2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey on Hunger and Homelessness

Seventy-one percent of cities included in this year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors “Survey on Hunger and Homelessness” reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance, with a number of cities citing recent benefit cuts contributing to this increased demand.

Cities are at the forefront of those recognizing the value of government nutrition programs. One-third of surveyed cities called for SNAP benefits to be increased. Two cities- St. Paul, MN and Trenton, NJ- specifically cited “lack of SNAP benefits” as a main cause of hunger. And when asked about some of the biggest challenges to addressing hunger, a number of cities said their emergency food providers were unable to keep with the growing need caused by cuts to SNAP and other benefit programs.Read the full report here.

DCHS & The Family Garden Project in the Dallas Morning News

Mesquite-based Sharing Life Community Outreach provides gardens for those in need

By Hannah Declerk

Norma Vann may be a great-grandmother, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to grow a family — only this time it is in her backyard.

Vann, 64, is providing for a household of eight and participated in the family garden initiative hosted in part by Sharing Life Community Outreach in Mesquite.

Sharing Life volunteers planted a container garden in Vann’s backyard with lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, green beans, spinach, cilantro, radish, cucumbers and collard greens. They used a product known as GardenSoxx, a mesh container.

“It is such a deal-breaker between fresh vegetables and canned vegetables,” Vann said.

Executive Director Teresa Jackson said the program, like others provided through Sharing Life, focuses on the needs of clients and empowers them to become an agent of change for their futures.

Sharing Life is one of 25 agencies supported by The Dallas Morning News Charities this year. The nonprofit provides short-term financial assistance, food, clothing, school supplies, ESL classes and job skills training for those in far East Dallas ZIP codes that meet the 2014-15 Federal Poverty Guidelines.

“The concept is just incredible. Instead of handing a man a fish, you are teaching them to fish. And they are being able to grow their own food,” said Wendy Hardeman, Sharing Life volunteer manager.

Jackson said she had first learned of the initiative this past spring from a friend at the Dallas Baptist Association.

The Family Garden Initiative began in 2010 as a partnership between Church of the Open Door and Filtrexx Foundation, both in Lorain County, Ohio. Filtrexx International manufactures the GardenSoxx. The purpose is to work with low-income communities.

This is the first time providing GardenSoxx through the initiative has been introduced this far south in the Dallas area, Jackson said.

Jackson said she works closely with the Dallas Baptist Association through the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions.

In early spring, the coalition developed the Hunger Solutions for the Faith Community Guide, which includes six solutions to address hunger. One of the six hunger solutions highlighted is the Family Garden Initiative Project.

Read the full article here

Healthy Eating Eluding Many with Disabilities

“People with disabilities are falling far short when it comes to consuming recommended levels of vitamins and other nutrients, researchers say.

Most Americans do not adhere to daily nutrition recommendations, but a new study finds that those with disabilities are fairing below average.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 12,000 people — including over 4,200 with various disabilities — who participated in the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which inquire about food and supplement intake.

They found that most U.S. adults eat too much saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and do not take in recommended levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron.

People with disabilities were even less likely to follow guidelines on saturated fat, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, according to findings published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

What’s more, those with the most severe disabilities — whether physical or mental — were least likely to report good nutritional habits, the study found.”

To read the entire article, visit:

FRAC and AARP Foundation announce new tools to help fight hunger among seniors

FRAC and AARP Foundation are taking a step forward in preventing food insecurity by publishing a digital toolkit that provides best practices for connecting older adults to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Both organizations recognize how important SNAP is to preventing food insecurity and promoting economic stability and health for vulnerable households. However, nearly three of five low-income seniors who are eligible for SNAP food assistance miss out on this valuable help to purchase food.

The toolkit, “Combating Food Insecurity: Tools for Helping Older Americans Access SNAP,” offers practical tips and examples to help organizations of all sizes address food insecurity in all types of communities. The goal is to increase senior SNAP participation.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits to help low-income individuals afford healthier food. In an average month in 2012 – the most recent data available – more than 4 million Americans age 60 or older participated in SNAP, with an average monthly benefit of $119 for those living alone. With at least 1 in 11 seniors (aged 65 or older) struggling against hunger, increasing access to SNAP can make a huge difference for millions of households with limited resources.

“SNAP is proven to fight hunger and improve health, but eligible older Americans are significantly less likely to participate in the program than members of other demographic groups,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Many factors contribute to this low participation rate, from barriers related to mobility, unfamiliarity with technology, and concern about stigma, to widespread myths about how the program works and who can qualify. This toolkit from FRAC and AARP Foundation aims to erase these misconceptions, and provide organizations with the tools they need to end senior hunger.”

“Nearly 9 million people age 50+ are threatened by hunger every day,” said AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson. “We are thrilled to be a part of the new toolkit that extends SNAP benefits to those eligible, in an easy-to-use digital format. Not only does SNAP help low-income people eat healthier, more nutritious food, SNAP also benefits the economy. Every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates $9 – nearly twice as much – in total economic activity in the community.”

Closing the participation gap is incredibly important for the fight against hunger, but it also would go a long way to improving seniors’ health and well-being. Food-insecure seniors are 2.33 times more likely to report fair or poor health status. Hunger increases disability, decreases resistance to infection, and extends hospital stays.  Moreover, many medications need to be taken with food to ensure their effectiveness. Too many seniors skip meals in order to purchase medication, only to see the “take with food” label on the prescription bottle. Improving access to SNAP would give seniors the resources they need for healthier lives.

The toolkit aims to do just that. It walks through the basics of SNAP, and then provides practical resources to help organizations craft successful programs of education, outreach, and application assistance. It includes real examples of collateral and messages that have worked in communities across the nation, and offers strategies on how to measure success.

