Posts Tagged: CalFresh Healthy Living
A U.S. federal government shutdown can represent a minor inconvenience, a delay in paychecks, or – for people living in some of the most difficult circumstances – an extended period of hunger and anxiety.
A study published recently in the journal Nutrients provides a unique glimpse into the shutdown experiences of participants in CalFresh – California's name for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Currently, about 42 million people participate in SNAP across the U.S.
In focus groups conducted in 2019 with 26 low-income CalFresh participants from four diverse California counties, participants shared how the 2018-19 federal government shutdown affected their SNAP benefits, their perception of the program and their faith in government.
One of the immediate effects of the 2018-19 shutdown was that February CalFresh benefits were distributed in January. And while that meant program participants saw extra benefits that month, they then had to wait 40 to 44 days until the March issuance – much longer than the usual 28 to 31 day cycle.
“What we saw with this study is that this extended lag in benefit receipt from January to March was devastating,” said Wendi Gosliner, senior researcher and policy advisor at the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and an author of the study funded by UC ANR.
She recalled one participant who, despite having a gastrointestinal issue that requires a special diet, had to eat canned food from the food bank that made her sick – rather than go hungry while waiting for her March benefits. Others described cascading financial challenges after using rent money for food in February, or going into debt to pay for food and getting behind on other expenses.
The study also chronicles the experiences of a woman who was anguished to hear the suffering of her daughter, also a CalFresh participant: “She called me several times crying, ‘Ma, I don't – we don't have enough food. What am I going to do…? You know, I can't afford to this and this and this.' And I can't help her.”
For individuals grappling with food insecurity, the stress of feeding their families was compounded by the uncertainties of the government shutdown. And while many participants exercised their agency and resourcefulness in coping with the situation, they also felt a degree of powerlessness amid the “confusion and craziness,” as one person put it.
“No one knew how long that shutdown was going to last; no one knew if the March benefits were going to be paid,” Gosliner said. “And as we learned, there were all kinds of stories circulating out there about what was going on with the uncertainty – a lot of people didn't have the information about what was actually happening.”
Some participants, seeing the “double benefit” in January 2019, thought that it was the last-ever distribution and that SNAP was ending. Others described being unable to get in touch with the CalFresh agency to get their questions answered about the benefits. Most participants had not heard about the disrupted benefit schedule before receiving the benefits. As a result, many people in the focus groups shared that their overall faith in government had been shaken.
Improving customer service, boosting benefit levels and adjusting eligibility and benefit formulas to reflect high cost-of-living and expenses related to working were three recommendations that came from the focus group participants.
A fourth recommendation tackles the shutdown issue head-on: Don't let it happen again.
“Congress should do absolutely everything in their power to be sure that the program operates on the usual time schedule – even if the government is shut down,” Gosliner said.
In the context of the global pandemic, when financial and social inequities and physical and mental health disparities have been laid bare, ensuring access to healthful food is even more important. And with studies showing that hospitalizations increase with longer lags between SNAP distributions, Gosliner said the “absolute last thing” the overburdened health system needs is more people in emergency departments seeking acute care.
“It's the worst time to be having people who need money to feed their families face additional insecurity,” she said. “It's critically important that Congress acts to be sure that there is not any disruption in benefits.”
The authors of the study, “Participants' Experiences of the 2018–2019 Government Shutdown and Subsequent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefit Disruption Can Inform Future Policy,” are Wendi Gosliner, Wei-Ting Chen, Cathryn Johnson, Elsa Michelle Esparza, Natalie Price, Ken Hecht and Lorrene Ritchie.
The study can be found online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7353319.
CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE educators and promotoras teach children gardening to encourage healthy eating
When local promotoras - volunteer health workers - team with CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Cooperative Extension educators, magic happens in school gardens. Trained by Ceres Partnership for Healthy Families in Stanislaus County, promotoras encourage children to eat well by growing their own produce in school gardens.
In 2018, twenty promotoras were trained to implement the Powerful People curriculum designed to engage community leaders. This is a partnership with Cultiva La Salud and Ceres Partnership for Healthy Families with funding support from Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. After the training, the promotoras worked with Ceres Unified School District to create school gardens at five Ceres elementary schools where their children attended afterschool programs that host UC Cooperative Extension CalFresh Healthy Living, UC programs.
A key initiative CalFresh, Healthy Living, UC (CFHL) offers in counties throughout the state involves growing fresh produce and making it a regular part of family diets. TWIGS: Youth Gardening and Healthy Eating Curriculum is a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources comprehensive curriculum with 16 garden lessons and 15 nutrition lessons available for free download from its website.
