Last year, Mark Altenbaugh found himself in what he called the perfect storm: He was in between jobs, in between housing and often worrying about where he’d get his next meal.
“You can't really think about getting employment when you have no money to eat,” Altenbaugh said. “It’s a fleeting effort, because you're constantly having to back-burner your goal to move forward to your survival effort.”
The 54-year-old veteran had never before asked for assistance.
“It was to my dismay — and my delight — that my friend said I could qualify for assistance with food,” he said.
Organizations like Feeding San Diego are working to end hunger by distributing food at events and its community marketplace and by helping San Diegans like Altenbaugh get much-needed assistance via federal meals programs.
Now, after a year of using assistance from CalFresh — the state's version of the federal Supplemental Nutritious Assistance Program, or SNAP — Altenbaugh says the assistance has helped to get him back on track in more ways than one.
Not only is he more financially stable, but having food security has improved his mental health, along with his eating habits.
“It's been a godsend,” he said. “I can look back and say this was a cornerstone to getting back on my feet.”
Feeding San Diego recently received a $50,000 grant from Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions Foundation to help it connect even more hungry people with federal food aid. It's the largest grant the organization has received for the program this year, said Ali Colbran, its director of development.
“We are seeing food insecurity at levels that mirror the height of the pandemic and, in some cases, even worse,” Colbran said.
Colbran says food insecurity levels began to return to pre-pandemic levels last fall. But with COVID-19 relief no longer helping support families, once inflation hit — first with gas prices, then with the cost of food — more and more people began to show up at Feeding San Diego’s food distributions.
“What used to buy them a cart full of groceries could maybe get them a bag full of groceries now,” Colbran said. “We have families telling us that our distributions are literally keeping them alive.”
The nonprofit’s large-scale distribution events are now seeing more attendance than they did at the height of the pandemic, Colbran said. Currently, these events feed about 10,000 households per month.
“I didn’t realize I could get assistance with food,” said San Diego resident Lisa Undraitis, “and I am so grateful that these valuable programs are out there.”
Rather than worry about saving to buy groceries, Undraitis says she’s now been able to focus on paying her rent and other necessities.
“It’s lifted my spirits so much,” she said. “People should not be afraid to ask for help.”
Unfortunately, many like Undraitis either are unaware they qualify, are deterred by the application process or don’t want to ask for help, Colbran explained.
California consistently has one of the nation's lowest rates of SNAP participation among people eligible for assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Only about 70 percent of eligible Californians participate — lower than the national average of 82 percent. And only 59 percent of the state's eligible low-income working people and 19 percent of eligible seniors are enrolled.
In order to break down barriers for more eligible San Diegans, Feeding San Diego has recently grown its CalFresh team to conduct more community outreach at events across the county and at its food distributions.
The nonprofit's CalFresh team works to help San Diegans determine if they qualify, then help them through the application process and, ultimately, help them stay enrolled.
In the organization’s last fiscal year, the CalFresh team’s outreach resulted in 127,254 attributable meals, it says.
Now, Feeding San Diego plans to use the grant money to further expand its outreach.
Source: San Diego Union Tribune