Sacramento is recruiting for the “CalFresh Food Challenge, this week.” The food stamp challenge is about volunteering to live on a food-stamp budget for several days to see how far volunteers are able to stretch the budget to buy healthy foods. A local TV news anchor celebrity, Stefanie Cruz and a City Council politician, Kevin McCarty, have joined the challenge. Food insecurity is spreading in South Sacramento, according to the media.
The recognizable names are Stefanie Cruz and Kevin McCarty, according to the December 6, 2012 Sacramento Bee article by Cynthia H. Craft, “Sacramento TV newswoman, councilman try CalFresh Food Challenge.” McCarty is a Sacramento City Council member, and Stephanie Cruz is a TV news anchor at Channel 40 (KTXL) who reports on politicians including McCarty. Which other local celebrities in media or politics will live on a food stamp budget and try to eat as healthy as they can afford on that budget?
The celebrities have jobs and can go back to buying the healthy food they prefer. People on food stamps for years have little other choices when they wish to buy fresh produce and other healthy foods. Sometimes the healthiest foods are those that grow in the ground that you prepare yourself with minimal processing. How can the working poor feed their families healthy foods?
Are you ready to volunteer for the CalFresh Food Challenge?
CalFresh refers to the program that gives local food stamps in Sacramento to people living at or below the poverty income level. CalFresh Food Challenge volunteers eat on a daily $4.90 per person groceries budget just like food stamp recipients receive. High-profile names in Sacramento have agreed to take the CalFresh Food challenge and live on a food stamp budget for a few days to see what it’s like living as the working poor or those who can’t find work and have to feed hungry families. Sacramento has a rising tide of hungry children.
The CalFresh Program, formerly known as Food Stamps and federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), adds to the food budget to put healthy and nutritious food on the table, that is if you can find a way to buy healthy food on the tight budget of about $4.90 daily per person for groceries. The program issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at many markets and food stores. You use the food stamps like a debit card. It’s not really stamps.
The goal of the CalFresh Program helps to improve the health and well-being of qualified households and individuals by providing them a means to meet their nutritional needs. In Sacramento, the south Sacramento area, a diverse pocket of people from all walks of life and highly diverse backgrounds and origins has a rising number of people on “food stamps” who also visit food banks to receive free food such as vegetables that their food budgets may not stretch far enough by the end of the month.
Will you be living on a food stamp budget for a few days to experience what the working poor can afford to eat?
Check out the November 30, 2012 Sacramento Bee article, “Census Bureau shows 113,000 Sacramento children living in poverty.” Also see, the article, “Fresh & Easy parent to exit U.S. market; fate of Sacramento-area stores unknown.” Are you planning to live on a food-stamp budget for a few days? The high-profile names agreed to buy the healthiest foods they could find on a strict grocery budget of no more than $4.90 a day per person.
If both husband and wife hold minimum wage jobs and must pay childcare, rent, utilities, transportation expenses, and other costs of raising a family, what’s left over for family food, assuming their money isn’t grabbed by a partner, friend, or relative and spent on cigarettes and beer? The truth is most money is spent on food that’s affordable, usually starchy fillers, until the food banks can help with fresh vegetables and fruits, when and if the food is donated.
Poor people are tired of peanut butter full of added trans fats and sugar or corn syrup, bread or tortillas, that can raise blood sugar levels equal to two tablespoons of table sugar, and sometimes jam processed with table sugar instead of real fruit juice or a package of pasta made with bleached white flour. The only healthy foods many poor people can afford are dried beans, sometimes served with ketchup which is obtainable from fast-food eateries, which some mix with hot water to make “tomato soup.”
For many who eat ethnic foods have more access to vegetables and fruits, for example the foods served by Asian traditional foods using fish caught in local area rivers, rice, and green vegetables, when available or even home-grown (safe) mushrooms and sauces, are healthier foods than a constant diet of commercial bleached-flour breads, instant cereals, processed cheese, GMO tortillas, and pasta. The saving grace? The healthier beans, full of fiber.
