Can We Talk About Food?

Food Insecurity  – it is a fancy way for saying “I could go hungry or be unable to feed my family”.

Food is a main part of human budgets. Food is fuel, medicine, community, and comfort – but without food, a person will surely die. Almost 13% of Americans are “Food Insecure”.

  • Food insecurity: “Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” (Cook & Frank, 2008, p. 193)
    • Low food security: reduced quality and variety of diets
    • Very low food security: disruption of normal eating patterns and hunger
  • The risk of food insecurity extends to people living above the federal poverty level
    • Ineligible for assistance programs
    • Competing expenses (e.g. rent, utilities)

I try not to come  to you with a problem without showing you a solution.


This is my back yard. That is a 4×8 garden bed with soil that is a mix of mulch, exploded rock and soil.


It was assembled by volunteers from MEND. (This is my front yard and driveway. Yes, I helped too.) The green barrel is filled with the results of my attempt to clean up before they came.

MEND and other Food Banks give out boxes of food, and that is awesome. What could be better? Having a measure of self sufficiency is better. Being able to grow my own food, control the chemicals on the food, and teaching my child to garden . . . that is better!

Every Tuesday I am in a “Gardening Class” and I have learned all the parts of plants, how to recognize pests, ways to mix plants and how to water. I have seedlings sprouting on my kitchen window preparing to transplant.


Jackey of
Jackey of the VISTA program photographing how I topped the metal stakes.

Usually these go in soil, but my back yard is mostly pavement so the metal stakes stick up, and were hard to see so I topped them with Rubber Ducks. Yep, I am a mommy and the urge to baby proof doesn’t fade.

Chef Adam and a volunteer shaking hands after a job well done. 

MEND and the California Master Gardeners are building these and teaching classes to the owners. I am excited to see how well this works and will keep you updated.

I can’t always control my income, but I can control some part of the access to food my family has so we won’t be insecure.

Let’s Discuss Dignity

Twenty-two years ago I spent two days laying face down, crying into my living room carpet . Everything I had tried just failed.  Big things, a thousand small things, all of the things had slipped from my grasp and I was failing.

I had been psyched up to be a wife, and a young stay at home mother, and maybe someone who completed a BA down the road if I found time in my suburban dream. Instead, my relationship crumbled, Mervyn’s fired me (because I was obviously falsifying comment cards, it was impossible that I could be so good with people…but ask me about this another time), and I had 3/4ths of a degree in Physical Therapy with no way to get back into my life as I had known it.

When it “got real”, I pulled out the phone book, found the blue pages of government listing service and looked up the address to the Welfare Office. Bleakness.  I walked into to a dim green room where my shoes stuck to the floor and I will never be certain if the puddle in the chair next to me was apple juice, but I’ve decided to believe it was. In my hands I held a ten page, double sided application, and a pen. I could not fill it out. I must have made five trips to the Help Desk and I still wasn’t comfortable. I met with an eligibility worker who shamed me; pointed out that all the other white people on the building were employees, and send me home with a list of needed documents and a follow up appointment.  That was the day I walked back into my little apartment and folded onto the floor wondering if if I could ever get up again.

Twenty years later, or 2 years ago, I had my Bachelor’s Degree is Sociology, my own car, house, and no debt at all. I found my revenge on the County Welfare system by becoming an employee within it in a job that allowed me to do outreach work and volunteer in my community. My baby was off at  college, but a second child had arrived and I was still a single mother – only by this time I was doing okay. Education, house, career, and home life were all neatly checked off in the Success column.

   The floors of the Welfare office must never get washed.

I had this thought as I was lying face down in the lobby of the GAIN office in Burbank. Just seconds before I was walking a client to the door when the room spun and the floor ate my face. My doctors pulled me out of work and put me on medical leave.

