Being Prepared Over Feeling Invincible: Why Medical Insurance Is Important While You Are Young
Food Stamps and Farmers Markets: Produce for all?
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
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 . 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 .
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.
Meet our New AmeriCorps Team!
“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.
“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.
“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.
Hitting the Ground Running at United Way’s Day of Caring Resource Exchange
As you can imagine, the challenge of connecting people to these resources becomes less daunting when all those aforementioned resources are in the same (very large) room. This is one of the many exciting things about the Day of Caring Resource Exchange event, hosted annually by the United Way of King County, where WithinReach was one of many organizations represented.
AmeriCorps: 20 years of building community and a life-long legacy
Today marks the 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps. It is hard to believe that this Clinton-era initiative has grown into a major driver of non-profit service delivery all across the United States.
I love AmeriCorps, I’m just old enough to have missed the chance to serve right out of college and while I’m not someone with many regrets, this is one of them. Spending a year working hard (and for a very small stipend and education award) for the betterment of your community is an experience that I believe, if more of us had, would lead to a healthier America. How can you not love an initiative with a pledge “to get things done for America.”
As I reflect on this momentous 20 years, I can’t help but think of all the ways I’ve gotten to interact with AmeriCorps
My Grandpa Carl was a Civilian Conservation Corps (the precursor to AmeriCorps) member in the 1930s. Up to the day of his death, he said he was a democrat because Franklin D. Roosevelt created a program for him to get the skills and work ethic to get a job. With great pride he would say he was an employee of the City of Los Angeles for those 30 year of civilian service and work. He often reflected that if he hadn’t had those skills, he wouldn’t have owned a home, sent his kids to college nor enjoyed the self-esteem he had between jobs. He was always proud of me for the work I did to support the service movement.
For 15 years I have worked in the National Service movement–running a Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Portland; hosting capacity building VISTAs at Seattle Works to help connect more young people to volunteer service; helping to launch HandsOn Networks TechCorps in Seattle while at NPower; and, now, having the honor of watching our AmeriCorps team play a critical role in connecting families to health and food resources at WithinReach. The impact these service members have had on our community are highly valuable and the skills, experiences and networks that have been built will be valuable experiences the take with them throughout their life.
I am privileged to sit on the Governor’s Commission for National and Community Service. In this role, I have the distinct opportunity to help support the service movement in Washington State. Each month, I hear amazing stories of AmeriCorps members making an impact on our community–from environmental restoration; to helping kids learn to read; to building volunteer programs; and supporting returning Veterans in enrolling in college. The work is amazing and we are blessed as a state to have one of the most robust Corps in the country.
Happy Birthday AmeriCorps! I can’t wait to see the impact of the next 20 years.
Americorps Team 2013: Thank You For Your Service
Here is a story from Samantha Novak that embodies the impact of their work:
My First Visit to a Food Bank
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to the Cherry Street Food Bank in downtown Seattle and volunteer with the WithinReach Bridge to Basics Program which is a group of AmeriCorps service members (one of them is pictured here) who provide benefits information and application assistance at sites throughout King and Snohomish Counties. We were there to help sign people up for food stamps and promote other food and health resources to the people waiting in the food line.
Watching the people there made me realize there are several different faces and ages to homelessness and hunger. Everyone thinks of the homeless guy standing on the corner holding up a sign. But this was different. There were a variety of people young and old. Personally, seeing the younger kids was difficult. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a financially stable middle class family in the suburbs. I never wondered where my next meals was coming from. I never realized how fortunate I was, and how much I took my house with a fully stocked fridge for granted until going to Cherry Street.
The whole experience itself was quite emotionally heavy but it definitely opened my eyes to what is really out there when one gets out of the suburbs and sees the reality of homelessness and hunger in our communities.
If you are interested in learning more about Bridge to Basics or volunteering with the program, please contact Erin Milliren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This AmeriCorps Life
Who are we? We are part of the 80,000 AmeriCorps across the country that serve in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community groups. Our service is at WithinReach as Community Outreach Specialists.
A typical day in the life of our AmeriCorps team:
8-9am: the AmeriCorps stumbles into the office, impeccably dressed in their gray vest. In a mad rush to the kitchen, the AmeriCorps manages to snag the last of the first morning coffee—success!
