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The Ins and Outs of Basic Food

Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

One of the many programs that our talented Outreach and Enrollment team assists people with is the Basic Food program. Basic Food, formerly known as food stamps, is Washington’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program. The program helps families (and individuals) supplement their grocery budget each month and put more wholesome, delicious food on the table.

So how does this program actually work?
For starters, long gone are the days of the program being administered on actual stamps, or paper: the benefits are administered on a plastic electronic benefits transfer card (typically called an EBT card), that looks just like a debit card, and comes with a pin number. Each month, benefits are loaded onto your card on the same day and are ready to use!

2017 Income guidelines (effective 4/1/2017):

Oftentimes, we hear from clients that they are hesitant to sign up for the basic food program for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, there are quite a few misconceptions floating around, and I would like to clear some of those up!

Some of the most common things we hear from clients:

“I’m not eligible because I don’t have a family” – You do not have to have a family, or children to be on basic food. If you are single, as long as you meet all of the other requirements, you are eligible for the program.

“I’m not eligible because I am a college student” – Students are not typically eligible for the program but there are some exceptions.

  • Students employed for an average of 20 hours per week (80 hours per month).
    – Unpaid internships do not count.
  • Students responsible for more than half of the care for a dependent under five.
  • Students that are single parents who have a child that is eleven or younger.
  • Students participating in WorkFirst.
  • Students participating in a work study program.

“It is not worth signing up because I will have a low benefit amount” – Low benefit amounts may also help you qualify for other programs, like low-cost cell phone service, or free/reduced price lunch for children in school. Benefits also roll over every month, so you can save them up for something special like a holiday, or birthday party.

“Someone else needs this benefit more than I do” – Basic Food is an entitlement program, which means that anyone who is eligible can get it without taking away benefits from someone else, and unused money is not allocated to other families.

“Not everyone in my family is a citizen” – You can apply for the members in your household who meet the citizenship requirements – for example, if three people are eligible, and two are not, the three that meet the eligibility requirements would receive benefits.

“There are too many restrictions on what food you can buy” – Nope, there are no restrictions on the brands or types of food you can buy. The choice is yours! However, you cannot purchase alcohol, or hot food from the deli that has been prepared for you.

If you think you might be interested in enrolling in, or learning more about the Basic Food program, or any other nutrition assistance programs, give us a call on our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588!

Tags: Basic Food   Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card   Enrollment   Family Health Hotline   food   food benefits   food program   Food security   food stamps   SNAP   Washington state   

Ending Stigma Through Education

We asked new AmeriCorps team member Rachel to write about her experience at WithinReach so far. We are so glad she and the rest of the team are with us to serve families in Washington this year! Stay tuned for more outreach stories as their service year continues.
When I moved to Seattle this September to serve as a member of WithinReach’s AmeriCorps team, I was immediately impressed by the number non-profits and agencies working in the community. Seattle is an area rich in resources and commitment to fostering wellness for all. During my service year I look forward to learning more about all this community has to offer and best practices for reaching and serving disadvantaged populations. As someone who is pursuing a career in social work, this position offers a unique opportunity to see first-hand the barriers people face when trying to access the supports they need.
One such challenge I learned about since I began my service at WithinReach, is how misinformation about public assistance, like Basic Food and Medicaid, can prevent people from accessing the supports they need to achieve their highest level of wellness. I have had several clients who have decided not to apply for Basic Food even though they qualified because they think they will be keeping someone else from getting those benefits. One gentleman said, “there are people who need it more than me.” Even after I explained to him that Basic Food is an entitlement program so everyone who applies and is deemed eligible for the program can receive benefits, he still did not want to apply.
Oftentimes the issue is not just inaccurate information, like if you get Food Stamps someone else cannot, but also the stigma associated with accepting public assistance. A common narrative in our country is that people who receive food assistance are lazy and don’t want to work to be able to provide for themselves. However, most of the clients I have worked with just need a little extra support temporarily while they look for job, are not able to work, or are working but don’t make enough to support their families. All of these circumstances are out of their control.
One goal I have for my service term is to help combat misconceptions around public assistance through educating my clients. It is absolutely up to each person to decide if Basic Food and other programs are the best fit for their needs. It is my job as navigator to ensure they have all the correct information to make this decision, and know that they are not harming someone else by accepting assistance.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Basic Food   food stamps   National Service   Seattle   stories of service   

