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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   

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   

What’s it like to be on the WithinReach AmeriCorps team?

WithinReach podcast
We are recruiting for the next team of AmeriCorps members at WithinReach! Through direct client engagement, education, and empowerment, you can make a huge impact on health disparities and food security in Washington. This AmeriCorps position is great for applicants interested in careers in public health, non-profits, social services, nutrition access, and the healthcare system.

In the first-ever WithinReach podcast, our AmeriCorps Lead Emma chats with current team member Jessica about a typical day on the job, what she’s learned during her year of service, and more!

Learn more and apply today!

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Health   health insurance   Health insurance enrollment   In-Person Assisters   King County   National Service   Seattle   WithinReach   

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   

ORCA LIFT can get you where you need to go!

Do you take the bus? Then the ORCA LIFT program could be a great resource for you! If you qualify for the program, you could be paying just $1.50 to ride! The extra exciting news is that ORCA LIFT is expanding to Sound Transit buses on March 1st–there has never been a better time to enroll. ORCA LIFT is already making a real impact on bus riders. A few months ago, I helped a woman named Maria enroll in the program. Maria takes the bus into Seattle every day for her full-time job, so she purchases an unlimited monthly pass. Buying the pass was already a challenge for her, but when the price increased to $99 in March of 2015, it became even more of a financial strain. Now, with her new ORCA LIFT card, Maria pays only $54 to take the bus as much as she needs to, which adds up to real savings.
Affordable access to public transportation is an issue that is coming up in cities nationwide. Seattle is at the forefront of the movement to increase transit access through discounted passes. When transportation is affordable, the whole city becomes accessible; people can afford to get to a job interview outside of their neighborhood, or simply go to work every day like Maria. Having a reliable form of transportation is invaluable, and we are proud to participate in the ORCA LIFT effort that is leading the way and setting a positive example for other cities.

So now you’re probably wondering: “how can I sign up?” The ORCA LIFT application is done in person, and you actually receive your activated card on the spot! Another cool thing is that once you have your ORCA LIFT card, it is good for two years—no need to reapply yearly like other benefits programs.

How does it work?

You get a card that looks and works just like a regular reloadable ORCA card, except every time you use it, you’re charged a discounted rate.

How do I know if I qualify?

Eligibility for the ORCA LIFT program is based on income. If you are already enrolled in Washington Apple Health (Medicaid), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Basic Food (Food Stamps), you automatically qualify for the program and we can easily confirm your eligibility online or you can bring your award letter when we complete an enrollment.  If you are not already enrolled in one of the above programs, check to see if you are income-eligible (and get lots of other information here).

Where can I sign up?

Enrollments for ORCA LIFT must be done in person. Luckily, WithinReach will be at the Northgate Transit Center on Tuesday, March 15th, 3:30-5:30 (with coffee!) to sign you up.

Can’t make it on March 15th? We will also be back at the Northgate Transit Center, from 3:30-5:30 on these Tuesdays: March 1st, April 5th and 19th, and May 3rd and 17th. See you there!

There even more dates and locations where you can sign up! Call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or King County Metro Customer Service at 206-553-3000 to find your closest enrollment location.

What should I bring?

  • Income verification
  • Identification– Driver’s license (any state or county, photo ID from any state, county, or country, Armed services ID with photo, ID from any foreign consulate, Passport from any country, school photo ID, Tribal ID, US certificate of citizenship, naturalization (signature, photo) any other form of government issued ID issued by a government agency of any country
  • If you do not have a government-issued photo ID, call Metro Customer Service or check King County Metro’s website for a list of acceptable documents.

Other questions? Call the Family Health hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or go to parenthelp123.org/ORCA to find out more.

Tags: King County Metro Transit   Northgate Transit Center   ORCA LIFT   Seattle   Sound Transit   

A response to KUOW’s “Why Seattle Moms Still Pump In Bathrooms”

By Chris Gray, Member- Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington

Finding appropriate accommodations for women to pump at work that are suitable for both mothers and employers continues to be a challenge. Though there are no state laws to support breastfeeding in the work place, Federal Law entitles hourly employees to reasonable break times and to a private, non-bathroom space to pump.  And it is important to recognize that the Department of Labor encourages employers to provide breaks to all nursing mothers regardless of their status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Yet even with these laws in place, there is still a lot of room for employer interpretation and too often mothers find themselves with inadequate or inconvenient options. As we continue our efforts to normalize breastfeeding in our communities, how do we help employers–especially those with limited resources and space–normalize breastfeeding in their work place?