CFHL has teamed with promotoras in Stanislaus County since 2018 to ignite local participation in teaching children that participate in garden clubs about plant and nutrition science, from building soil to creating sumptuous salads. Two years ago, a new UCCE community education specialist was assigned to the project, Rosalinda Ruiz. A native Spanish speaker and a mother herself, Ruiz quickly developed close relationships with the promotoras.
“She's not just their teacher. They look to her as a mentor and a friend,” said Jaci Westbrook, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Community Education Supervisor for Stanislaus and Merced counties.
Ruiz is also a certified UC Master Gardener, having completed rigorous coursework in sustainable food gardening, pest management, irrigation practices and soil health. She realized the TWIGS curriculum would reach more students if she taught the promotoras how to implement the lessons at school sites.
“This empowered the promotoras to gain knowledge and gave them a different purpose,” Westbrook said. “They don't need to rely on others to offer activities. Working in pairs or small groups, they are reaching 100 to 135 elementary school students themselves.”
Ruiz marvels at the many benefits of food gardening.
“Learning about gardening is the best thing families can do to teach their kids about healthy foods,” Ruiz said. “To grow your own food is a way to get fresh, nutritious food in your home. When kids see the fruit and vegetables growing and they're part of it, they are more willing to try it out.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, promotoras instruction continued online using Zoom, which was completely new to them, and with WhatsApp, a familiar platform for promotoras to communicate among themselves.
The students are also getting virtual instruction. Promotoras have become proficient at Zoom and are offering simple garden lessons. Socially distanced in-person gardening lessons are also resuming to give children hands-on experience growing their own food.
Jailene Mendoza is excited to start her new job as a medical assistant in sports medicine in Palo Alto, a job she landed after completing training with JobTrain.
After her job ended at the Housing Office at California State University, Stanislaus,Mendoza opted for training to help her move into a career that offers self-sufficiency. JobTrain provides career training in fields such as medical assistant, culinary arts, certified nursing assistant, carpentry, building maintenance, IT support and services.
For the past eight years, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Cooperative Extension has partnered with the Menlo Park-based nonprofit to provide nutrition classes to unemployed residents of San Mateo County.
“These valuable life skills complement the vocational training they receive at JobTrain,” said Elaine Silver, nutrition educator for CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE in San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
Based on 2018 SNAP-Education figures, 59% of all San Mateo County adults are obese or overweight and an estimated 68,000 county residents are food insecure. To address these health concerns among JobTrain students, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE delivers a course called “Plan, Shop, Save and Cook.”
In these lessons, JobTrain students learn about MyPlate, shopping on a budget, preparing healthy meals and snacks for families, reading food labels, and the importance of physical activity.
“CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension courses taught me and provided me with many resources,” said Mendoza, who took the course in the summer of 2020. “I am constantly using the eatfresh.org website for recipes. A handout that has really helped me is the "Eating Better on a Budget." I refer back to this because I have caught myself buying more than what is needed and it ends up going to waste.”
“I also like to watch what I eat because I have the BIGGEST sweet tooth and MyPlate has helped me out with that. I make sure I have my grains, fruits, vegetables and protein before I even consider having any type of sweets.”
Mendoza said she shared the "Eating Better on a Budget” tips with her family so they can reduce food waste.
In past years, Silver delivered the lessons in person, but switched to Zoom during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders to allow JobTrain students to continue building these important life skills.
Since October 2020, 128 JobTrain students have taken Silver's virtual Plan, Shop, Save and Cook lessons. The San Mateo County residents improved their skills in planning meals, comparing unit prices, shopping with a list, considering healthy food choices when feeding their families, and using nutrition facts labels, according to a survey conducted after the course.
“I started cooking healthier meals for my family, including veggies,” wrote one survey respondent.
Overall, 88% of the students reported improvements ranging from 43% comparing unit prices more often to 60% using nutrition facts more often. In addition, 28% of participants reported running out of food less often before the end of the month – suggesting they were more food secure after taking the course.
“Some of the changes I've made is that I now look at the unit price, just to make sure I am getting my money's worth,” wrote another student. “Also, I have started taking a grocery list with me so that I can make sure I can stay in budget and not buy things that I do not need.”
Asked about the impact these virtual classes have had on students' lives, the feedback from JobTrain instructors has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Students look forward to these classes each week, and I love to see how excited they get when they learn about new ways to incorporate healthy practices into their everyday lives,” said Emily Phillips, JobTrain culinary arts instructor, who noted Silver's food safety lessons reinforce training that she teaches people learning food preparation.
Silver also encourages JobTrain students to be physically active and to take advantage of free park passes offered by San Mateo County Public Health through their Park Rx Program. These free park passes incentivize families to spend time in nature to improve their health and well-being.
