Alameda County launches ‘CalFresh for Health’ campaign

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The Alameda County Social Services Agency, or ACSSA, and the Alameda County Food Bank launched the “CalFresh for Health” campaign May 1 to raise awareness about CalFresh, a federally funded program that provides aid to food-insecure individuals.

The campaign coincides with the fifth annual CalFresh Awareness Month and aims to make healthy options available and accessible to CalFresh recipients, according to Sylvia Soublet, director of public affairs for ACSSA.

Soublet said farmers markets throughout the county accept electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, debit cards, which are made available to CalFresh recipients. CalFresh recipients can also double their buying power at participating farmers markets through the “Market Match” program, according to Liz Gomez, the food bank’s associate director of client services. For every dollar spent using an EBT card at a farmers market, the CalFresh recipient is given an extra Market Match dollar, Gomez said.

“There is a misnomer that because you’re receiving some level of public food assistance, the only thing available is processed foods,” Soublet said. “That’s just not the case.”

The campaign also aims to address the impact of high-calorie, low nutrition sugary drinks through “Rethink Your Drink” initiatives, according to Gomez. She added that one of the campaign’s goals is to educate individuals on healthier alternatives to soft drinks, such as “infused” waters.

“They go reach for a soda and it’s so innate,” Soublet said. “Thirst should be quenched by water. … ‘Rethink Your Drink’ really just wants people to stop and think about it before you reach for that sugary drink.”

Gomez said ACSSA and the food bank have organized more than 30 events throughout the month, including outreach events and enrollment clinics.

In the first week of May, the food bank and ACSSA held a weeklong enrollment clinic at UC Berkeley, Gomez said. More than 140 students attended and received assistance with their CalFresh applications.

Gomez said nearly 90 percent of the students who attended the CalFresh enrollment clinic in early May have already been approved for benefits.

“There are a lot of students that are probably eligible and don’t know it,” said Maria Balcazar Tellez, who serves as UC Berkeley’s student representative in the UC-wide Basic Needs Committee. “It’s important work that needs to be done.”

The campus’s Basic Needs Security Committee frequently works with CalFresh to host enrollment clinics throughout the year, according to Balcazar Tellez. She added that the committee plans to hire undergraduate “CalFresh ambassadors” to help with “specific, targeted outreach.”

“Our primary goal is to make sure that anyone who is eligible for CalFresh benefits is taking advantage of that,” Soublet said. “It’s as easy as going to our site and filling out the application.”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.