Medical leave is nice and all, but waiting for Disability to come in so I could pay my bills and feed my youngest daughter was nerve-wracking. I had some concerns. I shared these thoughts with the front desk volunteer at MEND one Thursday morning in late January. I was in the San Fernando Road  office working on the silent auction for the Gala fundraiser my local non-profit throws to breathe life into their programs designed to help people survive in an impoverished neighborhood and find ways to leave that desperate economic strata. As we talked, Adela, the volunteer, walked me into the intake room and put me at a desk.  When a third person walked in, Adela said “This is Sonya and she needs to see if she qualifies for your program.” She smiled down at me and whispered “Come to my desk if you have problems with the forms” and disappeared down the hall. A week later an EBT card arrived in the mail.

This was the MEND effect.

Meet each need with dignity.

I was treated with dignity, and not because I volunteered for MEND, but because that is how MEND works. Some Saturdays I walk in through the floor to ceiling glass doors and stand by that reception desk just to watch the flow of faces. Little kids sit laughing at the tables, parents chat in the waiting room chairs, someone is always knitting in front of the clothing boutique, and bent senior citizens angle their grinning faces up to each other while they wait for food, or a medical appointment, or whatever special program is  offered that day.

Mend staff on Oscar night at universal stidios
MEND staff at their fundraising gala

The floor is not sticky. The room is not dim. The chairs are dry and clean. In my five years of volunteering for MEND, I must have had the opportunity to sit in every chair and even the one I broke in Lupe’s office was clean. I never intended to be a MEND client, even momentarily, and I never felt like one. I don’t think anyone does.

I’m used to volunteering at MEND

The MEND Effect is a design feature that started with the Rose family who just wanted to do a little something nice for their neighbors and then let others in on their idea until it grew into the community icon it is today.

MEND is not the heart of Pacoima. MEND is the limbic system that connects all of the other vital parts of the community ; politicians, doctors, dentists, tutors, teachers, schools, grocery stores, dance teachers, Health educators, financial institutions like Home Street Bank and Wells Fargo, ophthalmologist, dental and nursing students and their programs, the Welfare to Work program, courts, and more all touch and mingle in the bright beautiful building at Pierce and San Fernando Road and in the ETC nestled into the heart of Van Nuys Boulevard. MEND staff are likely to shake hands with a Board of Supervisors Member with the same warmth and enthusiasm they shared while clasping  hands with an elderly client.

Nene with “young volunteers “.

You will hear that MEND is volunteer run. Seasonal volunteers, like me, drop in for special programs like the Santa’s Workshop, Christmas in the Spring, and Head to Toes. Day to day volunteers answer the phones, pack food boxes, drive delivery trucks, teach English, send out mail, scheadule medical, vision, and dental appointments and perform the technical arts of Dentistry and Medicine. Volunteers are everywhere and they are hard to spot unless they come in the form of a Scout Troop. (It is safe to say that eleven-year-olds are not on the payroll.) MEND volunteers are trained, knowledgeable and efficient. This is not accident. Every volunteer is assigned to a department and each department has  staff members tasked with being an expert in their area and teaching their volunteers everything they know. Sharing their knowledge keeps the program alive and the volunteers take these skills back to the neighborhood where they are passed around again and the entire community is better educated, elevated and healthier.

The first time I used the EBT card (it is in my wallet as a reminder, ask and I will show you) was at Food 4 Less in Van Nuys and Glenoaks. The cashier leaned over and whispered “If you need more help than that, go to MEND”.

Volunteers at the 2017 Gala

 Poverty and food scarcity is only a paycheck in either direction. I donate money, time, and goods to MEND because I keep being reminded of this unfortunate truth. Through MEND, poverty can be survived with dignity.

Dignity will pull you up off the floor, not push you down in tears.

Los Angeles County DPSS Mobile App.


What a great idea!
I look forward to it being tuned and improved and a convenient point of service.

Until then, I will continue to follow cases on the Department of Public and Social Services Internet site.



Yes. There are many homeless children in Los Angeles.

I can tell that homelessness in children has increased dramatically. I know this because I work with homeless parents and my case load has grown and grown like a weed.

No. There are not enough shelters for families.

Yes, children are sleeping in boxes, on sidewalks, in parking lots, in parks, on kitchen floors, on sofas and all manner of places not fit to house them.