This budget is exactly what CalFresh, or local food stamp, recipients receive, their assignment, to stretch the foods stamp benefits over an entire month. Can you find a way to eat healthy on that food budget? Sure, grow your own vegetables. But what if you live in an apartment and the local urban gardens where you can grow your own produce aren’t growing an abundance of vegetables in December. However, the challenge is about planning wisely in order to eat a healthy diet on a food stamp budget. What type of foods can you buy using $4.90 daily per person, say for a family of four?
Signing up for the CalFresh Food Challenge?
Volunteers to live on a food stamp budget are recruited by the Sacramento Hunger Coalition, the project of the Sacramento Housing Alliance that organizes the Challenge in Sacramento. But what you’re going to be able to afford will probably make you fat or raise your insulin levels and blood sugar levels because people who have to feed a family on $4.90 per person usually run out of money a week before the end of the month trying to make grocery ends meet. It’s difficult. In Sacramento one out of every 10 residents in the county are on food stamps. That amounts to about 250,000 people. You can check out the statistics with the California Department of Social Services (CDSS).
When media celebrities and politicians sign up to go on a food stamp grocery budget for a short period of time, it’s to bring attention to what people experience as hunger in real life situations, people who have to live for years on food stamps, usually the working poor, the unemployed, and anyone else who can’t afford to buy food, including impoverished seniors or people who can’t earn enough to buy food for themselves and/or their families. About 80 percent of those on food stamps live in Sacramento County.
The working poor may be living on food stamps
A new phenomenon is the working poor who live on food stamps and must feed families on the tight budget. Food stamps are used not only people living on government assistance because they can’t work, can’t find work, are too elderly or disabled to find a job that earns enough to pay for healthy food, or other reasons why they are hungry and have household incomes at or below the poverty level.
Some SSI recipients are blind or deaf blind, some are paralyzed, and others just aren’t earning enough to pay rent, utilities, and buy food. The face of the poor includes a rising tide of working poor earning minimum wage or living on the tight budgets of government assistance. Some have mental conditions and get food stamps and SSI, and some are housebound by phobias and chronic anxiety or are recovering from a variety of illnesses. To qualify for CalFresh, the household net income has to be at or below the federal poverty level.
CalFresh benefits can be used for seeds and plants to grow food for household use. But in a tiny apartment or for families who are homeless and temporarily living in motel rooms, they are not able to grow food unless they own a house on land or rent spaces in urban gardens during the season for growing and harvesting, which is not midwinter.
The CalFresh debit card must be used to buy food to take home to prepare, not food to be eaten on the premises of a store such as a restaurant or food truck. You can’t even buy food that’s heated in the store, like a take-out roasted chicken that’s heated up for you in the store’s microwave for you to take home or eat on the tables in a supermarket’s sitting area or coffee shop cubicle. And you can’t use your food stamps to buy vitamins, nutritional supplements, over-the-counter medicines, alcohol or tobacco.
The amount of CalFresh benefits a low-income person or family can receive is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Thrifty Food Plan. The plan estimates how much it costs to provide a household with nutritious, low-cost meals. The estimates are revised every year to keep pace with changes in food prices. The average amount of CalFresh benefits received per household is about $200 per month.
CFAP is a state-funded Calfresh program for legal permanent non-citizens residing in the U.S., and determined ineligible for federal food stamp benefits solely due to their immigration status. Whether or not you work, if you have a low income, you may qualify for food stamps.
There are more than 240 Calfresh offices in California operated by local county welfare departments. Low-income people may apply for CalFresh at any office located in the county where they live. To find information on your county click on the link County Welfare Departments . Also, there may be other locations were you can apply for CalFresh benefits. You may also file online at the E-Benefits California Website.
In Sacramento, you have numerous people who are blind or have other disabilities who receive SSI. But if you are receiving SSI/SSP, you can’t also receive CalFresh benefits in California. However, your family may be eligible to receive CalFresh benefits. For example, a person with a variety of disabilities or mental illness may be getting SSI and has to live on that tight budget. He or she can’t also have food stamps.