“Combating Food Insecurity: Tools for Helping Older Americans Access SNAP” is one more step forward in preventing food insecurity and promoting economic stability and health for vulnerable older adults, and another step in the AARP Foundation and FRAC joint effort to provide real solutions for real problems.

The toolkit is available online.

USDA Offers Grants to Boost SNAP Participant Access to Farmers’ Markets

USDA announced the availability of grants, through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Program, which will boost SNAP recipient purchase power at farmers’ markets. For every $10 in SNAP benefits recipients spend on fresh food at the markets, USDA will provide, through the grants, a $10 subsidy. “Helping families purchase more fresh produce is clearly good for families’ health, helps contribute to lower health costs for the country, and increases local food sales for family farmers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a statement. The farmers’ market grant program “will not only empower low-income Americans to provide their families with more healthy fruits and vegetables, [it] will also help strengthen local economies by investing in local food systems[,]” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in a statement. Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, which helped create the program as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. According to USDA, sales of locally produced food, which have increased over the last few years, have also led to the creation of new jobs.

To learn more, visit the NPR blog:

Rep. Castro Talks Poverty at Texas Hunger Initiative Summit

The Texas Hunger Initiative closed out its three day hunger and poverty summit at Baylor University with a talk with Joaquin Castro moderated by Baylor President Ken Starr.

The general theme around this week’s summit was to create a public conversation focused around poverty and food insecurity on a local, state and national level.

The Texas Hunger Initiative brought in guest speakers and hosted sessions focusing on health, community organizing and justice. To close out the event Baylor president Ken Starr moderated a discussion with Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio. Castro spoke on several topics, including congressional gridlock preventing legislation that could help many working poor families.

“We’re still coming out of what was a tough economy for a lot of years and there are still a lot of people that are down on their luck that want to work that want to be productive,” Castro said. “Many of them that are working poor that simply need a little help.”

To read the full KWBU article, and to hear the full audio of the dialogue, click here.

Farm to School Programs Create New Opportunities for Farmers

From the USDA Office of Communications: 

This October, just like every other month during the school year, school menus will feature an array of products from local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Kids of all ages will dig up lessons in school gardens, visit farms, harvest pumpkins, and don hair nets for tours of processing facilities. Science teachers – and English, math, and social studies instructors, too – will use food and agriculture as a tool in their classrooms, so that lessons about the importance of healthy eating permeate the school learning environment.

An investment in the health of America’s students through Farm to School is also an investment in the farmers and ranchers who grow the food and an investment in the health of local economies. In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country.

For example, the Lake County Community Development Corporation in Bozeman, Montana reports a 40 percent increase in revenues to farmers based on school sales alone. The Southwest Georgia Project, a community development non-profit, notes that “We’re actually seeing our farmers have hope. The farm to school program allows them to see an opportunity for a sustainable living for themselves and their families.” Testimonials in a USDA video released this week highlight the degree to which farm to school programs support healthy eating behaviors among children and provide positive economic impacts to local communities.

Strengthening local food systems is one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development, and Farm to School programs can play an important role. To support the expansion of Farm to School programs into more schools and expand opportunity for farmers and ranchers, USDA offers grants,training, and technical assistance. Since the start of our Farm to School Grant Program in fiscal year 2013, for example, USDA has awarded grants to 139 projects spanning 46 states and the District of Columbia, serving more than 16,200 schools and 4.55 million students, nearly 43% of whom live in rural communities.

Just this week, I visited the George Washington Carver Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia and the Virginia State Fair to announce more than $52 million in new USDA grants nationwide to support the development of the local, regional and organic food sectors. You can learn more about USDA’s investments at

At USDA we’re transforming school food and creating a healthier next generation. We’re happy to celebrate in October, but we’re going to be cheering for schools with farm to school programs all year long. When students have experiences such as tending a school garden or visiting a farm, they’re more likely to make healthy choices in the cafeteria. I see the change every time I visit a cafeteria; students light up when meeting their farmer. They are piling their trays full of healthy foods, they are learning healthy habits that they will carry with them for life, and they are learning an appreciation for the American farmer that they will carry with them their entire lives.


Great Strides for Urban Agriculture in San Francisco

A new law taking effect next week will mark another innovation for San Francisco: The city will be the first in the country to offer a financial incentive for urban farming.

Starting Sept. 8, owners of empty lots could save thousands of dollars a year in property taxes in exchange for allowing their land to be used for agriculture for five years or more.

It’s part of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, a state law spearheaded by local sustainable land-use advocates and state Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. The law encourages would-be urban farmers to turn trash-covered empty parcels into gardens with the assurance they won’t be forced out after putting in a lot of time and money.

To read the whole article, click here:

To learn more about the Urban Agriculture Program in SF, click here:

Help for Seniors and People with Disabilities through SNAP’s Excess Medical Expense Deduction

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report about SNAP’s underutilized excess medical expense deduction. SNAP allows households to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses over $35 per month from their income in calculating their net income for SNAP purposes to more realistically reflect the income they have available to purchase food. This, in turn, could potentially qualify them for higher SNAP benefits.

The medical expense deduction can have a significant impact on SNAP benefits. For a typical senior living alone, claiming $50-$200 in medical expenses can result in an additional $7-$69 in SNAP benefits a month.

A wide range of medical and related expenses may be deducted, including many that health insurance does not cover and that SNAP participants may overlook.  Deductible expenses include transportation costs to a doctor or pharmacy, over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies, and home renovations to increase accessibility. It is important to inform eligible households of the range of deductible expenses so they can fully leverage the deduction. Read the full report here.