Improving Access to Healthy Food

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Kaiser Permanente Northern California awards $1.3 million to 15 community groups to increase access to public food programs. Pictured above, the GetCalFresh app helps Californians to more easily enroll for food stamps.

An estimated 2.5 million Californians could be getting government help with putting food on the table —  but they aren’t enrolled in CalFresh, California’s Supplemental Nutrition Program, also known as food stamps.

Kaiser Permanente is helping to change that by awarding $1.3 million in grants to Northern California community groups who will improve outreach to people who are eligible for CalFresh. The aim is to bring healthy food to homeless people and others in need during the upcoming holiday season and beyond.

Fifteen community organizations — including health clinics, food banks, and family and youth centers — received grants ranging from $75,000 to $98,000. The organizations will work together and on their own to find innovative ways to make the application process better for people who apply for CalFresh.

“While connecting people to healthy food is a positive outcome we can achieve with these grants, we’re also interested in finding ways to improve outreach and enrollment efforts by leveraging technology and building a stronger network of support for people needing help,” said Yvette Radford, vice president of External and Community Affairs for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

Making it Easier to Enroll

While developing the guidelines for the grants, Radford said her staff reached out to community organizations to find out why people who are eligible for CalFresh aren’t enrolling.

“What we heard most often is that the application process is a barrier, as is the stigma associated with needing public assistance in the first place,” Radford said. “Increasingly, immigrant communities fear that applying for the benefit could affect their immigration status.”

Kaiser Permanente is helping to fund GetCalFresh, a free online service available on mobile phones and desktops, that simplifies the CalFresh application process and supports applicants through phone text, email, and live chat as they complete the enrollment process. GetCalFresh has served more than 102,000 people in 20 California counties this year alone.  

“A lot of people search for help with affordable food, and yet even when they find out about CalFresh and try to enroll they encounter a long and confusing application process,” said ST Mayer, chief program officer, Code for America, the nonprofit organization that developed and delivers the GetCalFresh service.  

“GetCalFresh not only makes applying quicker, easier, and more accessible, the technology was built to answer questions people have throughout the application process and to return data and insights to our government partners.” said Mayer. “The counties and organizations using GetCalFresh tell us that this approach goes a long way in reaching more people and providing effective support for people who are reaching out for help.”  

Reaching Out to the Community

The 15 community groups receiving the latest grants will use the funding in a variety of ways. Here is a sampling of their work:

San Leandro based Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center will strengthen its CalFresh application assistance infrastructure and conduct CalFresh outreach to the center’s patients. The organization will also support Promotores de Salud (health promoters) in conducting outreach and providing CalFresh education in working, low-income households and senior centers.

Second Harvest Food Bank, which serves Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, will recruit and train community-based partner agencies and its own volunteer Promotores de Salud to help them learn effecive techniques for helping immigrants and seniors enroll in CalFresh.

Sacramento Covered will recruit and train college interns who will be co-located at various community-based sites including WIC offices, libraries, and schools to provide CalFresh outreach and application assistance, focusing on low-income households and individuals experiencing homelessness.

See the complete list of grantees at kp.org/share.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. I’m very glad we are contributing to these important efforts to enroll individuals in need into public food programs like CalFresh. It’s really important to provide such help at this time with a federal government that has made increasing deportations a priority, resulting in many needy persons who are immigrants being afraid to take advantage of these programs. In that sense, KPs dollars are being put to good use. Thank you.
    The only other (critical) comment I would make is that “Healthy Food” is a subjective term when you’re dealing with public food assistance. While I appreciate the efforts made by various organizations such as the Alameda County Community Food Bank, where my team has volunteered, to keep their offerings as healthy as possible, there is only so much you can do with preserved and canned food. The healthiest food is grown in your backyard or picked up from the farmers’ market (or a high-end store like Whole Foods, if you can afford it) and cooked in your kitchen…

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