Center for Healthy Communities

Summer 2017

Two girls participate in the Kids Cookin program hosted by CHC

It takes many, many interns to successfully run the CHC’s hands-on community programs, including its Get Cookin’ camps offered every summer in conjunction with CARD.

Summer Time is far from Break Time at CHC

People think summer is "down time" on college and university campuses. 

Come summer at Chico State, it’s true that most students say goodbye to campus for three months. But for student staff at the Center for Healthy Communities (CHC), both interns and employees, summer break is anything but a break.

In fact, in recent summers some 50 interns and 30 student employees have been the norm—much larger student staffs than ever before, according to Executive Director Cindy Wolff. Due to the number of students this summer, it was a challenge to find open computers and work stations. 

The reason for such a crowd? Because the CHC is taking on more and more year-round community health, education, and social service projects.

These range from undertaking CalFresh Outreach work statewide—at the University of California and California Community Colleges statewide as well as other California State University campuses—to helping low-income seniors find additional basic-needs resources and teaching kids how to cook at summer camp.

As a result, shared workstations and staggered work schedules have become the summer norm.

Life hasn’t always been like this at the CHC, originally known as Obesity Prevention Treatment (OPT) for Fit Kids and then the Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP). When Wolff landed the center’s first grant in 2001, even she had no idea how expansive the organization’s work would become.

But 16 years later that immense service growth is's

It’s also clear just how central Chico State student employees and interns are to the CHC’s growth and success. Students take quite seriously the opportunity CHC offers to gain real-world professional experience, and the community benefits as a direct result. Even during the summer.

Thanks to student power, for example, CHC’s nutrition education work—for all ages—ramps up during the summer.

Kids learn kitchen basics and get creative with healthy foods at the immensely popular Get Cookin’ summer camps offered in conjunction with the Chico Area Recreation and Parks District. Fun physical activity is also part of the “get cookin’” concept, an active lifestyle being key to good health. The culmination of each camp session is the Kids Chopped Challenge, with teams of campers competing to come up with the best new recipe using just four fresh ingredients.

Student-powered nutrition education is also central to the CHC’s work in other north state counties, including Colusa, Glenn, Tehama, and Yuba. This summer CHC booths at farmers’ markets have offered activities and games to support healthy lifestyles, simple but delicious recipes, and “tastes” of healthy foods prepared from market produce.

At farmers’ markets CHC students provide information about CalFresh, too, which is California’s name for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps.

One goal is to encourage people who may qualify to apply for CalFresh benefits. Equally important is letting everyone know that CalFresh can be used at farmers’ markets to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs, seafood—even seeds and plant starts to “grow your own” fresh food. Guided “market walks” show what’s available in a given season.

CHC student staff also explain the process of exchanging CalFresh EBT benefits—delivered via electronic benefit transfer, just like bank debit cards—for tokens to spend just like cash at market booths.

A third example of the CHC’s student-powered summer focused on policymaking—and policy makers—in Sacramento. A group of 29 students, staff, and faculty from Chico State prepared for and attended the one-day People.Power.Change! Sacramento Day of Action on June 27, to meet with state legislators and discuss health and education concerns. The CHC represented about one-third of the group.

Summer has come and gone at Chico State, but CHC interns and student employees barely noticed.

There was simply too much work to do.

"Hunger knows no friend but its feeder." –Aristophanes, playwright of ancient Athens

CFO's reach out to the community at a local farmers' market

Information about and help in applying for CalFresh is widely available. Here, CHC interns reach out to students and the rest of the community at the Wednesday Morning Certified Farmers’ Market in Chico. Left to right: Blia Lor, Natalie Alfaro, Rachel Curtin, and Salvador Espinoza Jr.

Here's to College Students Starving No More 

The metaphor of the starving college student should never be more than that—a figure of speech.

The high cost of college means that many students must stretch their budgets to manage both school and basic living expenses. Students cut back on entertainment and recreation, for example, and economize on the food budget. Ramen noodles make a quick and easy base for hearty beef, pork, or chicken veggie soup, after all. Students on a budget do not necessarily suffer the damaging health effects of eating too little or poor quality food.

