Food Insecurity from Young to Old

19 Feb


This past week I had the opportunity to broaden my view of how food stamps (CalFresh) and food insecurity affect a broad age range, those getting ready to go out into the world (college students) and those who have already served (military vets). Despite the age difference, many of the challenges are the same.

I met with Jackie Molinero, a 3rd yr student at UCSB. Jackie comes from a Latinx household in Vallejo, CA. Her parents are both first generation immigrants and monolingual Spanish speakers. Both of them stressed to her the importance of education as a way to move forward. Jackie wants to do something to help people and her major is Political Science.


Jackie had a very difficult first year at college due to serious food insecurity. She worked hard to budget and find a job. Money from financial aid all went towards rent, and there was very little left for groceries. Her parents gave what they could, but she had to rely on friends to help her when she had no money for food.

In her second year, she found out about CalFresh (Food Stamps) which could provide her with up to $200 for groceries. She went to speak to a student advocate from the UCSB Associated Students food pantry to get help signing up.  She also was able to get a job as a CalFresh intern and help others sign up, doing advocacy work at outreach sites for 13 hours a week. Later she was promoted to being the communications intern for Calfresh, with a remit to create events to make the benefit more well known. She sees that it is still hard for some students to get past the stigma of asking for help and that there is a need to normalize food security resources. It can be difficult for students to sign up and stay enrolled. The application can be cancelled if it is not submitted on time. Students don’t have much time with classes and their work schedule, and it can be a struggle to get their documents together.


Jackie Molinero in her role as CalFresh Communications Intern

CalFresh benefits are a huge help, but they’re not a magic bullet in solving campus hunger. Many students are not eligible for CalFresh. They may be undocumented or not able to meet one of the eligibility requirements of receiving the Cal Grant or working 20 hours per week. There are many students unable to get much financial aid who also can’t get help from parents, including members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been ostracized from the family. This is where the Associated Students Food Pantry helps, utilizing food that they get from the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

Mr. Talkin goes to Washington

13 Feb

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for us, so I apologize for not posting in a while. I was reporting last time on the plight of the Federal government workers who were not making ends meet over the shutdown period. [Read an all too common story here] While I was visiting our distribution at Lompoc Correctional Complex, I received a call from the office of our Congressional Representative, Salud Carbajal with an invitation to be his (only) guest at the State of the Union address!


It was a wonderful recognition of the work of the Foodbank, and so I couldn’t turn it down, even though I was in the middle of my Food Security Challenge. I figured it would be a great opportunity to highlight the challenge and the need to maintain the Federal safety net.


rtx6lfxe_wide-cb2d1d20d5e4592033e2c8d846d9b763cdd94b66-s1900-c85Security was as high as I could have imagined with endless metal detectors and pat downs. At least they allowed me to keep my hat (though I wasn’t allowed to wear it in the Congressional chamber as I was not wearing it for religious reasons).

Prior to the address, I was invited to a reception held by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. As you see below, I got a chance to meet her, which was a great honor.


Unfortunately, as I had been invited by a Democratic Congressman, I never had a chance to connect with any Republican members of Congress, so as to highlight the challenges of being food insecure in America’s low-wage economy, where a crisis is just a missed paycheck away. This is a shame, as hunger should be an ‘across the aisles’ issue.

Below you can remove your detective’s magnifying glass and  see me up in the gallery during the address, my bald pate shining out like a beacon of hope in troubling times.


I wasn’t sure what to expect from watching previously televised SOTU addresses, maybe something halfway between Game of Thrones and House of Cards! As it turned out, it was more like a high school prom, with different cliques. There was nothing substantial in the address to support working families, which was a missed opportunity.


I resisted the Congressional cookies!

I returned to a Food Security Challenge that was at a halfway point. (I couldn’t bring the food I had brought or prepared with me to DC, so I had to eat food outside my allowed budget, so consequently I will be adding a couple of days onto the end of my challenge to make everything fair and square).

I have been skipping breakfast as a way of having enough resources for two more substantial meals, with a mixture of leftovers, salads and stews/chilli’s. I even shared some of my chili with my daughter Mia (7).

I have eaten this chili for six meals, so I definitely got my money’s worth! Other meals have included a homemade pizza (which was kind of a luxury, but I got two dinners out of it).


I am running low on funds, so we’ll see how it goes this week!

