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Oakland Food Stamp Program Uses Technology to Strengthen Outreach

Outreach Associate Winnie Yi (left) assists Muoi Quan with her food stamp application at the Alameda County Community Food Bank office.

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When Winnie Yi talks about food stamps to her Asian clients, she often hears fear in their voices. “Language is the biggest barrier we face,” Winnie says. “Trust and a relationship are so important. I speak Chinese – both Cantonese and Mandarin – and when they hear that I am nice and polite and willing to help them, they begin to trust me. They do not know what to ask, or where to go. Without our help, many cases have been denied because people don’t understand and they don’t complete their applications.”

Her colleague, Yari Gonzalez, who speaks Spanish, agrees. “Having people who speak the languages and are flexible is so important. It’s all about trust. We put a lot into it because we know what they are going through.”

Winnie and Yari are community outreach associates for the Alameda County Community Food Bank, in the Lower San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland, California. They are a key part of a Casey-supported pilot program that uses a two-pronged approach to bring work supports to struggling families in poor communities. The strategy combines targeted outreach by multi-lingual community residents and the use of an electronic tool that handles food stamp applications from initial prescreening all the way through to submission to the county authorizing agency. Casey is looking to this pilot program to help identify ways to overcome barriers and to refine technology that will increase the number of families that access the services and supports for which they are eligible.

The Lower San Antonio neighborhood is a challenging venue for the pilot effort. Nearly 30 percent of its 32,000 residents are poor, nearly half are foreign born, and around 27 languages are spoken in the community. Thirty-five percent of residents are Latino, 35 percent are Asian, 20 percent are African American, and the rest are of other ethnic backgrounds. Reaching out to these families and connecting them to services and income supports is incredibly difficult. Food insecurity is a wide-spread problem, and one that must be met before families can move on to other aspects of building economic stability and success.

Next: Electronic Tool Handles Application Pre-Screening through Submission >>