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Filling the Gap: Food Resources for Families During Winter Break

Written by Rebecca Wolfe, WithinReach AmeriCorps Specialist

The holiday season is a fun and festive time, with parties to attend, gifts to shop for, and large meals to be shared. For many families, however, this can be a struggle. Free and reduced-price school meals have become a major source of nutrition for many children, and families often struggle to provide adequate food when these resources disappear over the winter holiday. As of the 2016-2017 school year, 473,309 students in Washington public schools were enrolled. That’s almost 43% of the student population. In Washington State, 1 in 5 children are a part of a household that struggles to put food on the table. For these kids, a school break can often make breakfast and lunch much harder to come by.

Here are a few ways to help fill in the gap:

Basic Food: If you are looking for food assistance, your household may be eligible for the Basic Food program, also known as SNAP, food stamps, and EBT. This program can be an excellent resource for families during the holidays and year-around. Your EBT card operates like a debit card and is loaded with a monetary benefit each month that can be used to purchase food. Most major grocery stores, including Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as smaller local and international markets are able to accept the funds.

Rollover Funds: An additional benefit of EBT is that unused funds will roll over from month to month. You can save up some extra dollars in anticipation of the winter holiday when the kids are home from school. You can also save up your EBT benefit to purchase a special holiday meal if you would like to. This is often particularly helpful for households with a low benefit amount. A $16 monthly benefit might not seem like much, but it can certainly add up over time and make it much easier to get food on the table over the holiday.

Fresh Bucks: Here in King County, we have an additional benefit to the Basic Food program called Fresh Bucks. The Fresh Bucks program doubles your dollars at farmers’ markets and some international markets nearby. When your $10 becomes $20, dinner is much more doable. Just swipe your EBT card at the information booth and you are on your way.

Food Banks: Food banks have gotten something of a bad rap over the years, reported to offer up a whole lot of canned goods and little else. While you can still get a can of beans if you would like to, many food banks have expanded far beyond this limited stock. In fact, many go out of their way to provide special holiday treats, such as egg-nog, candy canes, and spiral ham. Many also offer a wide range of produce, grains, meats, and other useful holiday items such as greeting cards and flowers. Just be sure to bring an ID and proof of address, such as a recent bill, so they can verify that you are utilizing the food bank meant for your zip code.

If you are interested in learning more about food resources for your family while the kids are off from school, please give us a call! We are available to answer questions and assist with applications via our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588. Our friendly staff is available from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday – Thursday, and Fridays from 8:00am-5:00pm. Additionally, if you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, you can also visit www.ParentHelp123.org

Happy Holidays from us here at WithinReach!

Tags: AmeriCorps   Basic Food   EBT   Family Health Hotline   food   Food banks   Fresh Bucks   holidays   Parent Help 123   

Fighting Holiday Hunger

food stamps child

Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

‘Tis the season where everything seems to revolve around food. If you feel like you don’t have enough food this season, WithinReach is here to help! Over the phone on our Family Health Hotline, we can help connect you to plenty of different food resources to put food on the table this holiday season. We do screening for basic food eligibility, basic food application assistance, as well help locate food banks and farmer’s markets in your area.

Our AmeriCorps in-person outreach team recently started going to the state of the art, newly located University District food bank. While we are still in the process of building trust and relationships with the patrons of the food bank, it has been really rewarding to get to know the people there and understand the specific needs of the diverse University District community. I recently met a client there that was going to a food bank for the very first time, and didn’t know anything about the process. The front desk staff at the food bank sent them back to me for information about enrolling in the basic food program. The client was certain that they would be over-income, but after a quick screening I determined they were likely eligible and assisted them as they filled out an application in about ten minutes. The client left the food bank with shopping bags full of groceries, and a bulk of new information on food resources to keep their family happy, and healthy. Many people are worried that signing up for Basic Food may take too long, or that it isn’t worth the hassle. The truth is the benefits far outweigh the ten minutes it takes to complete an application, and opens the door to access a number of food assistance options.

Let’s review some of the food options we have in Washington State!

Basic Food: The basic food program, which you may also know as SNAP, food stamps, or EBT, is a great resource for people looking to supplement their food supply. The basic food program can be used to purchase food items, and is widely accepted by many different grocery stores like Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as well as many small drug stores and local grocers with culturally competent food items. Most places that accept EBT benefits will have a sign outside!

Already on Basic Food and have a low benefit amount?: The good news is that your benefits roll over from month to month, and the holidays are a great time to save up some of your food benefits to use them for special occasions, like a big holiday dinner for you and your family/friends. A low benefit amount of $16 might seem like it doesn’t help much on a month to month basis, but when you’re planning ahead and saving your benefits, that $16 can easily multiply and make all the difference.