Is it the parent’s fault? No. Yes. And no.

Parents without education because they left school as children will not have the education and skills to hold high earning jobs. Don’t blame the drop-outs:evaluate the schools.

Parents are the CEOs of families. The buck stops with them. But…realistically: what are the pathways out of poverty for them.

Last week a friend accused me of love getting the government system I work inside of. She meant it as an insult, but it didn’t insult me.

Job training
Assistance with job searches
Work experience
Therapy for mental health, substance use and domestic violence
Funding bus passes to get folks to these things
Assisting get with the cost of education

Yep. I love that these are available a day I’m happy to be able to offer them and help people navigate out of poverty.

But as a society, we still hate poor people. We punish them. We look at keeping the minimum wage down and then blame people for not affording housing.
We foreclose so many homes that there are more empty homes than there are individual homeless people. There is a vacant home for every man, woman, and child in the USA.
We don’t make education enjoyable or easy attain
Forget affording higher education .
We give money to the rich and remove tax breaks for middle class and the poor
Our middle class mistakenly sides with the 1% because… I don’t know. Do they think that if we throw money at the über rich that the elite will invite us I to the club and stuff dollars down our shorts?
Child tax credits are about to evaporate
Health care for not super poor and not financially soluble families is unreachable in some states because…why?

I see all of the poverty bashing and hear all the cutting and snide remarks about uneducated, or unemployed, and /or unfocused people and then I read articles where people are shocked that kids are living in the streets.

homeless in the USA
Born Homeless in the USA


Cause and effect, folks.

We need to create jobs.
Return jobs from their outsources homes.
Keep people in school
Offer education to pare ts when their children are in school

Invest back in America.
Or, don’t invest I your neighbor and if you choose that path, stop complain OK great about the increase in number of poor families and individuals.

Living Wage – what you need to earn to actually survive

Hourly Wages 1 Adult 1 Adult, 1 Child 1 Adult, 2 Children 1 Adult, 3 Children 2 Adults 2 Adults, 1 Child 2 Adults, 2 Children 2 Adults, 3 Children
Living Wage $11.37 $23.53 $27.15 $33.96 $17.20 $21.62 $22.95 $27.97
Poverty Wage $5.21 $7.00 $8.80 $10.60 $7.00 $8.80 $10.60 $12.40
Minimum Wage $9.00 $9.00 $9.00 $9.00 $9.00 $9.00 $9.00 $9.00

Typical Expenses

These figures show the individual expenses that went into the living wage estimate. Their values vary by family size, composition, and the current location.

Monthly Expenses 1 Adult 1 Adult, 1 Child 1 Adult, 2 Children 1 Adult, 3 Children 2 Adults 2 Adults, 1 Child 2 Adults, 2 Children 2 Adults, 3 Children
Food $242 $357 $536 $749 $444 $553 $713 $904
Child Care $0 $550 $767 $983 $0 $0 $0 $0
Medical $142 $434 $451 $430 $287 $425 $394 $410
Housing $943 $1,420 $1,420 $1,907 $1,137 $1,420 $1,420 $1,907
Transportation $285 $555 $639 $686 $555 $639 $686 $698
Other $97 $222 $269 $352 $162 $214 $238 $286
Required monthly income after taxes $1,709 $3,538 $4,082 $5,107 $2,585 $3,251 $3,451 $4,205
Required annual income after taxes $20,508 $42,456 $48,984 $61,284 $31,020 $39,012 $41,412 $50,460
Annual taxes $3,132 $6,489 $7,490 $9,363 $4,749 $5,960 $6,332 $7,711
Required annual income before taxes $23,640 $48,945 $56,474 $70,647 $35,769 $44,972 $47,744 $58,171

Typical Hourly Wages

These are the typical hourly rates for various professions in this location. Wages that are below the living wage for one adult supporting one child are marked in red.