The individual’s children may qualify to receive CalFresh food stamps, which is like an electronic debit card you carry in the supermarket and use just like any other debit card. You swipe the card in the credit and debit card machine on the supermarket’s check-out counter to pay for the food you’re taking home to prepare at home, not eat on the premises of the store.
CalFresh benefits may fail to cover the whole month
Meal planning is difficult on the budget. Some people wait until a day before the food expires when the price gets cut, such as pieces of chicken gizzards that are packaged to sell for under $2.00 just before they expire. People on tight food budgets may buy meat, such as chicken hearts and gizzards packaged in the supermarket’s meat cooler, and chop up the meat in tiny pieces, browning it in oil and then putting the meat in a stew of carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. Other people find they can’t find foods they want at the price they can afford, such as fresh green leafy vegetables, berries, or produce that’s not high in starch.
Health can be affected by an absence of whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits. If a person only buys bread and pasta day after day, it could lead to obesity, diabetes, or heart disease and other chronic illnesses because the plant micronutrients aren’t in the bleached flour products or the starchy potatoes and white rice that quickly turns to sugar in the blood. People buy the unhealthiest of fats sometimes because they can’t afford healthier oils such as olive oil for cooking or even the cheaper rice bran oil that’s healthier than some of the saturated or trans fats often seen in homes of those who live below the poverty level.
The term, “food insecurity” refers to the inability to buy, obtain free from food banks, or grow nutritionally adequate foods. Sacramento’s homeless suffer most from this issue. You can read reports from the Sacramento Hunger Coalition about how food insecurity worsens acid reflux, hypertension and diabetes. Poverty also is association with poor nutrition. Did you know that California has the highest rate of poverty in the USA, according to November 2012 research from the U.S. Census Bureau?
There’s only so much food to go around from food banks. As the holidays appear, more people ask for more variety in foods from food banks. Publicly, people who volunteer to take the food stamp challenge at the same time when most other folks are traveling to be at the family table for a huge meal for the holiday seasonal meals.
It’s usually poultry or ham served at the December meal tables nationwide, unless the home is vegetarian, vegan, or raw vegan foods. And for those raw vegan food enthusiasts, there are the clubs that feature pot lucks where people bring food to share with others. Numerous houses of worship offer free meals to the poor and/or homeless with donated food, usually more nutritious than what a food stamp budget is able to cover each month.
Donors usually contribute vegetables to food banks and various other organizations for distribution of food to the poor, including the working poor. Are Sacramentans more generous with food donations to Food Banks during the holiday season?
Are too many people just tossing out their expired packaged and canned foods to various food banks and churches? Sometimes volunteers wonder when they look at expiration dates on packages or cans of foods. Other people donate their unwanted fruit cakes to skilled nursing homes, and other foods such as candies, canned cheeses, or packaged items bought from stores that are mailed to them by relatives.
The greatest need is for more nutritious foods
Food banks are looking to give healthier foods to food stamp recipients who run out of grocery money a week before the end of the month. These people want vegetables and fruits that are fresh, not only bread, white rice, and packages of pasta, salty canned soups, white potatoes, or other starchy, processed foods that quickly raise blood glucose levels.
If you check out the Sacramento Bee article, by Cynthia H. Craft, “Sacramento TV newswoman, councilman try CalFresh Food Challenge,” you can read more about the 2012 survey, “Hunger Hits Home : Food Network Specials : Food Network,” by the Sacramento Housing Alliance and Valley Vision found the number of people locally turning to food pantries increased by 20 percent between 2010 and 2011. Of those surveyed, nearly half had relied on food-assistance programs for more than one year. View the YouTube video, Food Network Special: Hunger Hits Home – YouTube.