Changing perspectives on homelessness in Seattle

Our AmeriCorps Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Team visits over 30 sites monthly to assist clients in meeting health and food needs. Some clients we interact with face homelessness, and over the course of our service year we have increased our knowledge regarding the different factors and experiences surrounding this issue.Recently, WithinReach participated in the Community Resource Exchange hosted by United Way of King County. Along with dozens of other organizations, we assisted around 1,000 people in accessing over 125 services including haircuts, supplies like clothes and blankets, social services and more. At this event, we saw the importance of shedding the stigma attached to homelessness, and wanted to share insight we have gained through assisting clients facing homelessness.
Sydney: Working often with people experiencing homelessness has demonstrated for me the importance of engagement and sincerity when talking with others. Due to the difficult nature of homelessness,  many people I’ve worked with demonstrate a strong desire for validation of the struggles they face. I have had several experiences in which, when asking the usual “how are you?” I have been met by unexpectedly honest answers. This has shown me how valuable it can be to allow people facing hard times to have a chance to be heard and to narrate their own story. Of course, this can be extremely uncomfortable, especially when, as a society, we generally expect a conversation with a stranger to be limited to exchanging small talk. However, as someone lucky enough not to experience homelessness or the many other challenges that both cause and come with it, I feel like my uncomfortability is worth another’s humanity. My ability to lend an ear and show compassion towards people experiencing homelessness can make a big difference in their day.

Anne: There is clearly a great stigma attached to homelessness, and many believe that these individuals are dangerous or unstable but in reality many individuals are experiencing things out of their control. The biggest realization I’ve had regarding clients facing homelessness is there are numerous factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, physical disability, and more. Many are working hard to get out of a bad situation with the cards stacked against them and a little bit of compassion with an open ear can go a long way in understanding where others are coming from. It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s important to not make fast judgments based on the way people look or where they sleep.

Jessica: I used to see, but rarely interact with, people experiencing homelessness. I felt uncertain about how to interact with the people I saw, while simultaneously feeling like I need to “help” or “fix” their situation. I think a lot of people feel this way and it causes them to avoid those experiencing homelessness, for fear of feeling uncertain or uncomfortable. Having the opportunity to work with so many clients experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity has helped me have a better understanding of the factors contributing to this issue. More importantly though, it has allowed me to interact with people experiencing these issues on a one-on-one basis.  After getting a glimpse into someone’s life, they suddenly become much more relatable, and homelessness seems not just like their problem, but something that can happen to anybody. People who live in my community and neighborhood who are experiencing homelessness are just as much a part of my community as those who have permanent homes, and it’s important to treat them with the same dignity and respect.

People tend to feel uncomfortable interacting with those experiencing homelessness, perhaps because it forces us to face our own vulnerability. Rather than shutting down at this experience, lean into the opportunity and engage with the person in front of you. According to King County’s One Night Count, 4,505 individuals lived unsheltered. With such high rates of homelessness, it is difficult to know how to contribute positively to the issue. Engaging authentically with those experiencing homelessness, seeing them as the moms, dad, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors that they are, can be one small way to help. You might be surprised at what you learn from those around you.

Check out statistics from King County’s One Night Count.

Learn more about the Community Resource Exchange.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Resource Exchange   homelessness   King County   Seattle   United Way of King County   

Adulting: Health Insurance Style

Written by Outreach & Enrollment Specialist/AmeriCorps Member Anne Mulligan

Taking responsibility for your own health insurance when you turn 26 can be quite the daunting task. Luckily, lots of us at WithinReach feel your pain, and we’re here to help! AmeriCorps member Anne breaks it down in the universal language: a list of GIFs.





When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not only did it provide access to health care for millions of Americans, but it allowed me to stay under my parents insurance until I turn 26. This meant I had a few more blissful years of having coverage and not needing to understand insurance jargon and the confusing system!


When I had my 25th birthday (and quarter life crisis) I realized that I had a fleeting year of insurance ignorance left, but was fortunate to start working at WithinReach, which provided me with a crash course in health insurance! Even with the best experts training me, I still get confused with all the terms thrown around and can imagine it is even more confusing for my peers who are not discussing health insurance like it’s their J-O-B.


While some may be lucky enough to have a grown up job and get insurance through their employer, there are many of us who are not offered benefits and must enter the world of grown up decisions regarding our health.  But where does someone even start?!?!?


