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Celebrating, Learning and Leaping

As the leaves turn colors and fall from the trees, I am reminded in this season more than any other, that life is a series of beginnings and endings and beginnings. This is how it goes. There are things to celebrate and things to grieve, there are old journeys to remember and learn from, and there are new ways of thinking to be explored.
In this season of reflection, we are doing just that. We are looking back and celebrating the things we accomplished over the past 3 years to help families across Washington live healthier, safer lives. Astoundingly, over the last three years our staff informed more than 1,000,000 people about critical health and nutrition supports available to them.

More specifically, we helped more than 32,000 families enroll in health insurance, and nearly 18,000 access in the WIC nutrition program. In addition, we provided 232,000 families with information on immunizations, informed 174,000 families about local breastfeeding resources, and provided 227,000 families with information on free summer meals programs in their neighborhoods. Beyond the numbers, we helped set the stage for a coordinated statewide Help Me Grow network, became recognized as national experts in addressing vaccine hesitancy, and our Healthy Connections Model is widely known to be an effective and efficient model for addressing the social determinants of health.

Now we are looking ahead and exploring, as Seth Godin says, “the space between where we are now, and where we want to be, ought to be, are capable of being.” He describes this as a gap between our reality and our possibility, and notes that if we imagine the gap as a huge gulf or crevasse we will surely be paralyzed.

Rather he suggests that “the magic of forward movement is seeing the space as leap-sized, as something that persistent, consistent effort can get you through.” Herein is the grace—our work is to hold tight to a strong vision, while taking one step at a time toward a new reality.

Over the next several months our Board and Staff will work together to define a new 3-year strategic direction for our work. We know we want our new direction to be nimble and bold, in every way rooted in our strong history of service, capacity-building and advocacy, and inspired by our unending belief that every family deserves to be healthy and safe.

We look forward to having you join us on the journey ahead, in leap-sized strides, making sure that every family can be healthy and safe!

Tags: benefit programs   health insurance   hunger   Public Health   Washington state   WithinReach   

We asked parents for feedback about Summer Meals–here’s what they had to say

Written by Annya Pintak, Community Partnership Associate, and Vinnie Tran, AmeriCorps VISTA/Summer Meals Promotions Specialist

Even though winter is almost upon us, WithinReach is already starting to plan for next year’s Summer Meals Program, a free meal program for kids and teens during the summer months. WithinReach serves as a point of contact for Washington families looking for local Summer Meals sites, and this past summer our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team partnered with the United Way of King County to further promote the Summer Meals Program.

In addition to promoting the program, our team took the opportunity to receive community feedback. We surveyed over 50 participants in Auburn, Tukwila and SeaTac sites, and conducted a focus group to further investigate on how to improve the Summer Meals and Basic Food (food stamp) program. In late August, WithinReach held its first focus group with a cohort of Auburn parents who we met at a Summer Meals site.

In the one-hour session that took place at the Auburn Library, the participants reviewed and provided feedback on current Summer Meals materials. Participants suggested concrete ways to improve the design and messaging of three Summer Meals flyers to better appeal to parents, especially Spanish-speaking individuals. They additionally stressed the importance of paper flyers and reaffirmed that schools were the best avenue to promote Summer Meals. A major concern parents indicated was the lack in consistent messaging and branding from different sponsors. Many of the parents indicated that this contributed to a common confusion among participants when visiting different Summer Meal sites in King County.

Participants of the focus group discussion were also asked to review various Basic Food (food stamps) materials. While we had a major focus on the Summer Meals program, we wanted to take the opportunity to gather community feedback on other food assistance programs as well. Many of the participants indicated materials that included visuals of cooked meals instead of plain vegetables were more appealing. Similar to the feedback on the Summer Meals materials, participants mentioned a concern with the inconsistent terms that various materials used to describe the Basic Food program; many materials use “Basic Food,” “food stamps,” and “EBT” interchangeably without clarifying that these terms all mean the same thing.

This focus group provided us with the opportunity to hear feedback from the community and to understand how we can better improve the promotion of the Summer Meals and Basic Food program. Hearing directly from the community is crucial to our work and we are looking forward to integrating their feedback into our future work and materials.

Tags: Basic Food   benefit programs   EBT   families   food stamps   King County   Nutrition   summer meals   

Big transitions are tough–reach out for help!

Written by Joi Huie, Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
Fall is upon us! While retailers are pushing us to think about pumpkin-spice everything, many of us have our minds on the increasing heat bill, and the grocery budget. This was the case for Aaron, who submitted a request for food assistance on our ParentHelp123 website over the weekend. On Monday morning I received Aaron’s request. I didn’t know what his circumstances were, but I was prepared to call and do a quick screening over the phone to let Aaron know if he might be eligible for a few different assistance programs and connect him to food resources.