9am: the AmeriCorps settles in at their desk to check their email and listen to messages left by clients either confused by the next steps in applying for benefits, or beyond thankful for the help provided by our helpful AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps then makes sure to stock up their outreach kit for the journey that awaits them that day.
10am: The AmeriCorps heads out to one of our partners in Kirkland, Hopelink, via I-5 traffic, crossing the 520 toll bridge and taking in a spectacular view of Lake Washington on the way, complete with a hazy view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The British monotone of their talking GPS maps soothes them on their way.
10:30-12:30: The AmeriCorps arrives at their site, promptly taking charge of the situation. They approach as many people as possible within the food banks to help them get signed up for Basic Food (food stamps) or to give them additional community resources like utility assistance.
12:30: The AmeriCorps, having distributed a good portion of their resources, and successfully helped several families apply for Basic Food, makes the satisfied trip back to the office.
1pm: The now exhausted AmeriCorps takes their lunch break, munching on canned tuna or last night’s leftovers whilst in the company of other friendly WithinReach staff.
1:30-3pm: The AmeriCorps inputs data from that day’s outreach, completes follow-up calls to clients, perhaps checks out a new recipe on Pinterest, has another cup of coffee to even out the day. A good portion of this time might be spent waiting on a phone call to advocate for clients.
3-4pm: The AmeriCorps attends the weekly meeting for the outreach team. Nestled cozily together in a small conference room, the AmeriCorps listens and participates in a discussion of upcoming events and ongoing projects, concerns, etc.
4-5pm: Having completed yet another day of rewarding work, the AmeriCorps collects their personal items and head out to their car, heading home to rest, relax, and enjoy the delights of Seattle.
Stay Tuned …(For more information about our awesome AmeriCorps team and our daily work)
Reflections sparked by the Bridges out of Poverty Training
Three years ago in February, I met a 65 year-old woman, Berta, whose husband’s health was failing. She had recently lost her job of fifteen years and was told it was a result of the recession. She felt like it had more to do with her age. Before that month she had never asked anyone for help, but when I met her she was in line at a food bank. She shared that the food bank was a true lifeline that allowed her to keep enough food in the house and without it, she and her husband would have gone hungry. However, the food bank was packed with standing room only, and on days like that, everyone is tense. All Berta could think about was the fact that the last time she left her husband alone for a few hours, he had fallen broke his wrist and now Berta could see no way of paying off the piles of bills.
I started at WithinReach, fresh out of university, as an AmeriCorps service member. In college I had spent a great deal of my time dedicated to studying the social and political systems of the outside world in courses like Political Science, Spanish and Religion. I also worked at the Diversity Center where we created programming aimed at exposing students and community members to the beauty of diversity and to the prominent influence of privilege and oppression in our world. Pacific Lutheran did a great job of opening my eyes to the complexities of our world…but after my first few months as an AmeriCorps at WithinReach, I was ready to preach about how a person has to be “in it”–living and working with people like Berta–before you get even close to being able to understand the reality of our beautiful yet broken world. I have lived in that mindset ever since the beginning of my service, but after attending a fabulous training in March, my hard-line stance has started to become tempered.
This past March, I went to a training called Bridges out of Poverty. This two day seminar, facilitated by Jodi Pfarr, was specifically directed at service providers and it presented a wealth of tools for understanding and combating poverty. I had so many “aha!” moments, that I came to realize that after three years of working in the field, I had become complacent. I got lost in the grind of reality and forgot to pursue the knowledge and theory that would keep me learning about the systems and the roadblocks of oppression and poverty. I had forgotten that a person needs to balance both living “in it” and getting “above it”, in order to be able to reflect on solutions to our society’s problems.
Berta’s story is one of many that have stuck with me through the years. I feel good about the fact that she and I worked through the application process for Basic Food (food stamps) together, and that she was able to supplement the food she got at the food bank with more fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store We also talked about creating a payment plan in order pay off the bills she owed.
I wonder how things turned out with Berta and her husband and I obviously still think about them from time to time. Reflecting back, perhaps her story is so powerful to me because it is so similar to many other stories that I have heard and been part of since. The cycles and patterns of poverty are definitely what impact me most. However, working at a place like WithinReach–a place that provides opportunities to grow with trainings and experiences like Bridges out of Poverty–I am confident that I will continue to work as part of the solution.