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Todos en la Mesa: Making Room for Everyone at the Table

Roxana Ulloa Barillas, Deputy Director for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at United States Department of Agriculture meets with faith leaders in Southern California
USDA Todos en la mesa

Roxana Ulloa Barillas, Deputy Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Agriculture informs faith leaders of nutritious food options April 25, 2012.

During a recent visit to Southern California, I met with key partners in USDA’s efforts to address hunger and make nutritious food affordable and available, particularly in low-income communities.

More than one out of four Latino families in the United States is food insecure, and many do not know that CalFresh, the name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in California, can help families put healthy food on the table. Latinos are now the fastest growing demographic group in the United States, and they face higher levels of both hunger and obesity.  Since almost half of Los Angeles County’s population is Latino, I was excited to share our new La Mesa Completa Community Leaders Tool Kit with faith leaders from the Catholic and Evangelical communities, as well as with nutrition advocates from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

I participated in the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit, where I met Margarita Fernandez, a member of Patton Alianza Coalition. She reminded me that in spite of the multiple challenges facing Latinos in the United States, there also are great treasures in the community. As a volunteer member of a coalition that focuses on public safety concerns, she shared how nutrition needs in the community was also high on her list of priorities. So, she got her hands dirty – literally! – and decided to start a community garden.  She even paid out of pocket to take classes at UC Davis Extension to become a Master Gardener. I was inspired by her commitment to bringing solutions to her community.

In San Bernardino, I met with leaders from Catholic Charities and the Diocese of San Bernardino/Riverside.  Catholic Charities and our own Food and Nutrition Service Western Regional Office have convened a CalFresh Consortium, and they are making to ensure those eligible for SNAP are able to receive these benefits. We learned about the needs of many individuals in area parishes that are connected to Hispanic Ministry but not looped into USDA nutrition assistance programs.  With all of us at the table, we look forward to tapping into such ministries as food pantries and citizenship classes as avenues for disseminating information about SNAP benefits.

Finally, I visited with Rev. Hong from Buddha’s Light International Association, a Let’s Move! partner interested in helping connect a farmer to local schools to promote access to fresh produce and provide cooking classes to food service staff and students.  Together, we visited Helping Hands Pantry, where approximately 740 families a day receive USDA foods and fresh produce donated by area farmers. We talked about the possibility of adding SNAP application assistance to the pantry’s work to go even further to help eligible families put food on the table. 

With communities working together, and USDA food assistance, we can do great things and make sure we have a mesa completa — a complete table with full plates and a place for everyone!

Roxana Ulloa Barillas is the Deputy Director for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at United States Department of Agriculture