The COVID-19 pandemic hit Rubian Barrera’s family hard.
After 3 family members lost jobs due to the pandemic, the 21-year-old San Francisco State University student took a second home-care job. In addition to taking 5 classes at the university, she sometimes works 18 hours a day to help make ends meet.
“It’s been very hard for us,” she said. “Rent is very expensive in San Francisco, and we are often short on money.”
With help from the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, Barrera enrolled in CalFresh, California’s food stamp program, and is now getting monthly financial assistance to help pay for groceries. CalFresh helps low-income individuals, families, and households purchase nutritious food, providing up to $204 a month in food benefits per household member.
“CalFresh has helped me a lot. I can buy food when I’m hungry, and I’m buying more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods that I can prepare myself,” Barrera said.
One in 6 U.S. households at risk for hunger
Kaiser Permanente recently awarded 18 grants of $95,000 to food banks, community clinics, and family resource centers in Northern California to increase enrollment in CalFresh. The grants will help the nonprofits serve the growing number of people in the community who need food assistance, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the fourth year Kaiser Permanente has awarded grants to increase enrollment in CalFresh. But this year is different.
“Our community partners tell us they’re seeing hunger on the rise in unexpected places, and they’re helping many first-time applicants enroll in CalFresh,” said Yvette Radford, vice president, External and Community Affairs, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “Our grants support innovations to enable our partners to do safe outreach and enrollment assistance with an emphasis on reaching underserved communities that have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic and the economic downturn.”
Reaching out to underserved communities
One of the 18 grant recipients is the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, which is now distributing food to nearly twice the number of households it was helping before the pandemic. The Kaiser Permanente funding will support the food bank’s efforts to reach out to Black, Latino, and LGBTQ populations and help 1,400 households apply for CalFresh benefits.
“We know these communities are more at risk for hunger, especially during the pandemic,” said Liliana Sandoval, who leads CalFresh enrollment efforts in San Francisco for the San Francisco Marin Food Bank. “This funding will support our work with trusted partner organizations that are already serving these targeted communities, enabling them to enroll households, and helping those households to have better nutritional health.”
The grants to community partners complement work that Kaiser Permanente has been doing to help enroll its own eligible low-income members in food stamp programs in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. To date, those efforts have helped more than 67,000 Kaiser Permanente members to apply for food stamps.
This fall, Kaiser Permanente also awarded a $200,000 grant to the California Association of Food Banks to secure state funding for emergency food assistance, distribute 175 million pounds of fresh produce and proteins through the Farm to Family program, and increase the CalFresh enrollment rate statewide. In addition, it awarded a $100,000 grant to the California Women Infants and Children (WIC) Association to ensure WIC benefits are provided to eligible families throughout California.