You may want to see the 42-minute video, “Watch Hunger Hits Home online | Free | Hulu.” Some kids come to school so hungry in the morning that numerous teachers pay out of their own pocket to feed the students who come to school suffering symptoms related to hunger or poor nutrition. In the Hunger Hits Home report, the area of south Sacramento is identified as suffering the greatest need for healthier foods, with an estimated 18.6 percent of residents there experiencing food insecurity, poor nutrition, and hunger.
Sacramento’s greatest nutrition problem is that fresh produce is too expensive for most poor people on food stamp budgets
Where are you going to buy fresh produce on meager budgets? Unless the produce goes on a drastic price-lowering sale a day before expiration, there aren’t many vegetables you can buy at a price you can afford. Organic food is priced even higher. Some people resort to trash bin dumpster diving in places where expired bananas, avocados, and other vegetables or fruits are thrown away. You have families eating out of dumpsters outside of various food markets, more so in San Francisco than in south Sacramento, where the need for affordable fresh produce (to people on food stamp budgets) is greatest. Check out Hunger Hits Home at the No Kid Hungry site.
What food stamps covers are starchy, processed foods such as instant oatmeal, corn tortillas (not home-made from fresh, organic corn meal). The corn may be GMO, since not many people on food stamps can afford to buy organic corn tortillas made from sprouted corn, usually in the cooler or freezer in the natural food aisles of supermarkets. Dried beans are cheap to buy and nutritious, however.
Cheese often is bought as processed shredded cheese, high in fat. Most people don’t know how processed cheese is made. For example, highly-processed American cheese is one dietary source of aluminum, which you don’t want building up in your brain. See, Aluminum Toxicity – Aluminum Toxicity Symptoms. Processed cheese has a high aluminum content. The food product having perhaps the highest aluminum content is the cheeseburger. This mineral is added to give processed cheese its melting quality for use on hamburgers, according to that article on aluminum toxicity.
Can you stay within the budget of the Challenge for four days?
If you like fresh, organic produce — vegetables and fruits or nuts and seeds, you won’t be able to afford much of them if any at all on a food stamp budget. What’ you’ll learn from the challenge is what poor people have to face to stay healthy, especially if their Medical health care services aren’t going to be helping them much once they get tooth decay, clogged arteries, diabetes, or heart disease. For some, eating fewer foods could lead to weight loss, if that’s what they would like as a result, but at what cost nutritionally? How will you prepare three meals a day for under $4.90 per person per day for each family member? Walking in the shoes of hungry families in Sacramento, usually results in more donations to food banks for some.
Business owners in Sacramento are worried about too many cars and trucks full of food to be given out to the homeless
Some people aren’t distinguishing between the working poor on food stamps and the homeless who refuse assistance because of chronic mental issues, fear, or other preferences. Attitudes usually are based on experience at shelters or with the lack of enough low-rent apartments in Sacramento that are kept in good repair.
Business owners in Sacramento and some residents are angry or annoyed whenever cars and trucks piled with food pull up in their neighborhoods as volunteers hand out sandwiches and bottles of water to the homeless. The people who live, work, or own businesses in the neighborhoods served by mobile vehicles such as cars and trucks arriving with free food for the hungry homeless feel that it’s unsafe to bring so many homeless people to one area to receive the handouts.
The area is in downtown Sacramento, and the food usually served are not the greatest organic health foods, just simply peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water bottles along with packages of crackers.
The food is not exotic or unique, just food that most kids probably ate in school lunches for decades. But the volunteers feel they’re giving back to society. Some of the volunteers are from the Sikh community. The three Sikhs who hand out free food to the homeless are participants in what has become a controversial trend in the River District, a warehouse area just north of downtown that is in the midst of transition to a mixture of offices and housing
Reasons why good ‘Samaritans’ are resented by some business owners
It’s the business owners and residents who complain about the often informal religious-based groups, not only the Sikhs but other groups from a variety of religions. Business owners complain that the empty lots or street corners in the River District are being turned into “group feeding zones,” according to the September 9, 2012 Sacramento Bee article by Tony Bizjak , “Drive-by’ homeless aid angers business owners, residents.”
