Monterey County examines food assistance programs in the wake of inflation – Monterey Herald

MONTEREY — As food, fuel and rent prices continue to rise across the country, food assistance organizations in Monterey County have begun to see an increase in need.

“We are seeing more customers than before the pandemic,” said Melissa Kendrick, CEO and CEO of the Monterey County Food Bank. “We are seeing more working families on our lines, both parents working, (which is) a worrying trend. We’re seeing a lot of older people that we haven’t seen before. So I think the challenge is that as long as food, fuel and rent continue to be affected by inflationary elements, we expect our numbers to be quadruple what they were before the pandemic.”

During Wednesday’s county press conference, key community leaders and members of food assistance organizations discussed various food resources available to the community.

According to the Monterey County Food Bank, 1 in 4 people in Monterey County are hungry and 34% of county residents experience food insecurity.

While Monterey County is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, those who care for and harvest the produce are less likely to be able to afford it. Hunger and poverty levels are disproportionately higher in Monterey County in the Latino and farmworker communities.

The food bank serves 160,000 people each month or more than 60,000 families. During Wednesday’s briefing, Kendrick outlined some of the food bank’s programs to help distribute food to those who need it most.

Mobile Produce Pantries visit dozens of schools, libraries, and other community gathering places to provide a free farmers market open to all families. From April through October, the Family Market Program offers free produce and dairy products to low-income county residents. Kendrick also mentioned the organization’s plans to build a five-acre farm and the recent launch of a diaper program that provides monthly diapers and groceries to mothers.

The food bank distributes food weekly on Wednesdays at 980 Fremont St. in Monterey from 3 to 5 p.m., and on Tuesdays at Seaside at 1475 La Salle Ave. from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and at 390 Elm Ave. from 4 to 5 p.m. 6 pm In Marina, food is distributed the first Monday of every month at 188 Seaside Circle from 9:30 to 10:30 am and the third Saturday of every month at 3305 Abdy Way from 10 am to noon.

CalFresh is another popular service offered by many food assistance organizations and the largest food program in California. The program, known at the federal level as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides monthly food benefits to low-income individuals and families. The amount of benefits a household receives depends on size and income. Monthly benefits are provided through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which can be used to purchase food at any grocery store or market that accepts EBT cards.

According to Yaneth Venegas, outreach coordinator for the Department of Social Services’ Community Benefits Branch, there are a total of 22,202 CalFresh cases in the county as of July.

Venegas explained that the branch also refers individuals and families to additional resources, regardless of whether they qualify for the CalFresh program.

Monterey County Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is another state food assistance program available to pregnant or lactating women, postpartum women, and infants and children 5 years of age and younger. In addition to benefits to buy food, the program provides nutrition education classes and breastfeeding support, healthy recipes, and resource referrals for women, infants, toddlers, and children. Other caregivers and guardians can also apply for the program for the children they are raising.

“We always partner and work together to see how we can maximize engagement and reach,” said Niaomi Hrepich, director of the Monterey County WIC program. “Definitely, as Melissa said, we’ve had so many families that have never needed help before, but because rents are so high … and food and transportation costs are so high, we’ve seen a lot of working families qualify as well.” for WIC.”

To be eligible for many of the in-county food assistance programs, individuals must be US citizens or lawful permanent residents. According to the 2019-20 Monterey County Legislative Program document, Monterey County has the highest percentage of non-citizens of any county in California, at 22%. These people do not qualify for emergency assistance or other necessary resources.

Ulises Cisneros-Abrego, nutrition education coordinator for Catholic Charities, noted that if parents are not citizens or lawful permanent residents but are looking to apply for food assistance, they can include their children on the application.

Catholic Charities offers nutrition education, food bank distributions, and garden support at residential sites, schools, and parishes. Cisneros-Abrego explained that the garden support has been especially popular during the pandemic. The program currently operates six gardens but hopes to expand to 20-30 gardens next year.

“We really love doing yard work because it allows people on residential sites or even schools, as students, to grow their own food and have access to food,” he said.

Wednesday’s briefing was aimed at reducing the stigma associated with food insecurity and encouraging the community to seek help immediately.

“There is no shame in needing food,” Kendrick concluded. “The best investment we can make is to make sure that everyone in this country has access to healthy food and enough of it. No good comes from hungry people.”

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