Surprise Surprise


S.F.'s poor goes to charity not government for food

Some aid programs said to be complex, time consuming

By Bonnie Eslinger <mailto:beslinger@…>
Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 10:43 PM PDT
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Many of San Francisco's charitable food programs are overextended, while
federal food assistance programs are generally underutilized, according
to a new report by the San Francisco Food Alliance.

Interviews with representatives from various San Francisco assistance
programs revealed that while the reasons The City's poor and hungry go
to local charities for help are numerous, most said that government
programs were complex and time- consuming, and drop-in sources were
faster and easier to access.

The result is that government resources that could help alleviate the
dangerous consequences of poverty, such as starvation and malnutrition,
are going unused. For example, less than half of all City residents
eligible for the federal Food Stamp Program are currently participating,
said Leah Rimkus, Program Manager for the San Francisco Food Alliance.

Trent Rohr, the Director of San Francisco's Department of Human
Services, said that the underutilization of food stamps is a nationwide
trend, not one specific to San Francisco.

"The biggest reason is the relative complexity of the application
process mandated by the feds," said Rohr.

To make it easier for the needy to sign up for food stamps, The City has
partnered with charitable groups such as the St. Anthony Foundation in
the Tenderloin, for a pilot project that registers people for food
stamps on-site at the charities.

"We bring our laptops and take applications right there while people are
waiting for food," said Rohr.

More than 160 people have been signed up for food stamps through the
on-site program, according to Barry Stenger, spokesperson for St.
Anthony's, which serves meals to about 3,000 people a day.

Marguerite Nowak, spokesperson for San Francisco's Food Bank - which
serves an estimated 53,000 meals a day through 400 different programs at
schools, churches, shelters, senior centers, and soup kitchens - said
charities also offer immediate relief when a family or person runs out
of money and food.

"When they call a pantry, they can find something that day or the next
day," said Nowak.

In addition, immigrants are less likely to use the Food Stamp program,
said Rimkus.

"Intuitively, I'd say it was due to language or immigration concerns,"
she said.

Areas of The City that have a high number of eligible households that
don't use the program include the Mission and Chinatown, while zip codes
with the highest concentrations of usage are in Bayview Hunters Point
and in the Tenderloin.

E-mail: beslinger@...