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Hunger Free Navigator Program
Written by Amanda Schultz Brochu
As the San Diego Food System Alliance looks towards building a more equitable food system that supports and is enjoyed by all San Diegans, one immediate opportunity to strengthen our local food system is by maximizing our region’s utilization of federal nutrition assistance programs. The SNAP (CalFresh), WIC, school meals, and meals for older adult programs bring nearly $1 Billion to San Diego’s food system annually! Just a 10% increase could result in as much as $100 Million in additional funding each year for local growers, producers, distributors, and retailers, while combating hunger and nutrition insecurity.
While a myriad of federal food assistance programs are available, systemic barriers have historically limited participation. Structural racism, limited transportation, phone, and internet access, and a historic lack of engagement of low-income communities in programmatic decision-making has resulted in programs that are not designed by, and often do not work for, the people who need them. In response, the San Diego Hunger Coalition recently launched the Hunger Free Navigator Program to increase awareness of and access to food assistance resources.
The Hunger Free Navigator Program engages organizations and community residents in creating an interconnected food and nutrition security network that can both connect people to food assistance resources and provide critical input to redesign food assistance programs with a focus on access and equity. Our hope is that many of the lessons we are learning as we collectively work to make it easier for people to access food assistance can support broader efforts in the region to create a more equitable food system.
Our process included sitting down with service providers and communities who are experiencing food insecurity to understand needs, identifying priorities and co-designing approaches that alleviate immediate needs and create longer-term strategies for transformation. Two programs were developed as a result of collaborative conversations and work:
The Agency Hunger Free Navigator Program provides case managers, patient navigators, resource and referral specialists with a high-level overview of food assistance resources available across the county and the best ways to help people connect.
The Resident Hunger Free Navigator Program is designed to engage individuals and communities across the county in better understanding the food assistance programs available, the best ways to access food, and ways to get involved in making food assistance programs work better.
Making federal food assistance programs work for everyone requires a collaborative approach. As a coalition, we see incredible opportunities to further engage food system partners in San Diego County in this work. We believe that the more integrated our food assistance programs are, the stronger our food system becomes for all San Diegans!