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Meet the grantee: Residents key for Hunger Coalition

Hunger Coalition Promotoras (from left) Beatriz Lourdes Gonzalez and Irma Guerrero do outreach for CalFresh in 2012 at the City Heights Farmers Market. Hunger Coalition photoAbout 40 percent of families in City Heights with children younger than 18 live in poverty, that makes hunger a huge issue.

Jennifer Tracy, executive director of San Diego Hunger Coalition, estimates that the organization focuses on City Heights-specific work with about a fifth of its time and resources and spends the rest of its time working at a San Diego countywide level.

"The county-wide work, a lot of it is an umbrella that includes things happening in City Heights," she said.

The Hunger Coalition has been around for about 30 years and initially was an all-volunteer organization. It is part of the Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team. Food justice is a way to address inequalities in the food system, including in the distribution of food, which some say creates food insecurity despite a system with excess food in Western countries.

"Our momentum team existed before Building Healthy Communities came to City Heights, and so we were one of the few that already had relationships and had already developed some goals and outcomes," Tracy said.

The Hunger Coalition is also a grantee of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative, a 10-year, $1 billion plan aimed at transforming the way Californians think about and support health. The Initiative focuses on City Heights and 13 other sites in the state.

Much of the Coalition's work is around connecting the hungry with CalFresh assistance. CalFresh is another name for the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly called food stamps, that allows needy families to buy food.

Tracy said the Hunger Coalition's four main target areas are reaching out to families in City Heights that aren't able to buy the food they need, leading the countywide CalFresh Task Force, expanding school and summer meals programs and policy work.

Much of the Coalition's policy work focuses on the Federal Farm Bill, which also includes SNAP funding.

[Read what Tracy wrote about it in U-T San Diego.]

The Hunger Coalition also has co-authored a bill this year as part of its state policy work.

The Hunger Coalition uses promotoras, or Latino community members with specialized training to provide basic health education, to do outreach about CalFresh. It reports some impressive results.

"As of March 2013, our promotora program has enrolled 326 households in the CalFresh Program," according to the Hunger Coalition's City Heights outcomes report. "This effort has brought in an estimated $330,948 in CalFresh dollars to our City Heights community since January 2012, which is equivalent to over $569,230 in economic impact."

The promotora program also provides a connection to the community. This came in handy during the Food Justice team's planning period, when it updated its campaigns and its goals.

"At least one of the promotoras attends the [Food Justice Momentum Team] meetings, so they helped recruit people for the planning process through the farmers market and outreach at the health centers," Tracy said. "So they were really involved in getting the community engaged in the planning process."

Tracy said that knowledge is key.

"We wanted to make sure that the [things] we were investing our time in are actually what the residents" really need and want, she said.

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