Meeting the Newly Food Insecure

1 Feb

This Monday I began my Food Security Challenge. I instantly blew exactly 1/4 or one week of my money on food at Trader Joes. Typically when I do the challenge, I drive people crazy with my ‘lavish’ food choices (like $8.99 on smoked salmon). But my approach is quality, not quantity, and besides I can get the key protein ingredient of six meals with one packet. But I will need to spend more this week to get some staple items (brown rice, eggs, wholewheat bread) that will last me through most of the challenge.


This week I also had the opportunity to meet with government workers who until last week had been unpaid as a result of the shutdown. I used to think FCC stood for Federal Communications Commission. It was a place that got a lot of complaints. Now, after visiting the prison in Lompoc, I have discovered that FCC also stands for Federal Correctional Complex. There are over 500 Federal employees at the prison that range from CO’s (Correctional Officers – I can see I’m impressing you with my knowledge of nomenclature) through to admin, counseling and support staff.

Since soon after the beginning of the government shutdown, we have been operating a distribution of food to federal employees. Typically this has meant that they could swing by our north or south county warehouse at a set time and pick up meat, produce and a range of groceries. When it came to the central city of Lompoc, we saw that a lot of the need was centered around the prison and also NASA workers at nearby Vandenberg Village, so we brought the distribution to them.


Foodbank employee (and part time superhero) Jamie Diggs signs up federal employees to receive food.

I spoke to a number of federal employees who did not want to be named. They were still concerned about the repercussions of speaking about the challenges they faced, which were numerous.

Since the onset of the partial federal government shutdown, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has now provided 21,300 pounds of fresh produce and healthy groceries to 1,500 individuals from 460 families. Hardest hit were communities within the county that already face a high rate of food insecurity, so the loss of income from furloughs has been truly painful. Families reported to me that they have not been able to get back on their feet, having delayed many expenses and now contending with bills that piled up, unpaid, during the shutdown.


Volunteers even helped put grocery bags in people’s cars.

These families are facing the same challenges that food insecure families face all the time: having to choose between paying for electricity or food, rent or food; car repairs or food; a visit to the doctor or food. It was a shock for them to one minute have a steady job and the next to be facing payments that needed to be made with no money to do it.

One thing is clear. The Foodbank is here for everyone in our community who needs help.


28 Jan

Every two years I take on my Food Security Challenge to remind others – and myself – of the challenges of trying to live on Food Stamps (Called CalFresh in CA).

For the next month I will have the sum of $6.46 per day to spend on food, which reflects the amount that a single person would receive in benefit.

calfresh.jpgThe environment I begin my challenge with is markedly different than that two years ago.

The provision of food stamps themselves has been threatened in a way they have not been in over a decade. In a desire to cut the numbers receiving food stamps, many people working low wage jobs that do not have set hours will find it harder to receive benefit with the continual changes requiring onerous reporting requirements to prove on a week by week basis that they are not earning above the threshold for food stamps. (Here is a report from the Center on Budget and Policy if you are feeling wonkish. Report Here)

I also find myself in an environment where people are trying to get food stamps who would never imagine having to do so – like Federal Government employees with steady jobs. For all of us, it has highlighted the financial fragility of a country where 34% of Americans have zero savings and only 10% have above $10,000. Finger wagging about lack of thriftiness will only get us so far when healthcare and other costs are spiraling yet wages are stagnant.

This position of increased vulnerability (despite the high level of employment – most of these jobs don’t pay anything like a living wage) has huge implications on levels of addiction, crime, consumer debt and poor health.

Increased vulnerability affects the affluent as well. The Thomas fire and debris flow, that affected our Foodbank’s service area a year ago were a reminder that the Foodbank is there to help everyone in our community.

Am I being a downer? Sometimes you just have to tell it straight.

Over the coming month, I will be speaking to those facing the struggles – federal workers trying to recover from the recent record-breaking shutdown, homeless vets and others. I’ll also be looking at what can be done to help and seeing how I personally manage on my $ 6.46 a day.

Last year I ran out of food before the end of my 30 days and I don’t want to do that, so I’m starting off a low cost breakfast on day#1 of my challenge


Half a piece of wholewheat bread with a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter (no added sugar) Half a piece of bread $0.05 ($3.00 loaf at Trader Joes) and Peanut butter about $ 0.10 ($1.99 Bottle at Trader Joes).

Okay, I have some protein, some fiber and some money in my pocket. Time to go in search of some vegetables!