The “feeding zone” is near American River Parkway, which has potential to be turned into river-view properties. But the main problem besides safety and the chronic mental conditions or addictive behaviors people see in the chronically homeless is the food wrappers and bottles just tossed onto the sidewalks and streets, the litter and debris. Nobody seems to be putting the garbage in the cans, and few businesses are providing trash cans at the corners.
The businesses aren’t putting trash cans out and neither is the city. So the debris and paper wrappers cover the streets as if the area was a surreal stage performance with food wrappers floating in the breeze or covering the streets. Nobody is picking up frequently, and the homeless sometimes just toss the empty water bottles and food wrappers onto the sidewalk. People aren’t even asking those who finish eating to put their garbage in a plastic bag, and those who bring the food aren’t all collecting the garbage before they leave after the “feeding frenzy.”
Businesses complain the streets are being used as toilets by some of the homeless
You have a situation in Sacramento where different groups drive up to the same spot at the same time to distribute food. The “feeding frenzy” entice more homeless to the troubled area. On the other hand, residents and business owners are seeking action from city and county officials, who say they’re trying to find a way to limit the food giveaways, either through cooperation or – if need be – an ordinance.
The River District for many years has been a homeless magnet. Various social services are located there. Also, the homeless tend to pick choice sleeping areas with a river view. The increase in mobile feedings from vehicles is increasing all over the country, not only in Sacramento. You have similar situations also in San Francisco where some groups feed the homeless vegetable soup, for example, on various street corners.
Dumpster divers for food: over-ripe fruits and salad vegetables
For more information on groups that pick fruit and vegetables out of dumpsters in San Francisco and in other cities and then prepare the free food for the local homeless, check out the June 18, 2012 article, “Food not bombs dumpster dives for food to give away to the homeless.” What happens in other cities is that the group called “Food Not Bombs” according to that article, “likes to dumpster dive for the food they serve.” Also see the video, Andrew Zimmern Fights Homelessness With Bizarre Foods – Video.
Groups are around that recover large amounts of food in an organized way, usually from dumpsters outside of food markets and restaurants and use the dumpster food to feed the hungry, giving away free food. It’s no wonder why the various Health Departments want to watch the watchers. Check out the article, “Food not Bombs” refuses to get permit to serve food in Todos Santos Plaza.”
Despite offers from Contra Costa Health Services to help them with the free permit process, the local chapter of “Food Not Bombs” refused to obey the law in order to serve free food to the homeless during the Thursday Night Farmers’ Market in Todos Santos Plaza, according to the June 18, 2010 article. Also see the article, “Freegans Say No To Waste By Dumpster Diving | Food Renegade.” Freegans are people who tap into dumpsters of wasted food, usually produce, when it’s still fresh and edible.
Rescuing food from dumpsters and serving it to the homeless
Freegans and similar groups rescue the food in order to redistribute it, feed themselves, or even turn it into compost if it’s not safe to eat. For example, over-ripe bananas thrown into dumpsters by food markets are rescued and turned into banana bread to be served free to the homeless.
One documentary about this practice in San Francisco was broadcast a few months ago. Check out the video from Portland, Oregon, Waste Not Want Not – PDX Freegan Film. Also see another video on dumpster diving, “Dumpster Diving Guided Tour. Mega Loadin’ (1 of 2) .”
Back here in Sacramento, the police also recently broke up up a large tent city near the river in that city. Since then, the homeless have scattered into smaller, dispersed camps, Sacramento County officials say, according to the September 9, 2012 Sacramento Bee article by Tony Bizjak , “Drive-by’ homeless aid angers business owners, residents.”
Loaves and Fishes serves free lunches to the homeless in Sacramento
Loaves and Fishes, whose complex on North C Street, also serves lunches and provides a variety of other services. That part of Sacramento near downtown is a major hub for the area’s homeless. About 1,000 people sleep outside in Sacramento every night, about 200 of them in the vicinity of the American River, according to an estimate by Loaves and Fishes.