Yet increasing numbers of students are indeed “starving,” in the sense that they sometimes have to choose between eating (or eating healthy food) and paying rent. And that choice can have long-term effects. Poor nutrition affects all aspects of life, including college performance.

In California, CalFresh can help. CalFresh aims to help families who struggle to afford adequate amounts of nutritious food—people who are “food insecure”—and that includes college students.

CalFresh is what California calls federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits; SNAP was once known as food stamps. CalFresh as a “brand” suggests that California wants to do more than silence growling stomachs. It wants to offer fresh, nutritious food to people who are hungry.

In 2016, only about 20 percent of California college students eligible for CalFresh benefits were enrolled in the program. Recent research suggests that at Chico State as many as 46 percent of students suffer from low to very low food security.

Which leads to the question: Why are so few college students benefiting from CalFresh?

Students may not know about CalFresh, for starters, although colleges are now making a concerted effort to connect with hungry students.

Students may also assume that the application process is too daunting.

It’s true that student applications for CalFresh can feel complicated, because eligibility rules are complex. But the process really isn’t difficult—especially if savvy assistance is available.

At Chico State help is close at hand, thanks to the CHC.

Getting Help to Apply for CalFresh

Trained student interns and employees are available to help with eligibility screening and applications at the CHC’s CalFresh Outreach Office, 25 Main Street, Suite 201 (upstairs), Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can also apply over the phone—CHC staffers screen you for eligibility and if you qualify, submit your application online—by calling (530) 345-9749 during the same hours. In-person CalFresh eligibility screening and application assistance are also offered at the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry on campus—in Student Services 196, open Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You may apply for CalFresh on your own, of course, through county Social Services, but because the same process screens for cash aid and Medi-Cal eligibility, it’s handy to have a pro on hand to clear up any confusion.

Once You Apply

It usually takes about 30 days to receive CalFresh benefits—assuming you meet all eligibility requirements—once county Social Services receives your application.

Within a few days, someone from county Social Services will call for your phone interview, which usually lasts about 30 minutes. The caseworker will ask about your employment status, income, living situation, and so forth.

After the phone interview, your caseworker may ask you to fax over verification documents including (1) a copy of your driver’s license, (2) your financial aid award letter and class schedule, (3) pay stubs or other proof of income, if relevant, and (4) a PG&E bill in your name or other proof of address. What will be required in your particular case depends on the situation. If you don’t provide the requested documents, you won’t receive CalFresh benefits.

The final step of the CalFresh application process is to wait—not always that easy if you’re hungry. (Keep in mind that the Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry is always a resource when your personal pantry is bare.) Once you receive your EBT card in the mail, you will also get a PIN number and are then free to use the card to buy groceries. No activation call is required.

So do not be a starving college student. CalFresh resources are there to make sure you can buy healthy, fresh food, and enough to keep you going all month.

Who needs to experiment with ramen noodles seven nights a week?

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." –Mother Teresa

Brandi Simonaro

Brandi Simonaro: "I Thought I was the Only One"

Both starting out at Cuesta Community College in high-rent San Luis Obispo and after transferring to CSU, Chico, first-generation college student Brandi Simonaro often went hungry. 

Her parents supported what she was trying to do, even if they didn’t always understand her need to do it, but she was on her own when it came to figuring out—and financing—college. 

None of the students she met, even those whose circumstances seemed similar, talked about hunger. So Simonaro concluded that she must be the only one whose resources ran out long before the month did. She kept quiet about her ongoing struggles to stay afloat and stay healthy while somehow also staying in school.

But everything changed at Chico State, on the day someone from the CHC’s CalFresh Outreach program came into one of her nutrition classes to talk about how common hunger was among college students—and how CalFresh benefits can help students buy much-needed groceries.

“Up until that point, I really did think I was the only one who was hungry,” Simonaro said. “If it was just me, just my problem, why talk about it? Plus, I had no idea that help was available. That day totally changed my life.”

