It was a cold December day at the Rio Grande Food Project. The holiday decorations were up in the waiting room. Despite the wind, a good 25-40 person line had formed outside an hour before the food pantry opened.
I was set up in the back at my table with my SNAP applications and pens. Sitting next to me was Don from Safelink. They administer the free government cell phone program.
A young mother came up to my table with her little boy. He was a cute kid about two years old with big brown eyes.
“I need to find out about food stamps and getting a phone” she said. Her little boy played with a toy car patiently and contently while his Mom talked to me.
I started to explain a little bit about the application process and how I could help.
Times had been tough for her. She and her husband have two children. She’s been out of work, staying home with the kids. And, they just found out that her husband’s job had been cut too. They were struggling before, now things looked really hopeless.
“I don’t even have food in the fridge,” she said. She paused for a moment as if the thought hadn’t really hit her. “I don’t even have food in the refrigerator.” Tears had been welling in her proud eyes for a few moments. Now, she couldn’t hold them back. She began to weep.
I ran to get her some tissues. As I sat back down, she was still trying to pull herself together. She apologized between sobs.
Her little boy with the big brown eyes had stopped playing. He held the car to his chest, and watched his mother closely. There was concern in his eyes. Why was Mom crying? Then, he looked scared. Mom was crying. Something must be very, very wrong. He really had no idea what to do.
She looked at her son, and quickly looked away. She knew he was scared. In a heartbeat, she composed herself and wiped her tears. I gave her a moment to breathe.
I chose my words carefully. I told her she had come to right place. Thanks to the Rio Grande Food Project, she would go home with food today. I could help her fill out the SNAP application so that she could receive help with more food. And, Don from Safelink could help her get a cell phone so they’d have one less expense.
None of these things in and of themselves are the answer to her family’s problems.
But, hopefully, they can help a little to get her family through this rough patch until her husband can find work.
I am very aware how fortunate I am to have a job in this economy. And, I’m even luckier to have a job like this one. Being able to meet people like this woman and provide them with helpful information is an honor. It can also be very humbling. I cannot make guarantees that they will be approved for SNAP. I will not make promises that their SNAP allotment will be enough to feed their family for the whole month. But, I can explain how the program works, and I can help them fill out the application.
I’ve had the pleasure of providing application assistance for hundreds of people now. I get to hear their stories and, if I’m doing my job right, make the process a little easier for them. For many folks like this woman, getting down to the Income Support office to apply for benefits is a tremendous challenge. When you have two small children, waiting in line can be a hard day’s work. By having the application ready for them at a food pantry, I can save them at least one trip.
Roadrunner Food Bank now has a small group of SNAP Outreach Volunteers. They go out to various food pantries who are partner agencies of Roadrunner Food Bank to provide application assistance for potential clients. These volunteers are smart, compassionate people who give their time and can really make a difference in people’s lives.
The best part of my job is hearing back from people we’ve worked with that their application was approved. But, once in a while, I run into someone who was denied. In the end, it’s the State that will look at the application and approve or deny it. That’s why we train our Outreach Volunteers not to speculate on the outcome of the application process.
Maybe I’ll come across that young mother and her two beautiful children again. Hopefully, she’ll have some good news to share.
Jason Riggs is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator for Roadrunner Food Bank and he is looking for volunteers. If you are interested in SNAP Outreach and Application Assistance please call us or send an email. In the Albuquerque area, please contact Mark Hisler at 505.349.5328 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the Las Cruces area, please contact Jessica Morris at 575.523.4390 or email email@example.com.