrived at our Food Bank with Mom. They gifted us a bag full of healthy items hand-picked by Jessica earlier that day -- canned veggies, pasta, and even cake mix for neighbors to celebrate special occasions! To top it off, Mom chipped in a $20 donation, enough to provide 45 meals for our community.

Thank you, Jessica, for showing us that it's never too early to start helping others. You're an inspiration to us all!


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!

30 Years, 30 Stories: Rich

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Rich, the Food Bank's longest-serving volunteer

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we're featuring Rich, one of our most dedicated and passionate supporters -- and the volunteer that's been with us the longest! After retiring from his career as a computer scientist, Rich was searching for a meaningful way to give back to the community. In 1999, he joined us as one of our very first Emergency Food Helpline operators, directing callers in need to nearby food pantries and soup kitchens in our network.

2,200 hours and 800+ shifts later, Rich still goes above and beyond to help our neighbors. "The Food Bank is a place where you can truly do some good," he says. "It's very rewarding to volunteer there."

Just this week, Rich received a special award at our Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, for 16 years (and counting!) of exceptional service. Thank you, Rich, for brightening each and every Wednesday for our Food Bank family -- and even more, our community.


30 Years, 30 Stories is a weekly series featuring snippets from every corner of our work. From figures like clients, volunteers, and policymakers, to events, programs, and grocery partners, check back every Friday to learn more and join us in celebrating our anniversary year!