If you’re like me, sitting and reading  dry materials gives you flashbacks to college days of sleep deprivation, so this helpful video and its fun graphics make things a little more manageable. Deductibles, co-insurance, and co-payment, oh my!

Also, did you know that another thing the ACA enacted was penalties for those who are uninsured?


So make sure you take care of your insurance needs or else pay a penalty at tax time.

So now you generally know what’s what in the insurance world… but what is the next step?


If you’re in Washington State, you can call our SUPER friendly Family Health Hotline at (800) 322-2588 and get immediate help over the phone signing up for insurance, or you can visit the Washington Health Plan Finder. But it’s way more fun to call us and picture this in your head as we help you:


And don’t forget that open enrollment for 2016 is over on January 31st–you don’t want to miss this deadline!

Tags: get enrolled   health insurance   Open Enrollment   

5 Ways our AmeriCorps Dare to Reach

WithinReach’s Healthy Connections luncheon is this week! It’s a chance for us to celebrate the positive change we have made for Washington families, and acknowledge our supporters in the community. But our impact extends even further! Since 2009, we have hosted forty-six AmeriCorps and VISTA service members, many of whom have gone on to become incredible professionals and community leaders.

We reached out to five of our AmeriCorps alumni to see where they are now and to talk about how their year of AmeriCorps service at WithinReach helped them dare to reach!


What are you doing now?

I’m the Financial Stability Manager at United Way of Snohomish County, overseeing programs that help families save money and become more financially secure.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

My AmeriCorps service at WithinReach dared me to go places most people like me never go, listen to stories that mostly go unheard, and to believe in my own ability to make a difference in the lives of others. It dared me to reach past stereotypes and barriers to serve my community with compassion and creativity.



What are you doing now?

I’m a first year medical student at the University of Washington in the School of Medicine, investigating what makes us sick and what makes us healthy on the individual and community level.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

My AmeriCorps service taught me to look at the whole person, and dare to question my assumptions of their story, their habits, and their beliefs about their health and happiness. It dared me to listen deeply and laugh often, connecting with and advocating for a patient’s goals for their wellness.



What are you doing now?

Alongside finishing up my Master in Health Administration (MHA) degree at the University of Washington, I am completing a multidisciplinary pediatric training program at Seattle Children’s Hospital called the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (LEAH) fellowship. As a fellow, I am assessing our weight and wellness services and designing processes to improve access, care delivery, and the patient experience for adolescents and their families.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

With a background in public health, I am particularly interested in using business management as a catalyst for operational and quality improvements that increase timeliness and affordability of care – especially for vulnerable communities that I worked with in the past at WithinReach. My time at WithinReach opened my eyes to many of the socioeconomic structures and institutional and individual barriers that contribute to health disparities. This experience inspired me to “dare to reach” for all children and families, as well as dare them to reach their optimal health.



What are you doing now?

As a Program Officer for the Foster Care Initiatives team at the College Success Foundation, I work with our Governors’ Scholarship recipients who have experienced foster care. We want to ensure they are connected to and supported by campus and community resources so that they can excel and succeed in their post-secondary education aspirations.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

Through my AmeriCorps service at WithinReach, I was provided the training and support I needed as I dared to reach my goal of connecting families to food and health resources that would help alleviate the vulnerabilities they face. The experience I gained while serving in the community on behalf of WithinReach continues to inspire me in my daily work and life. Today, “Dare to Reach!” describes my desire to use education and advocacy as vehicles for social justice as I support youth and young adults to become self-sufficient and change agents in helping their communities thrive.



What are you doing now?

I have the pleasure of working at a homeless shelter for DESC, an organization that values the harm reduction approach. My position incorporates a lot of exciting roles; I help clients navigate the shelter environment, mindfully enforce rules, celebrate client successes, and try to support people who are struggling.

How did your AmeriCorps service help you dare to reach?

It was while serving as an AmeriCorps member at WithinReach that I had my first glimpse of what real need looks like. I saw, for the first time in my life, single mothers struggling to provide for their children, lonely men without food or emergency contacts and far too many young people struggling to access the assistance that they were entitled to. It was staggering to see this happening in my own country. At WithinReach, I had the privilege of helping diverse clients navigate assistance programs. I couldn’t do the work I do now if it wasn’t for what the amazing team at WithinReach taught me. There is nothing stopping us from reaching for a better world.