KUOW released an article on October 12th titled, “Why Seattle Moms Still Pump In Bathrooms” that brings to light some of the issues mothers face when trying to pump at work. Thank you to the companies and employers who have found a solution that supports their breastfeeding mothers’ need to pump at work. Thank you, KUOW, for prioritizing the creation of a new lactation room and supporting a mother’s desire to continue to breastfeed while at work. It is not impossible to find an appropriate space for pumping that works for both mother and employer; with a little creativity and determination, all employers can create private and secure spaces for their mothers to pump.

Here are a few resources that can help employers create quality spaces or improve the existing lactation spaces to better support their employees.

Tags: Breast pump   Breastfeeding   Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington   Breastfeeding support   KUOW   Nursing moms   Quality Space   Seattle   

5 things you didn’t know about ORCA LIFT

1. You sign up in person and get the card right away

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2. Unlike a standard ORCA card which costs $5, the LIFT card is FREE

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…but it doesn’t look different at all!

 

3. Bus rides only cost $1.50 and you won’t get charged more during rush hour

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4. You can use it on the Water Taxi

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5. You’re signed up for 2 years of eligibility even if your income changes!

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ORCA LIFT offers reduced-cost transportation to qualified individuals on King County Metro Transit buses, Sound Transit Link light rail, King County Water Taxi and Seattle Streetcar. The reduced fare for frequent riders can be $54 for an entire month of unlimited rides! For less frequent riders, the cost is $1.50 per trip. The income requirement for the program is 200% of the federal poverty level, which is the same income requirement for the Basic Food program. So if you qualify for food stamps in Washington, then you will likely be eligible for ORCA LIFT. In-person verification is needed prior to the distribution of an ORCA LIFT card. Once enrolled in ORCA LIFT an individual will be eligible to receive benefits for two years before having to reapply. Plus, you don’t have to live in King County to enroll! To find out where you can sign up, call the Family Health Hotline today!

 

Tags: Family Health Hotline   King County   ORCA LIFT   Seattle   

Dare to Help Kids Grow and Learn This Summer!

Summer is officially here, which means a break from school and homework and a time for kids to play! We all know how important physical activity and creative play is for children, but a whole summer without academics can take its toll come fall.

Research shows that students who take standardized tests at the beginning and end of summer break consistently receive lower scores on the second test. Students from low-income families are especially at risk: while most students fall about two months behind their grade level in math during the summer, low-income students also consistently fall behind in reading. This loss of knowledge means that teachers need to spend the beginning of the school year re-teaching last year’s curriculum—which cuts into learning new topics. Compounded over the course of elementary and secondary education, these yearly learning losses lead to poor long-term outcomes.

Summer learning loss for low-income kids is part of an even larger issue.  Aside from the fact that they do not have access to luxuries such as summer camp, full-time childcare, or family vacations to stimulate their minds over the summer, these kids lack a very basic resource: food. Kids can’t play or learn when they’re hungry; the summer learning loss that affects all kids hits those without adequate nutrition especially hard. Summer hunger affects thousands of kids in Washington—the 476,000 students who receive free or reduced school meals have to find other sources of nutrition during the break.  Their families may spend an additional $300 a month to feed them the meals they would otherwise get at school.

The good news is that partners all over the state work together to alleviate summer hunger for kids in need. The Washington State Summer Food Service Program, better known as the Summer Meals Program, is an extension of the free and reduced meals that kids get during the school year.  There are sites all over the State that serve any combination of breakfast, lunch, snacks, and even dinner to anyone under age 18 for free. There are no sign-ups, no income requirements, and no proof of identification necessary to qualify.

In addition to alleviating hunger, many sites also have learning activities for kids and teens to help combat summer learning loss. Find the closest site to you right here!

So, we know that a whole summer without educational activities and nutritious food hurts kids and classrooms. That’s why we want to dare you to help kids grow and learn this summer. Summer learning doesn’t have to mean sitting inside and drilling the multiplication tables— with a little creativity, you can combat summer learning loss in a fun way and make sure the kids you know are ready to begin the school year come September. Here are some ideas to help you dare to reach for the kids in your life:

Get outside:  Walk, bike or run outside!

