Heather Smith from SparkPoint at Skyline College presented at the California Association of Food Banks’ (CAFB) CalFresh Outreach Peer-to-Peer Meeting in Oakland, California on Monday, March 16, 2015. Panel topics included:

A. Getting Data From Your County, Heather Smith, SparkPoint at Skyline College
B. Managing Subcontractors & Volunteers, Amanda Schultz, San Diego Hunger Coalition
C. CalFresh Awareness Month, Joel Campos, Second Harvest Food Bank, Santa Cruz County
D. Capturing Stories & Using Them Effectively, Amy Lopez, Food Bank Santa Barbara County

SparkPoint at Skyline College acquired expertise on benefits access data sharing protocols during a recently completed two year project with the Center for Law and Social Policy, which was designed to increase benefits utilization among eligible students. During that national demonstration project, significant capacity building between San Mateo County Human Services Agency and Skyline College resulted in a real time data-sharing protocol. This represents a contribution to effective practice nationally, which increases available resources for students to achieve their educational and economic goals.


Organizations that support benefits applications typically never receive application process feedback while that application is under review. Unlike most community-based organizations that provide public benefits assistance, SparkPoint at Skyline College receives both status updates and outcomes on individual public benefits applications, including those for food assistance (CalFresh), healthcare (Medi-Cal) and cash assistance (CalWORKs) while the application is in process. This allows SparkPoint to follow-up with students and others on the status of their applications before a final determination is made and assist them with successfully completing the application process. Since adopting this practice, SparkPoint has seen a significant increase in approval rates for public benefits applications. Additionally, applicants have also increasingly reported positive experiences navigating the public benefits application process via SparkPoint’s public benefits office.

Seventy food bank professionals from all over the state attended the meeting to obtain CalFresh (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP)) updates and learn about best practices to mitigate policy and structural barriers, and increase benefits utilization among those who are eligible. Cultivating this organizational capacity is part of the commitment of Skyline College to ensure that all students realize their educational goals regardless of economic status. For information about SparkPoint at Skyline College, contact Dr. William Watson, Director, and for information about benefits access, contact Heather Smith, Program Services Coordinator both at 650-738-7035 or visit our website at

Article by Heather D. Smith | Photos by Stephanie Nishio, California Association of Food Banks Director of Programs