Tags: access   Advocating   AmeriCorps   Assistance   Barriers   change-agent   Community Health   Dare to Reach   DESC   Education   families   Health Disparities   homeless   United Way of Snohomish County   University of Washington   VISTA   Vulnerable populations   Wellness   WithinReach   

Being Prepared Over Feeling Invincible: Why Medical Insurance Is Important While You Are Young

By Chris Garrido-Philp, Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, WithinReach AmeriCorps
Since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a lot of attention has been given to the “Young Invincibles,” or people aged 19-26, and the worry that they would not sign up or use their health insurance. The term “Young Invincibes” was coined by the health insurance industry to describe young adults who are relatively healthy but choose not to have insurance due to the belief that, their chances of getting hurt or sick are slim to none. I am one of those “Young Invincibles” and I’m very familiar with the feeling of rarely getting sick. Even so, I am glad to have insurance and the security that if I do have a serious health issue, I’ll be covered.
Not too long ago I walked into my doctor’s office unable to remember the last time I had been in for a check-up. I didn’t even remember my doctor’s name, let alone what he looked like. I wasn’t avoiding him on purpose; I just never felt the need to go. When I did get sick, it was easily fixed with some fever reducing medication and rest. The appointment reminded me of the importance of regular check-ups and preventative measures. He asked me if my childhood asthma was still manageable and if I needed an inhaler to be safe. While I haven’t suffered a serious asthma attack in years, I was glad he addressed this important health issue; as my new job takes me outdoors on occasion. So, I told him I would need an inhaler for emergencies and he prescribed it for me. I feel so much happier knowing that I am healthy and prepared.
While youth is associated with good health, there are multitudes of conditions that can appear without any notice. Cancer, STDs, neurological disorders, ulcers, and others that can happen at any age, not to mention injuries like sprains and broken bones. When you’re just out of high school or college, ready to face adulthood and get a job, that doesn’t automatically prepare you for full independence. It especially doesn’t provide you with the skill sets you need if you are facing a health problem on your own. Living uninsured is always a risk and can cost people more than they expect. It can result in an exorbitant amount of medical expenses that can derail your future plans; such as postponing college, having a family, starting a new job, finding a new home and more.
Although, paying for monthly premiums can be difficult and expensive, having medical insurance helps manage life’s unexpected moments of vulnerability by reducing your medical costs. Having coverage is also a preventive measure that allows you to discover certain health conditions and treat them before they get worse. Youth may be in a period of perceived invincibility, but life is notorious for changing unexpectedly. None of us are truly invincible, but being prepared and having insurance when we need it brings us closer to the goal of living a long, healthy life.
You could be eligible for our state’s Medicaid program (Washington Apple Health) or a subsidy from the government to help you pay for insurance. Call WithinReach’s Family Health Hotline today at 1-800-322-2588 or visit our website at www.parenthelp123.org for more information.


Tags: ACA   Afordable Care Act   AmeriCorps   Family Health Hotline   health insurance   Medical Cost   ParentHelp123   Washington Apple Health   Washington state   Young Invincibles   

WA Healthplanfinder Gets a Makeover: 6 things you need to know!

By Emma Lieuwen and Irina Verevkina
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
Open enrollment began November 15, 2014 and will continue until February 15, 2015. If you have not yet enrolled for health coverage, now is the time! Even if you signed up last year, your options may have changed, so be sure to review your plan.
If you have any questions about your coverage, need help navigating Washington Healthplanfinder’s website, or would like help with your application, please call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
If you would rather talk to someone in person, call the Family Health Hotline to find out where our team will be in the community.
Recently, Washington Healthplanfinder’s website got a new look! When you go to wahealthplanfinder.org the homepage looks a little different. The new look was designed to make finding information about enrolling in free or low-cost health coverage easier. Here are six changes that we think are important:
Change #1: New look for the Homepage
The sign in button is now located in the upper right corner. Additionally, there is now a designated section on the homepage to directly access Apple Health Renewals and Enrollment in the middle of the page.
Forgot your username or password? Simply click the green “Sign in” button and you will be able to retrieve it, or call the Healthplanfinder Customer Support Center at 1-855-923-4633.
Change #2: New Application Questions
“Is any member on this application a child 26 or older seeking adult disabled dependent coverage?”
Answer “yes” to this question if one of your dependents is an adult child with a disability; meaning, they cannot work due to their disability and are financially dependent on you. How this question is answered won’t affect your eligibility for Apple Health.
“Is any household member on this application currently enrolled in Medicare?”
If someone is covered by Medicare, they are likely ineligible for Qualified Health Plans and Apple Health.
Change #3: Eligibility Status Screen
After submitting your application, you will be taken to the Eligibility Status screen. This page provides the following information for each member of your household:

