Guest Commentary | CalFresh helps prevent hunger during pandemic – Santa Cruz Sentinel


By Randy Morris

In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, the uncertainty of social and economic pressures has resulted in undue strain on many of our most vulnerable community members. As part of our May 2020 CalFresh Awareness campaign, the County of Santa Cruz Human Services Department wants to ensure that our community is aware of and has access to all safety net services that are in place to protect and support individuals and families in need.

As we practice social distancing, let’s make sure to stay engaged with our families, friends, and neighbors. That can mean checking in when we go for a walk, making a phone call, or having a video chat. It is more critical than ever to keep in contact with others. Vulnerable adults in our community may be isolated or unable to get groceries, pick up medications, or address other needs due to their at risk status during COVID-19. Because of this, it is important as a community we look out for each other.

Adult Protective Services (APS) provides intervention services to protect elderly and dependent adults from abuse, neglect, or exploitation. If you suspect abuse, please call toll free at (866) 580-HELP (4357) or (831) 454-4101 and for hearing or speech impaired, call California Relay Services 711. Our hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Vulnerable children in our County have lost the protective layer of everyday interactions with teachers, counselors, coachers, and childcare providers. As a community, we know that emotional and financial stress, a by-product of this pandemic, may increase rates of child maltreatment. If you suspect abuse or neglect of a child, please call our Child Abuse Reporting Hotline toll free at (877) 505-3299 or (831) 454-2273. Any person can report suspected abuse/neglect.

Due to the extensive economic impacts of COVID-19, some individuals and families may find themselves needing services to ensure their basic needs are met. Reducing hunger and supporting healthy communities has long been a priority of Santa Cruz County. The Human Services Department’s Employment and Benefit Services Division can provide access to CalFresh food assistance and Medi-Cal or other health coverage options.

The value of CalFresh nutritional assistance and Medi-Cal health coverage is especially important this year as the community and nation face a historic pandemic which has resulted in near overnight job and subsequent health insurance losses, and drastic economic changes have left thousands of residents facing food insecurity. During CalFresh Awareness Month, counties across California highlight the program’s benefits and help more people access this important nutritional supplement. CalFresh (formally known as food stamps) helps struggling families and individuals purchase healthy, nourishing food. CalFresh also supports the local economy through local grocers and farmers markets. CalFresh is easy to use as nearly 60% of food retailers, and most farmers markets in Santa Cruz County accept payment through the CalFresh Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. During the month of May through the Double Market Match program, if you spend $10 purchasing fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets, you will receive another $20 worth of produce.

The pathway for overall welfare and health is paved by nutritious food. In times of disaster related crisis, like the one we are in now, food insecurity has become a relatable issue for many. Entire households are finding themselves at risk of experiencing hunger. It is vital that all individuals and families maintain access to nutritional food and needed health coverage. CalFresh helps prevent hunger and promotes health for children, families and the entire community, and Medi-Cal may provide access to health care for individuals and families.

Applying for food or health benefits has become easier and you can apply by phone or online. To apply for benefits or learn more, you can call by phone at 1-888-421-8080 or apply online at or

Please visit for more information on the County of Santa Cruz Human Services Department’s available services and resources. We are open and here to serve our community.

Randy Morris is the director of the Human Services Department County of Santa Cruz.


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