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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   

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   

Policy Workshop: Breakfast After the Bell

By: Laird F. Harris, WithinReach Board President / Harris & Smith Public Affairs
Last week, WithinReach board members participated in a policy workshop to learn and discuss the important role that public policy plays in our theory of change. At the policy workshop, our board got a clear (if not scary) sense of the budget challenges that the Legislature will have to solve next year, as well as, ideas about how we can pursue our policy goals in a constrained fiscal environment. Essentially, the need to fully fund K-12 education as mandated in the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, will require increased spending of more than $3 billion. If Initiative 1351 reducing class sizes passes, as much as another $2 billion will be needed.

It is unclear how the Legislature will act to fund K-12, but it is very clear to WithinReach and its partners that hungry kids can’t learn well. WithinReach is working with partner organizations to develop and promote Breakfast After the Bell Legislation; that will require a nutritious breakfast to be offered as part of the school day in high needs schools, just like lunch. There is early bi-partisan support for this initiative that has proven to successfully increase participation in school breakfast. We will keep you posted about the measure’s progress.

In addition to our senior policy manager, Carrie Glover, and our lobbyist, Erin Dziedzic, the board heard very informative presentations from Katie Mosehauer with Washington Appleseed, and Julie Peterson with the Prevention Alliance. The board was very impressed by the willingness and ability of like-minded organizations to set priorities and agree to work together. The state faces a huge budget challenge with high risks to programs benefiting families and children. The breadth and strength of the coalitions and community partners we work with will assure that our voices are heard ….will assure that the voices of the families we serve are heard!

 

Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Child Development   Education   food   Hungry Kids   k-12   Legislature   Nutrition   Prevention Alliance   State Budget   Washington Appleseed   Washington state   Washington State Policy   

Link Between Breastfeeding and Strong Child Development

Co-Written by WithinReach Staff:
Kirsten Leng and Alex Sosa (Breasting Promotion Program) – Kelly Smith and Keri Foster (Help Me Grow Program)
Health organizations around the world, including the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend babies receive only breast milk for at least the first six months of life. Many of us know about the various health benefits of breastfeeding, including reduced risk of asthma, fewer ear infections, less incidence of diarrhea, and reduced risk of some cancers for moms. Did you also know that there is a well documented link between breastfeeding and strong child development? In fact, some research suggests that breastfeeding benefits are 90% developmental[1]!
• Skin-to-skin contact is important for children’s brain development[2].
• Breastfeeding improves children’s cognitive development[3].
• Maternal responsiveness and attachment security are increased by breastfeeding[4].
• Breastfed children are less likely to suffer from abuse or neglect[5].
• Children who are breastfed are more accepting of new foods[6].
Why do we see these benefits? When a mother breastfeeds, it is not just about passing nutrition through the breast milk. Breastfeeding is also about comfort and nurturing; mother and baby studying and memorizing each other’s faces; speaking and singing to your baby; and building trust and non-verbal communication.
The first year of life is a time of early social, emotional, and verbal learning. Babies benefit from the intimate bonding and affection, nutrition, and early communication that happen between mom and baby. Breastfeeding provides a focused time to build this development.
At WithinReach, we focus on five topic areas of health including breastfeeding, child development, health care, food access, and immunizations. Just as breastfeeding success supports optimal child development, it also is the most nutritious, first (free) food, and a baby’s first immunization. Likewise, access to healthy foods and health insurance supports a child to have his/her best start. At WithinReach, we believe when families are supported in all of these five areas, they have the resources they need to be healthy.
To learn more, call our WithinReach Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit www.ParentHelp123.org

 

Tags: Bonding   brain development   Breast milk   Breastfeeding   Child Development   Family Health Hotline   Healthy   Nutrition   ParentHelp123   

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