RICHMOND (KPIX) — A government program that gives low-income families in the Bay Area a chance  to eat healthier practically for free doesn’t get many takers, but some workers involved in the program are try to change that.

Once a week, a food truck arrives at a working-class neighborhood in Richmond ,offering fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers at a bargain price. But they realize it can be a tough sell to people used to eating fast food.

“Yeah, it’s gonna take a little time to be able to make that transition from the ice cream truck to a truck like this,” said Fresh Approach Food Access Coordinator Casey Harch

But with healthcare costs skyrocketing, the government is actually willing to pay poor people to eat a healthier diet.

The CalFresh program — the state’s version of food stamps — offers low-income residents up to $200 a month to buy more nutritious foods. It’s literally free money, but data shows only half of the people eligible to get it are currently participating in the program.

When asked if that fact surprised her, Sandy Trujillo with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties replied, “No, it doesn’t surprise me. Because it’s the stigma behind it.”

Trujillo was at the food truck trying to sign people up for the program, but it isn’t easy. Some fear it’s an immigration trap, but many feel it’s something to be ashamed of.

“People have told them that we’re taking, you know, tax dollars from everybody else and that people shouldn’t apply for that because it’s…they don’t need it,” explained Trujillo.

In the city of Richmond, only 30 percent of eligible residents are signed up for the program. It’s estimated Contra Costa County is missing out on $54 million in federal funds that could benefit the local economies.

It sounds a little crazy. No one ever feels guilty about taking a government rebate to buy an electric car or put solar panels on their roofs, but helping poor people eat healthier is seen as some kind of shameful welfare scam.

Executive Director of the “Fresh Approach” food truck program Lucy Norris says we all need to understand this is a deal that helps everybody.

“You know, we’re asking you to use the benefit to really have an enjoyable eating experience,” said Norris. “That’s so good for you and good for your health and good for the local food economy!”

Apparently, everyone benefits when the poor have the money to buy decent food. The trick is convincing people that’s as important as helping someone buy a Tesla.

Undocumented adults are generally not eligible for CalFresh benefits, but they can sign up under their children’s names and their information is not shared with immigration officials.

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