Simonaro immediately signed up for CalFresh benefits, for one thing. Suddenly, she had resources every month just to buy food, no matter what other bills she was juggling. Because of CalFresh, she was able to complete a challenging degree in nutrition within two years instead of three.

She also learned more about the CHC and its CalFresh Outreach (CFO) program—including an internship that would allow her to reach out to other students about hunger and about how to apply for CalFresh. Simonaro signed on for that, too, very enthusiastically.

In her early outreach, though, she thought she was doing something wrong. Even after sharing her own experiences, no one raised a hand when she asked how many students skipped meals or otherwise cut back on food just to make ends meet.

“Then students started chasing me down the hall after my presentations,” Simonaro said. “They wanted to say, ‘Yes, I’m in that struggle, too!’ but were afraid to speak up in front of other students—because they, too, thought they were the only one. Who wants to be the only one?”

That’s how powerful the stigma of food insecurity can be—and why Simonaro openly discusses her own experiences whenever she can.

“Now when I ask students if they have ever gone hungry, many people raise their hands! Not only that, they openly share their stories, talk about their struggles,” Simonaro said. “I think that’s why we’ve come so far in the last few years, signing students up for CalFresh. We’ve started to banish that stigma. Students need to hear that they aren’t the only ones having these struggles.”

The fact that Simonaro has “been there too” makes a difference in many ways. She is often touched when students tell her how much CalFresh has helped them, how much their lives have changed because they are no longer hungry.

“Being able to help other people realize their dreams—that really matters to me,” she said. “And connecting people to CalFresh helps do that.”

Simonaro’s general experience as a first-generation college student has also served her well as a full-time health education coordinator at the CHC.

“I still have this pioneer mentality,” she said. “I may not know how to do something, how to overcome this or that challenge, but I’ll figure it out as I move ahead. And I do.”

Simonaro thrives on the creativity her CFO job requires—figuring out new and better ways to connect with students, and creating effective programs by putting existing resources together, like so many puzzle pieces, in new and unexpected ways.

“I need that, the challenge of taking a certain set of things—limited resources maybe, but so many great ideas—and turning that into something new. It’s like recycling, repurposing,” she said.

Brandi Simonaro has been traveling throughout for her CHC CFO work since last November. Her job? Hosting workshops for college administrators about how to build a good, student focused CFO program on their campus.

This past year she has conducted all-day trainings at almost a dozen CSU campuses, one University of California campus, and California Community Colleges (CCC) staff in all 10 CCC regions.

But this fall Simonaro is hanging up her suitcase. Now that she’s started her graduate studies, to pursue a master’s degree in business administration—the better to master the ins and outs of project management—she needs to stay closer to home.

With any luck, though, Santa will bring Simonaro a nice Yamaha street bike this Christmas, biking being something she’s done since she was five years old, following in the tire treads of her motorcycle- and car-racing family.

Once a traveler, always a traveler.

"There is no humiliation more abusive than hunger." –Pranab Mukherjee, Indian statemen

Vegetables at the farmers' market

CSU Campuses Respond to Student Food Insecurity

The CHC’s CalFresh Outreach and education efforts on California State University (CSU) campuses have been quite successful so far, according to Jenny Breed, program director.

As a result, CSU campuses have implemented multiple strategies to fight student food insecurity—with more ideas emerging all the time.

Chico State offers a full Hungry Wildcat Food Pantry(opens in new window) in Student Services Center, Room 196. Meal vouchers are available. Most unique are the free, Associated Students-funded “veggie bucks” that hungry students can spend at the on-campus Organic Vegetable Project(opens in new window), a farmers’ market stand that sells student-grown organic produce grown at the university farm.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo offers a good-sized free food pantry in the campus Health Center building, complete with refrigerator and microwave. Fresh eggs and cheese are provided by on-campus agriculture production programs.

There’s also a hungry-student food pantry at Cal State LA, as well as free “meals ready to eat” available at several places on campus. Noteworthy at CSU Dominguez Hills are the free student meal cards, available at eight different locations. The small food pantry serves 30 or more students every day, and there are two other “mini-pantries” on campus.