“Elaine's workshop has been very beneficial for the students at JobTrain. They utilize her suggestions on nutrition, saving techniques for food and applying healthy living for the student and their families,” said Xavier Gabut, who teaches nursing. “Elaine's workshops are relevant for my students, who will be entering the healthcare field, taking care of and educating patients on health.”
Mendoza, who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from CSU Stanislaus, has returned to school. While working as a medical assistant in sports medicine, she will be completing her prerequisites for a degree in nursing.
The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, administered through UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), works with ethnic communities to transform their environment by implementing a community garden. UCCE created three gardens in partnership with community organizations in an equal number of neighborhoods located in this populous county.
In the first one, adults and minors dug and planted seeds and various vegetable plants in a community garden located in Riverside's popular Latino neighborhood. The vegetable garden has brought people in this low-resource community together to address healthy food access and learn about healthy eating and nutrition.
Gonzalo Rodríguez, an active member of the Community Settlement Association, said, "We planted pepper plants, tomatoes and little seeds. Vegetables are an excellent food for us, and another thing that keeps children off the streets and helps them understand the process while having fun taking care of their plants."
The garden in this thriving Latino community has grown over the years and is now a place for families to get together to celebrate healthy living. Educating food-insecure families of different ethnicity, the importance of having a vegetable garden, and how to grow your own food is a goal of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, and UCCE in Riverside County.
The second garden is located on what used to be a vacant lot in the Riverside Faith Temple under Pastor Duane Sims' supervision, who spoke about his vision. "I would like to see it a complete food force, a source of food that won't cost anybody anything, and something for people that don't have anything to do, a place to put their hands in the dirt and accomplish something."
These community gardens collaborate with several programs from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and partner with ethnic organizations to combat the poor eating habits that result in obesity, chronic diseases, and sometimes premature death.
"We're trying to get low-income families to eat more vegetables, and the best way to do this is to encourage them to plant their own fruits and vegetables in an orchard, and that's why we're promoting community gardens," said Chutima Ganthavorn, UCCE nutrition specialist in Riverside County.
Adela Torres and her children are involved in the project with the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. "It's beneficial for the children because they are fresh fruits or things that we can have at home," she said.
Ganthavorn reaffirmed the UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC's commitment to helping ethnic communities live a healthier diet. "We know that many people's diets today are fast food and soft drinks, and they are not consuming fruits and vegetables. We need to eat almost nine portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and most of us aren't getting close to that level. We are trying to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables because they contain many nutrients and many health benefits," she said.
In the spring of 2020, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC (CFHL UC) Program faced the unprecedented experience of shelter-in-place and school closures due to COVID-19. Both federal nutrition education programs relied on in-person contact by UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education staff as a means of building and sustaining relationships with community members, stakeholders and partners serving vulnerable populations.
CFHL UC and EFNEP state office staff, in collaboration with the Center for Nutrition in Schools, reacted quickly to serve their clientele's needs. The coordinated effort of state office teams resulted in the dissemination of a staff needs assessment, which culminated in the training of over 150 educators and supervisors to quickly pivot lessons for online and distance learning. State staff and educators began designing online curricula delivery models to re-engage students, creating a library of virtual lessons with distance-learning strategies. This included using Zoom, social media platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube, and learning platforms such as Google Classroom. To provide quality assurance, reach and outcome measures also began undergoing adaptation for this new learning environment.
Examples of new remote learning capabilities include:
More than 60 online lessons under development for children pre-kindergarten through 8th grade that emphasize healthy eating, active living and gardening.
CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE county programs are developing the online delivery of five adult curricula, including UC-developed Plan, Shop, Save and Cook and Making Every Dollar Count that provide food resource management tips, as well as ideas for how to stay active and purchase healthy food on a limited budget. These lessons are particularly valuable at this time of high unemployment.
EFNEP's Technology and Social Media Plan includes a pilot of ‘blended learning' using mail, phone and video chat for our UCCE Connects to You Series. CFHL UC also utilizes mailings and phone call follow-ups with this curriculum.
Further, CFHL UC educators are offering lessons and short educational segments online, maintaining school gardens, working at food banks (with the permission of local county directors) and, in partnership with school meal programs, offering complimentary nutrition education and physical activity take-home lessons and resources to students and families at meal pick up locations. Youth engagement projects continue to engage student leaders online through Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) projects.
In response to COVID-19, the EFNEP and CFHL UC state and county staff continue to build and enhance the skills of our educators while serving California's most vulnerable communities. These efforts are critical to maintain trusted relationships, which both programs successfully established over decades of service to promote healthy people and communities in California.