  • Eligibility status (Approved, Ineligible, Conditional, etc)
  • The program name (for example, Washington Apple Health)
  • Coverage dates
  • Next steps


Change #4: Pending Coverage and Document Upload
If you, or someone on your application, has a “pending coverage” eligibility status, you may be required to submit documents for additional verification. You can click the “upload documents” button to upload files. If you are prompted to submit documents, do so as soon as possible to avoid losing coverage.


Change #5: Reporting Changes
If you need to report a change on your application, you can now see how the change affects your eligibility. This is an improvement from how change reporting used to go, which required you to select and purchase a plan if you tried to make a change.
Change #6: Plan-palooza
This year, there will be more Qualified Health Plans to choose from. Be sure to shop around, consider your needs, and explore your options to make sure you’re getting the best plan for your needs and budget.
More questions? Call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 today!


Tags: Apple Health Renewals   Family Health Hotline   Free-Low Cost Health Coverage   health insurance   Open Enrollment   Washington HealthPlanFinder   Washington state   

Food Stamps and Farmers Markets: Produce for all?

By Jessica Vu and Emma Lieuwen,
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
An important way the WithinReach Bridge to Basics team helps families and individuals at outreach sites is by connecting them to the Basic Food Program (Food Stamps) —Washington’s, state-managed subsidiary of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally we provide other information about public benefit programs available, as a means of ensuring that our clients have access to the health and food resources they need to be healthy.
As AmeriCorps members, we also qualify for the program; and after completing the application process and receiving our EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards, we were able to explore the power of our new, dedicated grocery funds. We were pleased to discover, that our funds weren’t limited to grocery stores but could also be used at farmers markets.
With many of us not from the area, we soon found out that Seattle is home to seven bustling farmers markets. At farmers markets we saw signs that read “Double your EBT dollars!” and were naturally intrigued. To use an EBT card at a market, Basic Food recipients simply stop by the manager’s tent to have their EBT cards swiped, they then receive tokens for a chosen amount. Here’s where the doubling comes in: Up to $10 of EBT funds are matched with $10 in “Fresh Bucks,” or vouchers that can be used to buy fresh produce.

Photo: Tokens given for desired EBT amount (center) and Fresh Bucks for fruits and vegetables (right). Image from Food Access: FreshBucks page on: seattlefarmersmarkets.org

Having the $20 to spend at the market for $10 of EBT funds is not only an incentive to eat more fruits and vegetables, but also to use the market in general. The Fresh Bucks program in Seattle is not the only one of its kind in the country being used to raise awareness and encourage the purchase of fresh, local, produce; nationally, 5,000 farmers markets accept EBT, while 1,000 both accept EBT and will double the amount [1]. The doubling programs are made possible partially by new government funds in the most recent Farm Bill. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) allotted $31 million with the goal of assisting SNAP recipients in having access to fruits and vegetables [2].

After learning more about the implementation and scope of the Fresh Bucks and EBT use at farmer’s markets, we were inclined to further consider what kinds of issues lead to the need for such programs in the first place. We realized that our awareness of Fresh Bucks benefits stemmed entirely from the fact that we were already regularly shopping at farmers markets, even before receiving our EBT cards. While our AmeriCorps team represents a particular demographic that is both inclined to shop at farmers’ markets and income-eligible for SNAP, we have come to realize that many of our clients at outreach sites are less familiar with the option of using EBT funds at farmers’ markets. What kinds of barriers prevent our clients from utilizing these benefits, and why is there a need to incentivize the use of EBT cards at local markets?

The answer to this question is more complicated than it would seem. Issues of food access stem from the fact that, though they oftentimes reside in the midst of an abundance of food resources, many low-income communities in cities throughout the U.S. do not have access to fresh and nutritious food because it is more affordable to feed families with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, processed food items.

A popular response to this critical social issue is to educate low-income communities about the importance of eating healthy—to make them understand that although the initial cost is high, eating nutritious foods is much more beneficial for individuals and families in the long-run. But what many of these advocates often miss is the fact that this perspective is a byproduct of socioeconomic privilege–a solution that works well for people that can afford to prioritize their needs, but not for most others. Although the injustice is located at the systems level, we all too often place the onus on the oppressed to simply change their habits as a means of fixing the problem.