At CSU East Bay, before Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks students can donate up to two “swipes” from their on-campus meal plans to the Meal Swipes Program—free meals that hungry students can “cash in” later. The on-campus HOPE pantry also offers free clothing and toiletries.

The new food pantry at CSU Northridge is already serving large numbers of students. Northridge also provides emergency funds to hungry students.

CSU Long Beach has a free Beach Bites app to help students find free food on campus. Long Beach also offers a large, well-stocked food pantry funded by community and student donations, and snack and fueling stations during finals. Long Beach students can also receive up to ten free meals.

At CSU San Bernardino hungry students benefit from many services, starting with The Den, the on-campus student food pantry. Fresh produce is available (CalFresh EBT accepted) through the Helping Hands partnership. Free Coyote Day Packs provide a day’s worth of healthy snacks. San Bernardino also offers a monthly “mobile pantry” at its Palm Desert campus.

Chico State offers a full Hungry Wildcat food pantry in the Student Affairs office, open daily, and satellite pantries at the CHC and in Siskiyou Hall. Meal vouchers are available. Most unique are the free, Associated Students-funded “veggie bucks” that hungry students can spend at the on-campus Organic Food Project, a farmers’ market stand that sells student-grown organic produce grown at the university farm.

Fresno State has a bustling food pantry that also offers grocery baskets and toiletries. Students can also grab a free snack and healthy drink at various “fueling stations” on campus. A community garden is coming soon.

Feeding hungry students while reducing on-campus food waste is a priority at Humboldt State, so the Oh SNAP Food Pantry (open daily) redistributes leftover food from campus and special catered events. The pantry program also offers cooking classes on Wednesdays, a farm stand in the fall, and gardening classes in spring.

In addition to its regular food pantry at The Well, a health, fitness, and nutrition center, twice a month Sacramento State offers a Pop-up Pantry with fresh produce.

Through the 2017–18 academic year, the CalFresh Outreach program will continue to operate at all of these campuses with the goal of helping eligible students apply for CalFresh benefits.

Breed and her staff have also consulted with the University of California and many of California’s 100-plus community college campuses, to help student services staff overcome the barriers to assisting hungry students.

See the fall and winter/spring CHC newsletter for more information on student hunger

"For now I ask no more than the justice of eating." –Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet

More CHC News

Stephanie Bianco Honored for Research Impact 
In late spring Stephanie Bianco, Associate Director of CSU, Chico’s Center for Healthy Communities (CHC), was awarded the Research Impact Award from the University Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. The award was given in part for securing over $9 million in external funding, publishing research in 30-plus publications, creating interdisciplinary partnerships across campus, and providing campus and community service across the state. Bianco’s academic achievements include many projects, but she is most proud of her interdisciplinary work surrounding food insecurity and food safety. She has led various several projects in conjunction with the CSU’s statewide Agricultural Research Institute, including establishing the multifaceted food-safety education website EASY GAP, or Enhancing Agricultural Safety Year-round Good Agricultural Practices.

Find out more about Stephanie Bianco.

More Kudos for CHC Staff

Several more CHC staff members have received honors for their unique accomplishments. Leading this summer’s kudos parade is Alyson Wylie, who earned Outstanding Master’s Project recognition from the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State for her Evaluation of a Mindful Eating Intervention Curriculum Among Elementary School Children and Their Parents.

The CSU, Chico Advisory Board has honored Bri Lofink with this year’s Outstanding Student Service award, based on both academic excellence and exemplary acts of community service. In addition to personal congratulations from both the University and Advisory Board presidents, Lofink also received a scholarship as part of her special recognition.

Kathleen Johnson was one of only 46 CSU students statewide nominated for the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. In addition to helping meet financial need, the award recognizes superior academic performance, personal accomplishment, and community service. Johnson was also this year’s Outstanding Graduating Senior in Nutrition Management.