Occupational Area Typical Hourly Wage
Management $50.67
Business and Financial Operations $32.28
Computer and Mathematical $40.66
Architecture and Engineering $40.79
Life, Physical and social Science $32.75
Community and Social Services $22.10
Legal $47.22
Education, Training and Library $25.18
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media $24.37
Healthcare Practitioner and Technical $36.19
Healthcare Support $13.37
Protective Service $22.53
Food Preparation and Serving Related $9.28
Building and Grounds Cleaning and maintenance $11.60
Personal care and Services $10.78
Sales and Related $12.94
Office and Administrative Support $16.65
Farming, Fishing and Forestry $9.04
Construction and Extraction $23.55
Installation, Maintenance and Repair $21.63
Production $13.73
Transportation and Material Moving $13.84

This information was gathered and published by MIT

Our adventure with near drowning and Arcadia Ca.

Yesterday Crisi saved Darla’s life and then the perks of employment and affluence kicked in to make what could have been a nightmare into a random parenting adventure.

Background :I have two daughters.  Jax is all grown and Darla is 3. As the first of my friends to have a child, I raised Jax without the benefit of a peer group for us. I also dropped out of college and went on welfare (Cal Works) while working cruddy part-time jobs and completing my degree. When she was ill – and when I broke my leg we used Medi-Cal aka Medicaid to pay for the hospital etc.  With Darla all that changed.

I have a group of Girlfriends from the Masons / Job’s Daughters/  De Molay who all have little girls . Darla is the youngest member of the Super Secret Sister Society (I named them this week while planning the party for yesterday) as she is 3 years old and Bella is 7 and the oldest.

Samantha watching the girls in the spa.
Darla in in the red suit with yellow floaties.
adult pool supervision
Becky from Oragami Owl, and Coleman are watching the kids and engageing with them

They had a swim party yesterday. I planned and planned it and nothing went as nm planned but everyone survived so I have no complaints. It could have gone so differently.

hot tub kids
Count the adults in this picture where Samantha chats with Sophia. You can see Darla’s floaties in the water
  1. I have great friends who all feel like Darla is their daughter and they take good emotional care of us. We are not alone.
  2. This happened in Arcadia, Ca.

Arcadia police and fire departments are the best. I’ve worked and lived in a few places so I like to think I’ve sampled the wares of other cities and states and so have come by this opinion.

Nick Paramedic from the Arcadia Fire Department
Arcadia Paramedic
  1. Dad pays the $40 or so a year Fire Dept insurance so paramedic calls are free. And those guys and the SWAT officer were at the house within seconds of my hanging up the phone.



  1. Kaiser has a Web site so I could look up Darla’s health Insurance And Medical Records easily from my Verizon Samsung android phone.

If I were anywhere else and my daughter had swallowed and coughed out pool water I would not have called 911 and she could have “dry drowned”. But I called freely because I knew it would not cause financial hardship.

Kaiser insurance for myself and my daughters is a benefit through my job, and I affirm to you that I stay employed there because of the benefits.
Arcadia Methodist Hospital is a world leader in many area, but they also have a world class staff who were compassionate and patient and did everything they could so make the 3 hour visit to ER a positive experience for a toddler and her mom.


I kept thinking of people in poverty who could not have afforded to be in a neighborhood with this level of care designed into it , nor could they afford to tap into it as a visitor (as I had).

Toddler in hospital bed

I’m cranky and critical but can honestly tell you that the only bad part if yesterday was my kid’s confession that she snuck into the pool on purpose because she did not like me telling her to get out of the water so I could go in the house and clean without worrying about her. She told the nurse at the hospital that she will follow directions next time because she did not like being stuck under water.

I asked Darla to get out of the water while I went into the house. She left the hot tub and all the adults assumed she would walk to the table and sit down. 3/4th of the way there Darla calmly walked down the steps into the pool. At the bottom step she was in up to her eyebrows and could not yell or get her head or nose over the water. As she moved her arms she made herself spin in circles under the water. Her eyes were wide. Crisi saw her under the water and asked if she was okay. When Darla did not respond, Crisi went in and pulled her out. Darla coughed out water and went quiet until she was handed to me. Then she started to scream. Because she had inhaled water – I called 911 to have her checked and they transported her and me to the local hospital. The ride was very much like the night she was born and we rode in an ambulance together then too.