Although, the Fresh Bucks program increases the purchasing power of lower-income individuals, it ignores the fact that food access is not a purely economic issue–there are social and cultural barriers that still prevent many Basic Food (SNAP) recipients from taking advantage of all the resources available to them.

As individuals who were drawn to a position related to food accessibility and nutrition, we come with a familiarity with farmers markets, and it was not a challenge to integrate the SNAP benefits into our existing consumer practices. We receive this advantage as we use the program ourselves, and can work to improve access to programs like Fresh Bucks for others. Our job/work as AmeriCrops members is to do more than just inform clients of their options and encourage healthy choices, but also to bring an understanding of social, cultural and economic barriers that our clients may face into practice, which, to us, may seem well within reach. The implementation of programs like Fresh Bucks is an important step in the direction toward improved nutrition for low-income individuals and families, but there is still a need to ensure that these programs are accessible to all.


Tags: Barriers   Basic Food   benefit programs   EBT card   families   Farm Bill   Farmers Markets   food   fresh local produce   low income   NIFA   Nutrition   Seattle   SNAP   

Meet our New AmeriCorps Team!

Introducing our 2014-2015 AmeriCorps Team:
Meet WithinReach’s newest in-person outreach team! We asked our team members to send us a selfie and to tell us something they liked about themselves and how they felt it would be a strength for this years service. In the spirit of Halloween, we also asked about their favorite childhood costume with a picture if they had one.

 “Many of my interests revolve around social justice, health equity, and wellness promotion, which I’m hoping to include as much as possible during this year of service and as I pursue a graduate degree in public health next fall.”

Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Education: BA in Psychology & English from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: My favorite costume came at the ripe age of four in the form of a homemade, extremely-fierce lion.




“Something I like about myself is my ability to learn from experience. I am aware that I don’t have all the answers to the universe but I will definitely try to learn about it as much as I can. The good and bad in life can be learning experiences that help in getting a better perspective of the person I want to be in the future.”

Hometown: Lima, Peru (San Borja District); Lynnwood, Washington
Education: BA in English Literature and Political Science with an emphasis on human rights from the University of Washington

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: Little Red Riding Hood. I feel I could trick or treat a lot more than I could later on! One of my great memories.




“Throughout my educational career I found enjoyment in learning and discovery. This year at Within Reach, a genuine love of learning and growing will help me as I work in the community with a new set of skills.”

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Education: BS in Pre-Healthcare Professions Kinesiology & BA in Spanish from Western Washington University.

My favorite childhood Halloween costume:    I was pretty proud of a hippie costume I had around 8 or 9.




“Something I like about myself is my compassionate nature which will be a strength for me in my new position at WithinReach. Demonstrating compassion will allow me to relate and effectively communicate with individuals from underserved/underprivileged environments.”

Hometown: Hilo, Hawai`i
Education: BA in Business, minor in Chemistry from University of Puget Sound; BS in Biology from Seattle University

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: A werewolf. However, the only picture I was able to quickly obtain was me as a firefighter:




“I think that I’m very empathetic and am able to easily connect with clients. I also like how having a working knowledge of systems & institutions has helped me to have a broader understanding of some of the barriers my clients face.”

Hometown: Baku, Azerbaijan; Seattle, Washington
Education: BA in Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies & Political Science

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: Barney. It was the only time I got to pick out my own costume. Every other year of my childhood I was a clown courtesy of my cousin’s hand-me-downs.




“I think that my abilities as a systems thinker will help me greatly in my AmeriCorps position at WithinReach.”

Hometown: Olympia, Washington
Education: BA in Food Justice from New York University

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: I was once an adorably terrifying clown for Halloween, which embodied what was probably the height of my Halloween spirit and is thus my favorite costume from my younger years.




“I like my ability to relate and chat with many people. I find that having a smile on my face can reflect onto others.”

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Education: BA in Health Sciences from Virginia Tech

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: My favorite go to Halloween costume as a child was a witch. I was a witch four years in a row.




“Something I like about myself is my interest in working with people—it definitely helps to keep me grounded during outreach. Whether a site is really busy or really slow, connecting with individuals—clients, the site staff, my AmeriCorps team members—makes the experience very meaningful for me.”