Publication and Presentations 

Graduate student Xochil Medina, Joan Giampaoli, Keiko Goto, and Stephanie Bianco (Nutrition and Food Sciences/Center for Healthy Communities) and Shelly Hart (Child Development) coauthored the article “The effect of a farm stand on fruit and vegetable preferences and self-efficacy among students from a low-income school” in the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management. Volume 41. Issue 1. Spring 2017. 

In addition, CHC researchers made six research presentations since late spring:

Michele Buran and Naomi Stamper (Center for Healthy Communities). Early Childhood Physical Activity Toolkit Enhances Teacher Instruction. 9th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. San Diego, California. May 30–June 2, 2017.

Alyson Wylie (Center for Healthy Communities), Joan Giampaoli, Keiko Goto (both from Nutrition and Food Sciences/Center for Healthy Communities), and Jennifer Joyce (Center for Healthy Communities). Parent and Teacher Perspectives on School-Based Mindful Eating Intervention. 9th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. San Diego, California. May 30–June 2, 2017.

Jacob Brimlow (AGRI) and Naomi Stamper (Center for Healthy Communities). Estimating how increases in local food sales transactions costs perceived by growers are related to market channel and farm characteristics. Agricultural & Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting. Chicago, Illinois. July 30–August 1, 2017.

Alyson Wylie (Center for Healthy Communities), Keiko Goto, and graduate student Shannon Pierson (both from Nutrition and Food Sciences/Center for Healthy Communities). Teacher observations and impressions of mindful eating lessons. CA Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Conference and Expo, April 2017.

Graduate students Gauri Karnik and Shannon Pierson, Keiko Goto, and Joan Giampaoli (Nutrition and Food Sciences/Center for Healthy Communities). Examination of cue-elicited food craving and emotional eating among elementary school children. California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Conference and Expo, April 2017.

Graduate student Shannon Pierson, Keiko Goto, Joan Giampaoli (both from Nutrition and Food Sciences/Center for Healthy Communities), and Alyson Wylie (Center for Healthy Communities). Impact of a pilot mindful eating intervention on food-related behaviors among elementary school children and parents. California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Conference and Expo, April 2017.


Way to go, Sky Pilot

The CHC’s Quinn Winchell is a certified drone pilot—only the second at CSU, Chico—because of his drone-powered photography and film work for CHC Agriculture Research Institute projects. Certification is required to make sure drone pilots don’t pose an aviation or other safety hazard.

"I have yet to have a bad moment or a close call, but flying a drone is an exhilarating experience," Winchell says. "You need to be precise in your actions and always aware of your surroundings."

People are often curious about what it takes to get certified to fly drones. Winchell, who passed the test on his first try, says the certification exam isn't really that difficult.

"The certification process is a small look into the pilot's knowledge base," he said. "My advice would be to take your time while studying the material and don't stress yourself out! I studied for close to a month before I felt ready to take the test."

Coming Soon: CHC Alumni Survey

The CHC is developing a survey to find out what its student alumni are up to, and how their careers are going. So if you know of former interns or student employees not currently in touch with the CHC, please drop us a line at in new window) to tell us who we’re missing and how to connect.

CalFresh Outreach Acknowledged for Best Practices

The CHC’s CalFresh Outreach program was one of just nine in the nation recently consulted about best practices by the US Department of Agriculture for its Farmers’ Market SNAP Support Grants (FMSSG) and Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) programs. Nice going, CFO team!

CHC in the Media

Center for Healthy Communities

A new video by Quinn Winchell tells the story of the CHC’s work to fight food insecurity through its CalFresh Outreach program(opens in new window), locally and statewide. 
Published March 6, 2017 

Chico Statements Magazine

In “Briefly Noted,” Spring 2017, Chico State leads Effort to End Food Insecurity (opens in new window)explains the CHC’s partnership with the Chancellor’s Office at campuses throughout the CSU system. 
Published February 19, 2017 

Chico Enterprise Record

The May 19, 2017, article Program helps seniors in five counties with the basics (opens in new window)explains the work of the CHC’s North State Benefits Enrollment Center. 
Published November 22, 2016