Fresh bucks: Another benefit of the basic food program is Fresh Bucks! Fresh Bucks is a program through the King County farmer’s markets that will match your basic food dollars (for every $2 you are willing to spend they will match it up to $10). This is a great way to get fresh, in-season vegetables this holiday season. Fun fact: broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash, and cauliflower are all in currently in season and are a great addition to any holiday meal.

Food banks: Forget what you know about food banks: they have so much more than just canned green beans and spaghetti noodles. Food banks have a lot of the winter delicacies you’re looking for this holiday season. For example, the University District food bank has fresh flowers, greeting cards, egg-nog, and a wide selection of breads, meats, and vegetables. Most food banks will just require that you bring your photo ID along with proof of address from the last 30 days (this can be waived if you are homeless), so they can make sure you’re using the food bank meant for your neighborhood.

Why apply now?: Utilizing these programs that are available to you are a great way to save some extra money during the winter months. As the temperature goes down, heating bills and other expenses are on the rise. The more food you get on the table the more money you are able to save for a rainy day!

If you are interested in learning more about food resources and programs, or feel you are ready to complete an application – give us a call today on our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588. Our friendly staff is available from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday – Thursday, and Fridays from 8:00am-5:00pm. If you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, go to ParentHelp123.org

Tags: Basic Food   Food banks   food stamps   Seattle   Washington state   

Broadening Our View on Food Security For Washington Families

Recently our friends at Northwest Harvest hosted a couple of partners (WithinReach, King County Public Health) and Congressman Adam Smith for a visit at the Cherry Street Food Bank. As I walked up the street to meet the team, I was once again reminded of the people who are struggling to make ends meet and the critical role that both food banks and food stamps play in addressing  an array of food resources which can help families both in the short- and long-term be “food secure.”  The line stretched around the block and Shelley Rotondo, Executive Director at NW Harvest, commented that while this was the middle of the month, they often see long lines similar to the lines they used to see only at the end of the month when people ran out of money.

A couple of things stood out for me during the visit with Congressman Smith.  First, he led off with saying that he believes in government programs and knows they can make a difference. I was really struck by this statement because so much of the rhetoric we hear out of Congress is about the need to shrink government. It was refreshing to hear that he had a fundamental belief in the role of government plays in providing programs that serve the most vulnerable in our communities.   Yet, I am also a realist and know that does not necessarily mean funding these programs in heated budget debates is a sure thing. I think it is bold, these days, to profess your support of government because it sometimes feels like it is easier or maybe even popular to criticize government programs.  To hear an elected official reflect the realities of the day-to-day struggles of his constituents was inspiring.

While we were at the food bank, a client named Wayne came up to us and said “Thank you for providing this support. I’m doing my best to get back on my feet, but I couldn’t do it without this support. I’m trying really hard to be disciplined. Thank you.”  We all stood there sort of stunned, his gratitude was amazing. It once again reminds me of the real people behind the statistics and numbers about the food insecure; the people who are trying to get back on their feet, support their families, and become self sufficient. Programs like SNAP and local food banks are important supports to making this a reality.

Northwest Harvest is the only non-profit food bank distributor operating statewide in Washington with a network of more than 350 food banks, meal programs and high-need schools. They provide more than 1.7 million meals every month to this network. Even with this expansive reach, NW Harvest efforts across the state represent only 1/24 of what government spends on emergency food. There is literally no plausible way that we can feed all the hungry families in our state without the help of government.  I often talk about the “the new normal,” the basic premise being that we need to think creatively and collaboratively as to how to how to address our communities most complex issues and how all government, nonprofits and private/corporate philanthropy must work together to advance the economic vitality of our state.

Our food access work is no different, we need to work hand-in -hand with our partners in government, nonprofit and private organizations to make significant change. We want to build on the work Northwest Harvest has done and that is why our advocacy message to Congressman Smith and the rest of the Washington Delegation is focused on the preservation of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps). The House Republican leaders proposed a bill that cuts $40 billion dollars over the next 10 years from SNAP, a cut that would be devastating to families across the state who rely on food stamps to augment what they receive at food banks in order to feed their families. If you are interested in more information or want to know how you can take action to protect SNAP, check out these resources:

•    Anti Hunger and Nutrition Coalition
•    Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
•    Food Research and Action Council

Tags: Food banks   food insecurity   food stamps   Northwest Harvest   SNAP   

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