Around noon I gave Aaron a call because he mentioned that he was available for contact during his lunch hour. Once we were on the phone, I quickly found out that he and his wife were new parents and newly on a single income. His wife had taken extended leave to stay at home with their baby for the first few months. I also learned that this new dad was a full time student at the local technical college. This family was undergoing a lot of big changes at once, and I could tell that they were overwhelmed. Aaron let me know that they didn’t plan on needing assistance for very long – just a little help during this new transition period. After the brief screening, it appeared that Aaron’s household was likely eligible for Basic Food, Washington’s food assistance program. He was interested in pursuing Basic Food benefits so we took a few more minutes and completed the application together over the phone.

Amidst this new, exciting time in their lives Aaron and his wife found some financial stress. Aaron mentioned that with the single income they would really have to keep an eye on their expenses. He wanted to mitigate some of the challenges that would come with supporting his family on tight budget: “I don’t want to have to choose between money for gas and money for food, you know?” Aaron made it clear that one area of expenditure he did not want to worry about was proper nutrition for his family.

It can be difficult discussing “money problems” or financial instability, let alone conveying that you may be facing food insecurity. Aaron admitted that it was tough to even acknowledge a need, but he was open to receiving information about local resources and finding out if Basic Food was an option for his family. Basic Food and programs like it exist to help people when they are vulnerable— at WithinReach, we all believe that people like Aaron should never have to worry about how to put food on the table.

Our team is extremely knowledgeable about Washington’s Basic Food program and eligibility criteria. We’re happy to walk you through the process of applying for Basic Food. We make it simple and streamlined – you can complete your application over the phone with us, and go to your local DSHS office the very next day for your interview.

To find out if you might be eligible for Basic Food, call our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or check out our Benefit Finder.

Tags: Basic Food   benefit programs   Family Health Hotline   food   food stamps   ParentHelp123   Washington state   WithinReach   

Updated WIC Materials Are Here!

Last year, the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program, known as WIC, made a difference for over 304,000 people in Washington State. WIC helps improve the health of pregnant women, new moms, and families with children under age 5 through monthly checks for healthy food, health screenings and referrals, breastfeeding support, and nutrition education. Dads, grandparents, and other caregivers of children under the age of 5 may also sign kids up for WIC.

Help us reach more people who may be missing out on this important nutrition resource. WIC materials are free to any service provider (including employers!) in Washington State. Visit us online to order materials, or to simply learn more about WIC eligibility.

WIC

 

Finding a WIC clinic close to you is easy! Families can text “WIC” to 96859 to find a clinic in their area. Families can also go online to the ParentHelp123 Resource Finder or call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 to learn more about WIC.

Tags: benefit programs   Breastfeeding support   Child Development   Family Health Hotline   ParentHelp123   WIC   WIC vouchers   

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   

Balancing the Budget & Tough Choices Families Make Everyday

Olympia managed to avert a budget crisis, much to the relief of Washington citizens and many lawmakers. It took months of work, negotiations and two special sessions to come up with a final budget that our legislators could agree to. During the process, furlough notices were sent to workers whose employment depended on state funding.  Single parents that relied on childcare subsidies scrambled to make arrangements under already difficult circumstances.  Pregnant women, caregivers and parents wondered if they might get the aid that goes a long way in providing much needed nutrition for their families.  During these last two weeks of budget negotiations the word “budget” seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  At WithinReach we worried what the looming government shutdown could mean for the most vulnerable families we work with.

We were relieved when we learned a budget passed and a government shutdown avoided. Unfortunately, these feelings of accomplishment and relief did not come to all.  There are thousands of families in Washington that are not able to balance their household budgets and provide their families with basic needs.  At the WithinReach Family Health Hotline, we talk to these families every day.  These families make concessions and choices about what to fund and what to forgo on a daily basis. These are hard choices.  Pay the rent or feed the family?  They choose to find a way, and sometimes they ask for help.

The families we talk to want to know that they are doing everything in their power to keep their children on track.   They want to provide enough food for their children so that they have the necessary nutrition to focus and do well in school. They want their children to receive health insurance so that they will not have to forgo medical care or be strapped with huge hospital bills. They want for their children what we believe all children deserve—access to healthy food and quality health care.  The recent budget passing helped to remind us of the important role these government benefit programs serve in the lives of families throughout Washington. They truly help to lessen the financial struggles of families and help parents breathe easier knowing their children have what they need to be healthy. We are happy to answer those phone calls, and help to alleviate the tough choices that many of those families are forced to make every day.

Tags: benefit programs   budget   Family Health Hotline   Washington   Washington Legislature   

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