Hometown: Ellensburg, Washington
Education: BA in English from Reed College; MA in English Literature from the University of New Mexico; Post-bac work in pre-health studies at Portland State University

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: A princess dress I wore in eighth grade. I do not even know the source of that garment—friend, family, foe—but wearing it, I felt grand. While I have no evidence of that costume, I do have a photo of a very short version of myself with a childhood friend.



Laura “Being raised in a low income immigrant family whose primary language is Spanish, I believe I can relate to many clients who face language and at times cultural barriers. I love the idea of being a bridge between worlds because at an early age I was that bridge for my parents.”

Hometown: Sunnyside, Washington
Education: BA in Medical Anthropology and Global Health from the University of Washington

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: I remember putting on my mother’s lipstick, eye shadow, and blush, calling myself a princess. So technically I was a very laid back princess in sweatpants, tennis shoes, and sweater.



Noelle“Something that I like to do is listen to people’s stories. I find the events and circumstances that brought people to where they are at the time I meet them so interesting. I think the combination of these things would be a strength for the outreach component of my position at WithinReach.”

Hometown: Wheatland, California
Education: BA in Molecular Cell Biology with an emphasis in Neurobiology and a minor in Music from UC Berkeley

My favorite childhood Halloween costume: Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. It was the first costume that I chose for myself and I was very excited about the sequined headband with the half veil that went over your eyes.


Tags: AmeriCorps   benefit assistances   Community Health   Public Health      Washington state   WithinReach   

A Fresh Perspective on the Food Stamps Challenge

Written by AmeriCorps Member, Christina Leal
I am aware that many people do not have the time, money or opportunity to put the same amount of care and thought into what they eat as I do. Perusing colorful fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and farmer’s market on Sundays is something that I enjoy very much, almost ritualistically.  As an AmeriCorps member, I get assistance from the Basic Food Program, but I also rely on the continued financial support of my father. I realize that most people don’t have such a safety cushion and have to rely on their salary and the Basic Food Program to keep their stomachs full.
I was curious to see exactly how my grocery bill compared with that of the average basic food recipient. If I were relying exclusively on my EBT card to go grocery shopping, what would my shopping cart look like? My prediction, of course, was that it would include fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, but how fewer? And what type?
My current weekly grocery bill is around $62.00. This includes everything I need to make a garlicky-pasta dish, turkey and cheese sandwiches every day, and a delicious fruit salad to last throughout the week. While this isn’t an exorbitant amount of food, it’s enough to give me the protein, nutrients, and carbohydrates necessary to feel satisfied. Almost everything I buy is certified as organic and/or locally sourced. I have the luxury of diversity in my options as well as the peace of mind that most of my food isn’t peppered with inimical additives.
The average Basic Food benefit amount comes out to $54.65 per week. But this is the amount that a family receives. So, if we consider that the average family size in Seattle is 2.87 persons, the average budget per adult and child on the Basic Food program is roughly $19 a week. I wanted to get a realistic idea of what food choices I would make if I had to live on this budget. In trying to devise what my grocery cart would look like, I quickly realized I had no other choice but to go to a different grocery store and skip the farmer’s market. Then, after checking prices and plugging in numbers, I realized that I couldn’t even stay in my preferred produce aisles. In order to eat 3 nutritious square meals per day, I could only afford to buy two organic items, canned soup and a frozen burrito. Most of my meals would consist of black bean tacos with a side of sweet potato chips.
While I was surprised that I could afford a daily serving of fruits and vegetables, I do realize that this illustration is partially flawed. This is because if I were actually living on a $19 per week food budget, there’s a strong chance that I would also be working at an additional job to improve my economic situation. There’s no doubt that this would significantly decrease the time that I could allot to prepare food. It took me two trips to the grocery store and at least three times the amount time it would normally take me just to select food with this budget. Rather than strolling through thinking “Ooh, what can I cook with this?” I had to constantly ask myself, “How can I feel full with this amount of money?”  I also found myself having to restock items like wheat bread, spinach and trail mix. This completely changed the shopping experience from being a fun exploration to stressful and a little embarrassing.
The more that I think about this challenge, the more I feel that calling myself “privileged” is an understatement. This brings to mind the frustration of a friend of mine from the Central District who recently told me that it’s nearly impossible for people of color in her neighborhood to buy “food that doesn’t cause cancer.” Not only is organic food just not available in marginalized neighborhoods, it’s typically out of the realm of affordability. I cherish using my grocery dollars not only to buy foods that are going to support my health and well-being in the best way possible, but also as a vote to support agricultural practices that are environmentally and socially ethical. The truth that most people are denied this opportunity is unjust and is a symptom of the poorly-directed investments in our food production system.

