Forum aims to increase food aid participation

Lunch is served at the eighth annual Cal Fresh forum at the City Plaza Community Room where topics ranging from healthy diets and exercise to senior meals and budgeting were covered for about 200 attendees. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — Currently, about 24,000 people in Santa Cruz County receive CalFresh benefits, California’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps.

But that number could be much higher, food aid experts say.

According to Second Harvest Food Bank, California has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the nation in the SNAP program, leaving more than two million Californians with inadequate access to food.

At the same time, a new state law allows people collecting Social Security payments to also receive SNAP benefits for the first time.

This was the backdrop Friday for the eighth-annual CalFresh Forum, for which hundreds of people from local community organizations gathered in the community room of the Watsonville Civic Plaza to learn how to increase local participation in CalFresh.

The meeting also included a discussion on the upcoming CalFresh expansion.

According to Joel Campos, Second Harvest’s Director of Community Outreach, many people incorrectly believe that requesting aid from CalFresh will bring unwanted attention from federal immigration authorities.

But Campos said the process is completely safe. In addition to helping people fill their pantry, receiving the assistance can also bolster the economy.

“When CalFresh recipients purchase food in markets and grocery stores, it begins a chain reaction of economic activity, from grocers to farmers, distributors, workers, vendors, and more,” he said. “If everyone who is qualified – but not currently enrolled – signed up for CalFresh, Santa Cruz County would enjoy an extra estimated $50 million in economic benefits.”

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