My friends cleaned Dad’s house and brought my car and keys to the ER. We received a video from the kids at the party asking how Darla was. The neighbors not only came out to see the emergency services, they cared enough to come speak to me while I held Darla and sat on the gurney – and I woke up to email and texts from them too.


All in all- it was survivable and I know enough to be thankful.

PS – Even though I was the only “single” adult there, please note the HAndsome people who crashed the party at the ast minute.

Don’t leave your neighbors alone in a hot car

Don’t leave your neighbors alone in a hot car:

It is a link to a video. I talk about a client I had many years ago who lived in a car and raised her child in the car. She could not go to work or ever feel safe leaving her teen home alone because HOME =CAR. No privacy or security. Also, until recently it was illegal to sleep in your car or be stopped by police with camping equipment in your car. Don’t leave your neighbors alone in a hot car, or at the very least, try to understand and work to make this lifestyle no longer necessary.

It’s impossible to cancel CalFresh


Envelope to DPSS mailed June 5

I am back at work. I don’t think I qualify anymore and don’t want a monster overpayment or for the county to think I’m committing fraud.  I guess my next step will be to file an appeal


I don’t see any way to get them to close the case. I can’t get a hold of her on the phone and the fax did not go through.

I don’t have time to go to the DPSS office (work and all takes up my day).

No joke. I have tried and tried but there are no “end service” forms available.
The system is unreachable and not enough access is granted to users.

It is a good idea but needs refinement.

And, as a GAIN worker; I have to tell clients to look here. They must not have read the mounds of mail to see the system is online.

If the County had a position to smooth this out and make it user friendly; I would apply in a heartbeat.

Death on Crocker St -revisited

Death on Crocker St.

This is my throwback Thursday link. Living out in the element with no shelter, sunblock, reliable nutrition, healthcare, clean toilets, leads to a shortened life.


Thousands of years ago humans had a shorter life span.

In third world countries people died like this.

But this is in Los Angeles :my favorite city in a 1st world country.

Could someone please explain to me the reason this is happenening?

Why Food Stamp Users are Angrier About Foodstamps Than You Are

Remember when I was out sick from  work for over a month? At the end of that time period I didn’t know if Disability would ever come in or when I would be released to go back to work. I went to M.E.N.D. and applied for foodstamps. This was in the beginning of March 2014.

It is now May 2014 and I just now received 3 separate pieces of mail.
1. I qualified for Cal Fresh (food stamps)
2. The card came in the mail
3. A pin number was sent to use with the card.

I am fortunate that when I was pulled from work that u had a pantry of food and WIC to provide fresh milk, juice, and fruits for Darla. Also, i have family i could borrow from. And yes, I went back to work and have been paid so I could grocery shop.

There is no way I could have survived for two months without access to food.
What is the County of Los Angeles doing this whole time?

Come on County, get it together.
Poor hungry people need these benefits as promised.

I no longer wonder why my clients have such bad attitudes. I am angry and I work in the system.

  1. The application process is confusing.
  2. There is a massive waste of paper in forms and mailed notifications
  3. There is no “status update” process
    4.forms to update the County of a change in circumstance are not easily accessible to the client. (I am fortunate enough to know how to ask for the forms…and then found out I should have notified the county within 10 days of returning to work even though it took them 50 or more days to notify me of my status.)
  4. No Users Guide is given to people detailing what is an eligible purchase or stressing the important fact that coupons can be used with food stamps.


Dear Los Angeles County and Department of Agriculture (they are responsible for the SNAP /foodstamps/Cal Fresh programs… Please think about what I am telling you.

And if you are infuriated at the store by someone using a food stamp payment because you think they are lazy scum who shouldn’t need your less than 2% of the Federal Budget , understand that even I qualified for food stamps. And yes, I know I need a job where I don’t qualify for WIN because as a County Contractor my pay is horribly low (especially since I have 3rd the caseload of anyone else here)
To see if you qualify : http://www.benefitscal.orgapply for California benefits