Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We Have A Playground!

The playground for the Wellness Center is here! It's in a million pieces spread out between 89 boxes, crates, pallets, and giant carboard tubes. It's inside the former PCC building instead of outside where it can be played on, but it's here!

Bob the truck driver pulled into the parking lot about 24 hours later than planned after having to be rerouted through Coos Bay to avoid both 299 and 199 after driving our 8,300 pounds of playground across the country from Pennsylvania. It turns out that a large playground takes up a large truck -- it was the only thing in the truck:

The truck wasn't exactly packed to the rafters, but all those poles and bars and railings take up a lot of space and don't exactly play well with others in terms of being stacked neatly in a pile. We had been scrambling the day before to change our plans for unloading the truck. Many volunteers, a forklift, and a pallet jack were needed, and the plans for getting them to the truck all had to be changed. Luckily, once again, the community came through with everything we needed to move forward on this project.

Employees from Redwood State and National Parks came out in force, along with VISTA and AmeriCorps members, students and staff from Sunset High School and the Bar-O Boys Ranch, and other community members unloaded everything that could be unloaded by hand. A staff member from the Del Norte Community Health Clinic supervised the receiving paperwork and made sure we had every piece and box we need to put it together.

Thursday's forklift was going to come from Crescent Ace Hardware, who have been fantastic partners in this project from the start, but they needed it on Friday. Beyond Waste Salvage, on very little notice, came through with a replacement and unloaded the pallets. (Note the message on the box: The World Needs Play. How true.)

Some cast members from this spring's Lighthouse Rep production hammed it up as they did some heavy lifting. It was heavy, but not THAT heavy.

Eventually, the truck was empty and three rooms of the former PCC building were full:

Then it was time for snacks and group pictures. Our heroic students didn't want to be memorialized for their work, but we captured our parks folks for posterity:

Many thanks to everyone who helped unload our playground. We're now in the process of planning the installation. Within the next two or three months, the empty space in the community garden at the Wellness Center will become this:

The colors in this photo are not the same colors of our playground, but the equipment is all the right stuff in the right place. We have a lot of purple and green in our scheme. Stay tuned for updates about when the installation and grand opening will take place.

Friday, January 13, 2012

EBT? CalFresh? SNAP? What Does It All Mean?

I'd like to interupt our series about CalFresh for a minute to back up and explain all the different names and acronyms. Even people who work on issues surrounding the federal nutrition program sometimes get confused, so here's how it works:

A couple of years ago, the USDA renamed what used to be the food stamp program. They felt that "food stamps" had gained a very negative perception and because the program is about providing adequate nutrition to people who need it, they wanted to rebrand the program to try to end the stigma. At the federal level, the program is now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). As the name suggests, it is designed to supplement other funds to purchase healthy food.
When USDA changed the name at the federal level, they also gave the states the ability to create a name for the program at the state level. Each state administers its own program, so this made sense. California took a long time to decide on a name, create a logo, and release it publicly, so for about a year, the program was called SNAP in California before changing to CalFresh, it's current name.

To summarize: What used to be called food stamps is now called SNAP at the federal level and CalFresh benefits in California.

So where does EBT fit in?

CalFresh benefits are delivered onto what is essentially a debit card. In California, it's called the Golden State Advantage card. On a specific day each month, a new month's worth of benefits are deposited onto the card by the state and the CalFresh recipient can spend down those funds over the course of the month. So CalFresh (and other) benefits are delivered electronically.

When someone uses their card, they are making an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), so many people call those cards "EBT cards". When you see a sign in a store saying, "We accept EBT", it means that the store has been authorized to accept government benefits electronically and has the correct hardware and software to process an Electronic Benefits Transfer.

If you sometimes pay for groceries with a bank-issued debit or credit card, you may have seen the EBT option when choosing which method you will use to pay. It's important to know that someone using an EBT card is not necessarily using CalFresh. Other benefits, such as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and some forms of disability benefits, are also delivered on the same Golden State Advantage card and are unrestricted funds in terms of what they can purchase. CalFresh benefits cannot be used to purchase non-food items and in supermarkets where they scan each item's bar code, the computer automatically categorizes each items as CalFresh eligible or ineligible and the grocery totals are separated as CalFresh vs. other payment.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"ummm...EBT" by Sara Haug

This is my second year of Americorps VISTA and my second year using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As a VISTA, you are paid a wage set at the poverty line, so you can experience living in poverty while fighting poverty (or so they tell us at our pre-service orientation). Our meager living stipend qualifies us for state benefits, including the SNAP program. I realize SNAP (known as CalFresh in California) is commonly referred to as food stamps or EBT, but I am going to make an effort to use its formal name in this blog.

As a single person who technically does not have an income, I receive the maximum of $200 per month. I cook almost all of my meals at home, so I definitely use the full amount every month. Could I survive on less? Probably. I certainly did in college. But would I be able to buy organically, shop at the Farmer’s Market, or purchase a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables? Probably not, and it’s my belief that every person should have access to healthy food; regardless of their socioeconomic status (Can you tell I’ve been spending time with the Community Food Council?).

My first year of VISTA was in New York City and now I am completing my second term in Del Norte County. Since SNAP benefits are distributed by each state, my experience in New York and California has been slightly different. In New York, there is no reporting system in place. Once you apply and receive food stamp benefits, you receive them for an entire year and then must reapply. In California, you must send in a quarterly report to continue to receive benefits. The report asks about the previous month’s income, housing costs, and any changes to your situation that may affect the amount of benefits you receive in the future. Personally, I am a terrible procrastinator, so the idea of sending in quarterly reports to continue receiving SNAP benefits doesn’t really work for me. In fact, I have my latest quarterly report sitting on my dining room table (where it’s been for almost a week), and I was told by my caseworker at DHHS that I would have to reapply for CalFresh if I don’t turn it in on time, since this would be my third late report in a row. This is no criticism of CalFresh, of course. It takes about 45 seconds to fill out, they give you a month to do it, and they provide a stamped envelope to send it back in. It couldn’t get any easier, right? I know that I complain about the reports, but sending in a two page report every three months is a perfectly reasonable requirement.

I was embarrassed to use my SNAP benefits in the beginning. It didn’t help that in New York you had to alert the cashier that you were using SNAP to pay for your groceries, so I remember quietly whispering “ummm EBT” and quickly swiping my EBT card with my head down. I think my embarrassment was a result of my awareness of the stereotypes surrounding SNAP. I felt like I would be judged by the cashier and the people standing in line with me. I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case. No one cared that I was using my EBT card; no one closely examined my cart to see if I was buying the “right” things. I can honestly say I have not personally experienced any negative reactions towards my use of SNAP. This might be a result of my environment. The other Americorps members and VISTAs that I have been working with the past two years use SNAP, and I also lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, so the person in front of me in line at the grocery store was almost always using their EBT card to buy groceries too. Regardless, I hope my experience is not unique, and that the stereotypes surrounding SNAP are disappearing.

I am finishing my term in April, and with no plans to re-enroll in VISTA for a third year, I will most likely no longer qualify for SNAP (that is, if I can find a job). While that is a really exciting thought for me, I’ll admit that I’m really going to miss my SNAP benefits. Receiving SNAP benefits put me in the habit of buying fresh, good food for myself, and hopefully that habit will stick with me as I transition out of the program.