The biggest issue for the business owners and residents are the number of homeless outside night and day. There’s just not enough housing for all of them at any given moment. Many business owners and residents focus on the problem of the feedings as being a major issue. For example, you have a distribution site for free food for the homeless near a warehouse at Ahern and North C Streets in Sacramento, right near businesses. Groups of homeless people are blocking access to some of the entrances to some of the businesses by sitting on the ground eating, then dumping their trash and food on the sidewalks in front of the business entrances.
What business owners object to is the crowding by the homeless and the debris they leave which frightens people from trying to enter the businesses. The “No loitering” signs are ignored. You have on a daily basis about 24 or 25 homeless people sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the free food cars to stop and serve dinner.
It’s the loss of business that the owners complain about, such as warehouses that are not being able to be rented due to the fear of that many homeless gathering in one place. Fear is driving away customers, fear that the homeless are or may be chronically mentally ill or abusive.
If you talk to the homeless who sleep under bridges, those who comment, are not as chronically ill as most people fear. They chat with those who hand them the free sandwiches and water. The real issue is the unpredictability of the homeless. You don’t know what they’ll do, which ones are safe, and who’s unapproachable.
City and county governments allow the do-gooders to feed the homeless. This annoys the business owners and developers who resent the drug addicts, criminals, and mentally ill who sometimes may be violent and sometimes withdrawn and shy.
Some business owners resent the number of people clustering in the area
The region consists of businesses, warehouses, bike trails, and parkways a frightening place for most people who are not homeless. The area is supposed to be recreational. But people are afraid of crime. The streets do have visible garbage and needles, for example, strewn around some of the sidewalks and areas of the parkway between the River District and North Sacramento.
Writing illegal camping citations isn’t solving the underlying problem. People are looking for solutions based on collaboration. How do you make the area safer? Do you manage and limit the feedings to certain hours for all groups of volunteers? Keep the feedings in one place?
Is the solution about using a fenced area closer to Loaves & Fishes complex on North C Street, or a nearby private warehouse? Most officials and business owners want to see a managed type of feedings and clean up afterward.
Would a city or county ordinance help?
Should Sacramentans explore writing a city or county ordinance that would place restrictions on public feedings, including possibly requiring groups to obtain a permit if they intend to feed more than a certain number of people? The solution is about balance. The American River Parkway is supposed to be for the views and recreation. There are bike paths, but nothing for pedestrians to walk without worrying about being hit by bikes. Business owners and residents may wish that religious groups do more feedings at their own houses of worship instead of in recreational areas of the city or business districts where the homeless gather daily to wait for the free feedings.
Clean-up programs need to happen. One solution is to have supervised homeless crews do cleaning and gardening on their sites, where some of the homeless can even grow food in the spring and summer. The emphasis needs to be on clean-up crews and perhaps more urban gardens for the homeless. So far no body’s really done a good job of dealing with this homeless population to balance the issue.
There’s an organization, Sacramento Steps Forward, looking for sites to build transitional housing to get a few dozen homeless people off the streets every six months. Later this month, Safe Ground will unveil a prototype for a $6,000 cabin to be used for that task.
Can communal living sites help?
To balance the homeless situation, what’s needed are a few parcels of land around the region to turn into communal living sites where some homeless people can live in safe and sanitary conditions and grow their own food while working in clean-up crews, as a first step toward moving to more permanent housing. What needs to be done is to create structure instead of simply shutting down the feedings which isn’t leading to that balance which is needed.
On one hand you have groups who want to give back to the community. And on the other hand you need a way to help the homeless help themselves more at the survival level by organizing them in clean-up crews, communal housing, and growing their own produce. But the issue is cooperation. How do you keep them focused on self-help? The first step is to ask them. For more information, check out the September 9, 2012 Sacramento Bee article by Tony Bizjak , “Drive-by’ homeless aid angers business owners, residents.”
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