Tags: Food Stamps Challenge   

Food Stamps Offer Help to Families Who Have Lost Unemployment Benefits

Written by AmeriCorps members Travis Bassett and Lisa Andersen

For the 1.3 million people across the county who have lost their unemployment income, this is a challenging and unnerving time.  At WithinReach we have heard from people across Washington who have lost their unemployment benefits and are looking for resources to help them fill the gap.

We recently assisted a client who faced precisely that difficult situation: the client’s unemployment benefits had been cut, which meant that he had lost his only source of income, despite having moved from state to state in hopes of finding a job over the past several years. His story was like that of many families in Washington – his home was in foreclosure, and he decided to apply for food stamps because he felt like he could no longer make ends meet. He said that he had simply “run out of things to sell.” We were able to help him navigate the application for food stamps within 10 minutes, and he was eligible to receive food benefits just 24 hours after an interview with DSHS.

Recent news stories suggest an eventual reinstatement of unemployment benefits, but in the meantime, far too many families are struggling to make ends meet.  Many are struggling to put food on the table, and the money that Basic Food, (food stamps) provides families for groceries can make a huge difference. The families and individuals we help to apply for Basic Food often receive their benefits in less than two days.

We have also discovered that people who are eligible for Basic Food are very often eligible for free health insurance.  Washington Apple Health (the new name for Medicaid in WA) has been expanded to cover more people, meaning that many of those who were not eligible for free health insurance a few months ago are now eligible for free coverage.  Clients are usually thrilled to learn that they are eligible for free health insurance that includes dental and preventative care.

At WithinReach we specialize in helping people navigate the application processes for both food stamps and health insurance.  To get started you can visit ParentHelp123 or call our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 for assistance. If you are unsure of what programs you may be eligible for just give us a call and our friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you figure it out.

Tags: Basic Food   Employment benefits cut   food stamps   Washington Apple Health   

‘Young Invincibles’ Helping ‘Young Invincibles’ Enroll in Health Insurance

Written by AmeriCorps members Kari Geiger and Natasha Pietila
On Friday, December 13th, a few of my colleagues and I left the city and headed off to Stevens Pass Ski Resort for a special health insurance enrollment event. Although Friday the 13th is often considered unlucky, we experienced no ill luck. It was a beautiful, snowy day – particularly exciting for me, a California-girl, who had never played in the snow. As certified In-Person Assisters, we had the opportunity to join the event with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange at Stevens Pass Ski resort to help enroll some of their 600 seasonal and part time employees in health insurance.
After crossing the resort’s quad, a slippery journey for my first time in snow (and lack of snow boots), we joined a large group of In-Person Assisters and Insurance representatives in the cafeteria and started talking to and helping enroll the ski instructors, emergency rescuers, and ski enthusiasts. Stevens Pass was generous enough to set up a hot drink and snack station, as well as providing a hot lunch of chili and grilled cheese. Whenever we were available, a new client would swish up in their snow gear and sit down with us to navigate through the Washington Healthplanfinder. While I got to teach about the healthplanfinder and how to use it, my clients taught me the difference in snow sport climates and conditions. One ski instructor, Clayton, pointed out the differences between the rain and snow falling on the mountain, and how it affects the mountain and skiing conditions.  Another one of the clients I talked to that day was a ‘young invincible,’ who at 27 was no longer covered by her parent’s health insurance, and was nervous about using the free ski pass (a perk of being employed at Stevens Pass) without health coverage.
At the end of the day we enrolled several people in Washington Apple Health, others selected a Qualified Heath Plan, and others went home to discuss the intricacies of their cases with their families and finish their application on their own. It was a great asset to have access to the knowledge of other the In person assisters from King County Public Health and other organizations. Overall, it was a lovely day of watching skiers and snowboarders race down (and sometimes fall down) the mountains, hot chocolate, and connecting people to healthcare.

Tags: Health insurance enrollment   Stevens Pass   Washington Health Benefit Exchange   Washington HealthPlanFinder   Young Invincibles   

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