Trails: There is so much green space to explore in King and Snohomish Counties! Bring a nature guide and try to identify as many plants, animals, and bugs as you can. And you don’t have to stop there; check out these great hikes for young children. From Whidbey Island and Wenatchee to the Columbia River, there is no shortage of places to explore!

Use the library: The library is an incredible summer resource.  It’s more than just a place to borrow books—Seattle Public Libraries offer a limited number of free museum passes every day to people with library cards. Even better, you can reserve your tickets online! Also be sure to check out your local library’s calendar of events–there are fun activities, classes and story times to take part in.

Museums:  There are a bunch of museums in Seattle and Snohomish counties that are free on the first Thursday of every month, and others that have free or discounted admission at different times. If you live outside of King and Snohomish Counties, check out this great search tool to find museums in your area.

Family fun:  SeaFair is a Puget Sound tradition that shouldn’t be missed. Feed your child’s curiosity about planes, boats, music and more at this summer-long festival!

Rainy days:  If you’re having an inside day, check out this list of educational (and fun!) apps, games, and websites for kids.  Filter by age to find something for everyone! We especially love Khan Academy for tweens and teens, and the Toontastic app for elementary-age kids.

ParentMap: Find your Northwest summer adventures through ParentMap’s great list of family events and activities around the Puget Sound! Look for the green FREE circle!

Learn to Code: Check out these free workshops for youth at the Microsoft store in Seattle!

See a PlayShakespeare in the Park starts on July 10th, and its rotating schedule means that you can find a location close to you! Pack a picnic and bring the whole family for these free performances.

And of course,

Free Summer MealsFind the site closest to you and get all the information about the activities offered at sites throughout King County—and let others know about them too!

There are so many ways to make sure the kids in your life are staying engaged throughout the summer.  We dare you to take the initiative and try our suggestions for a summer of learning and growing together!

 

Tags: Dare to Reach   King County   ParentHelp123   Seattle   summer   summer learning   summer meals   

Obstacles to Access: Tent City

By Amber Bellazaire, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
The AmeriCorps team at WithinReach recently began a new outreach effort at Tent City 3, a homeless encampment temporarily located across the street from Seattle Pacific University. On a chilly evening, a few members of the team arrived, prepared to help residents connect with food and health resources. While assisting these clients, our conversations turned to some of the other challenges they faced in accessing health care and nutrition benefits.

Several residents of Tent City 3 shared that they were in need of dental care, but were having difficulty finding a dentist that would take their Apple Health insurance. We were able to use the WithinReach Resource Finder to pull up a list of providers for these clients to use; however, lack of regular internet and phone access makes finding accessible dental and health care an ongoing struggle.

Similarly, a woman enrolled in Washington Apple Health and Basic Food told us that she was unable to access her benefits because she had recently been a victim of theft. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the homeless, who often don’t have a secure place to store their belongings. Her cell phone and wallet were stolen while she was sleeping, leaving her without personal identification cards, insurance cards, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, or a way to connect and replace these items. In this situation, simply contacting the various agencies in order to request replacement cards was a great challenge and a barrier limiting this woman’s access to health services and food.

Also that night, a 23-year-old woman we worked with was having difficulty accessing the prescription she needed to treat her bronchitis. People experiencing homelessness tend to be more susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as bronchitis, than those with stable housing. Without regular access to a mailbox, this young woman had not received her insurance card and had been denied prescriptions from her pharmacy, even though she has active coverage. We were able to offer suggestions about locations where she could receive mail in the future, and provided her with the phone numbers she needed to replace her insurance card.

Although the AmeriCorps team was able to offer short-term solutions to these clients so that they could access health and food resources, barriers to access, remain in place for the homeless population. These client interactions reminded me that simply signing a person up for benefits is often not enough; working around or removing barriers such as the lack of a mailbox or regular phone access is necessary for successfully connecting homeless clients. As we continue our outreach work with homeless communities, it is important to remember these common issues and try our best to work around them so that all of our clients can have access to health and food resources, no matter what their living situation is.

