Sacramento, it’s time to step up!
Without a doubt, Sacramento has a hunger problem, but what does that look like? It looks like the college student who is living in their car because they can’t pay for food, housing and tuition. It’s the mother living across the street who has to make a decision between paying her electric bill and feeding her children. It’s the veteran who served their country abroad only to come back with disabilities and no available resources. It’s the elderly woman living off of Supplementary Security Income (SSI) who sits quietly in the back of your church.
The truth is hunger is everywhere, and the numbers back it up. Last year, there were 262,251 people living in extreme poverty in Sacramento Country. That means they were living 100 percent below the federal poverty line or making under $25,100 for a family of four.
On January 29, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano (FBCCS) organized an event to inform their local policymakers on the issue of hunger that lives in their counties. Community leaders, hunger advocates and political representatives came together in the warehouse of FBCCS to hear first-hand accounts of living in poverty and the policies that their food bank is supporting to address that.
Mario, a father of two daughters, told us his story of going on permanent disability. He reached out to the food bank to access resources he did not know were available to him before the transition. They helped him apply for CalFresh as well as attain supplemental food, but even with the assistance, it was not enough to sustain his monthly expenses. Despite the resources provided to him, he had to move out of his apartment and find a roommate to help with the monthly rent.
We learned of the successful policies that were passed last year as a result of their advocacy efforts. AB 607, the disaster food assistance bill, provided them the resources to send their outreach staff to assist after the Lake County and North Bay fires. SB 138 automatically enrolls students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. In addition, SB 250 prevents school lunch shaming in California. In addition to these state policies passing, FBCCS participated in Hunger Action Day and hosted 12 community listening sessions to further connect with the community they are serving.
However, we also learned of the 2018 California and federal policies that may negatively impact of the lives of the people they serve. From a state level, FBCCS will be advocating for several policies including: CalFood funding for food banks to purchase California-grown foods, enabling SSI recipients to receive CalFresh benefits; and providing free and reduced-price meals for charter schools (AB 1871). In regard to state level policies, FBCCS expressed their support for the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and strengthening and protecting SNAP in the 2018 Farm Bill. They took a hard stance against the Tax and Jobs Act.
Surrounded by the food that nourishes the Contra Costa and Solano County clients, we listened to a panel of community advocates who opened their hearts and told us of their struggles in trying to escape poverty. Over 80 people sat and listened together with the same goal in mind: to take a stand against hunger.
Sacramento County needs to do the same.
The only way to end hunger in Sacramento is to become a community that serves the community. To truly take a stand against hunger and poverty is to engage with our local politicians and the challenges we face behind closed doors, at the dinner table. We need to come together to discuss policies designed to bring meaningful change. We need to rally our citizens to call their representatives and attend council and board meetings. We need to make sure no child goes to bed hungry and no mother has to choose between paying rent and buying food.
Instead, Sacramento has been distracted by increasing tourism under the tagline of being the Farm-to-Fork Capital, while only expanding pathways to those with the means to live the Farm-to-Fork lifestyle. The argument can be made that investments are made to increase revenue for Sacramento to improve quality of life. But whose lives? Sacramento is in the middle of a housing crisis fueled by those investments, families are being priced out of their homes and have to move further from their places of work, forcing them to spend more money on commuting.
Secondly, the visible challenge of homelessness in the region has received an abundance of attention both in the media and on the agendas of the local city councils and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. But where is the funding for the people living on a paycheck away from homelessness, the more than 235,000 individuals we provide hunger-relief services to? We need to step up and provide funding to programs to be preventative and not reactive, while improving the quality of life for the people who have called Sacramento their home not for a year, but perhaps generations.
We can do our part in providing the food assistance to the people we serve, but the only road to true change comes from the policies put in place. Policy is how we set out priorities as a community, as people. The only vehicle that can take us down that road are the voices that speak for the voiceless.
Are you that voice?
By: Avery Hulog-Vicente and Kellie McCown
Food Access Network Coordinator and Agency Relations Coordintor