An Alameda County food bank employee created a model for the nation when she began helping people dealing with food insecurity get the nourishment they need.
For Liz Gomez, working at the Alameda County Community Food Bank is very personal.
"I'm a strong believer that no one should ever go to bed hungry," Gomez said.
As a child, she watched her single nom, a new immigrant, struggle to make ends meet.
"We didn't know food banks existed. While at the same time, we often had very little to eat," Gomez said.
So, when Gomez became an adult and worked on the food bank helpline 20 years ago, she was dismayed when she discovered that some people who needed food the most were missing out on a major resource.
"What I found, call after call, is that a lot of people didn't have enough information; didn't know where to apply; didn't think they were eligible," she explained.
Gomez said many people didn't know about CalFresh, also known as SNAP.
It's the government program Californians used to call "food stamps," where families get a debit card to purchase groceries they need. So, to help more families in need, Gomez started reaching out and partnering with social services.
"As time progresses, we realized they needed help filling out the paperwork. It's a 16-page application," she said.
So, she started to fill out applications for people and walk them in herself so families could get the nutrition they needed quickly.
In 20 years, the CalFresh Outreach program that she created at the food bank has fed 100,000 households with 31 million meals. It's served as a model nationwide and is the largest in the state.
The program opened doors for Carolina Ramirez, a working single mother of four who cannot imagine life without CalFresh the last 15 years.
"I would need to find a second job so that I could help my children," she said.
And Santa Flores who has a small tamale business has also relied on CalFresh to support her three children.
"With this program, I will be able to buy food that my children want that I otherwise wouldn't be able to with my own income," Flores said.
Today, Gomez is the food bank's Chief Impact Officer who is expanding ways to combat hunger.
She's helped start the food bank website foodnow.net so folks can find CalFresh and other food assistance in their neighborhoods.
"I empathize with the struggles and challenges," Gomez said. "The services that we are providing — It's more than a bag of food. It's more than a phone call. It's providing hope."
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