The Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) and its broad-based community collaborative have kicked off “CalFresh Awareness Month,” the partnership’s annual campaign to increase access to food assistance and promote healthier food choices in the nation’s largest and most diverse county.

CalFresh Awareness Month has become one of the most comprehensive and coordinated efforts in the state to bring awareness to CalFresh, the new name for the state’s former food stamp program. California Department of Social Services Director, Will Lightbourne, has urged them to adopt similar strategies of those implemented by Los Angeles County.

Still Impacted

The population of L.A. County has surpassed 10 million, according to March 2014 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. The county now has 10,017,068 residents, nearly twice the number of the next largest county, Cook County in Illinois, with an estimated 5,240,700 people.

While the local economy continues to show signs of improvement, many residents are still financially impacted by the recent recession. L.A. County experienced some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Unfortunately, many in need of immediate food assistance are unaware that they may qualify for CalFresh. In the county, only 59 percent of those eligible are receiving CalFresh food assistance, even though a record high of 1,179,471 individuals received the benefit in January this year.

Community Collaboration

“Hunger is an issue that affects us all and this collaboration represents an intense effort to serve those most vulnerable in Los Angeles County,” stated DPSS Director, Sheryl Spiller. “We all know someone who is experiencing difficulties purchasing food for themself or their family.”

Working in collaboration with 40-plus CalFresh partners—comprised of community-based and faith-based organizations, food banks, schools, and supermarkets — the goal of the annual campaign has been to inform residents about CalFresh and remove the barriers that discourage eligible families and individuals from applying.

The partnership also strives to promote the alternative methods to apply for CalFresh benefits, such as the Your Benefits Now (YBN) on-line application system and the 24-hour Customer Service Center. Both methods reduce the need for those seeking assistance to visit DPSS district offices.

Board of Supervisors Support

Although DPSS has conducted extensive community outreach for many years, the Department’s CalFresh Program launched the first month-long campaign in May 2011. Since then, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has helped to promote the effort by proclaiming May as “CalFresh Awareness Month” in the County.

In addition to encouraging residents to share the important information with those who need it most, the County’s chief executive office helps to broaden the outreach by encouraging its 88 cities to create additional awareness by hosting presentations at their city council meetings or events in the community.

For more information on the activities of CalFresh Awareness Month, visit http://dpss.lacounty.gov/dpss/calfresh/awareness.cfm.