Need Shelter? Find Tent City sites here: http://www.sharewheel.org/Home/tent-cities

 

Tags: access   AmeriCrops   Basic Food   Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card   Health care   homeless communities   ParentHelp123   resource finder   Seattle   Shelter   Tent City 3   Washington Apple Health   WithinReach   

Taking Action to Address Transit Inequality

By Jessica Vu, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
Of the many issues that Seattle-area residents face daily, transportation is one of the most pressing. From mass transit service cuts to inadequate traffic infrastructure, several factors have long affected King County residents’ ability to commute to and from work.
Of these factors, one of the most straining is consistently rising public transit fares. As a response to rising fares, King County officials have implemented a reduced-fare transit program called ORCA LIFT, which provides individuals and families with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level with ORCA cards that charge just $1.50 per ride on King County Metro Transit buses, as well as on many other buses in the area. The $1.50 charge is $1.00 less than regular off-peak fares and $1.25 less than regular peak fares after the most recent fare increase; LIFT clients also have the option of purchasing a reduced-cost monthly pass.
The program, which went into effect on March 1, 2015, is one of the first of its kind in the country, and certainly the most ambitious in scope. ORCA LIFT could potentially reach close to 100,000 transit riders, many of whom rely on public transportation to commute to work from outlying areas as the cost of living in Seattle proper continues to rise. The program stands alongside the minimum wage increase approved by City Council last year as an example of efforts made by King County officials to fight growing economic disparities throughout the region.
To help manage the tremendous logistical undertaking involved in rolling out the ORCA LIFT program, King County Metro has called on over 40 community organizations, including WithinReach, to help administer cards and conduct outreach for the program. WithinReach’s in-person outreach team enrolls clients in ORCA LIFT at seven different sites throughout King County. Call our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588 for more site information. Through our robust and established outreach network, many clients in the past few weeks that came to us seeking food or health resources have also been able to walk away with an ORCA LIFT card in hand.
Because King County Metro—in partnership with King County Public Health—has created a program with relatively generous and client-friendly guidelines, people are often surprised at how painless the enrollment process is. After one of our in-person outreach team members verifies a person’s identity and income, the client is registered in the database and is given an active ORCA LIFT card on the spot, which is valid for two years after being issued without need for additional income verification. After experiencing how strictly overseen many public assistance programs are—and how meager the benefits can be—it has been very refreshing for WithinReach to take part in this progressive campaign to help alleviate inequality, and to be able to show people that efforts are being made to address their needs. We can only hope that these efforts will demonstrate to the rest of the country that reduced-fare transit programs not only work, but are well worth the undertaking.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps Outreach   Bus   Family Health Hotline   Inequality   King County Metro Transit   ORCA LIFT   poverty level   Public Transit   reduced transit fare   rising costs   Seattle   transit rider   Transportation   

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   

Help Me Grow Washington Partners With Parent Support Groups

Written by Help Me Grow AmeriCorps VISTA, Keri Foster

Our Help Me Grow team had the opportunity to talk with eight PEPS groups this year. PEPS stands for Program for Early Parent Support. This program helps connect new parents to other new parents in their community and offers a place to grow, learn, and share their journey into parenthood. There are 12 weekly PEPS meetings in a session and this unique program offers neighborhood-based resources and education opportunities. Each week, group discussions are on a topic related to parenting from feeding, to child development, to local baby-friendly activities.

Attending these meetings was not only a great experience, it was also fun.  The babies were all so cute and playful. It was heartwarming to see all the moms (and dads) supporting each other in learning about their babies growth.

We talked about the topic of child development and did an activity-based questionnaire which gives parents a snapshot of their baby’s development. The questionnaire is an engaging way to have solid activities and skills to be working on while getting concrete feedback about their baby’s development.  It seemed like one of their favorite things was learning about specific developmental milestones. One mom said, “ooh, my baby kisses his image in the mirror!” How hilarious and adorable. Babies are learning so much, and even recognizing themselves in the mirror shows that they’ve reached a psychological milestone.

The most rewarding part of this experience was working with such a captivating audience of new parents. One of my favorite things was hearing the parents talk about what their babies were learning and the new skills they were mastering. The WithinReach Help Me Grow team is looking forward to continuing educating and supporting PEPS groups in the future.

Resources and activities for your child can be found on our Pinterest page. If you would like to get involved in your baby’s development, complete an Ages and Stages Questionnaire today! Call our WithinReach Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit Parenthelp123.org.
 
 

Tags: Child Development   Help Me Grow   PEPS   Seattle   

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