Author Archives: Jason Riggs
Sometimes all the pieces fall in place when you try to do something that will help people. Roadrunner Food Bank had considered putting together a small, community garden pilot project for a few years. We thought the best approach was to find a food pantry with the ability to plant a garden. Produce grown on site could be given out to clients attending the regular food pantry distribution. As great as this sounded, we knew that this would simply supplement the regular food boxes. The clients would get some wonderful locally grown vegetables, but not much else.
He had told me his name was Tomas.* He said he wanted more information about food stamps. I got his name down, but the rest was hard. He started repeating his name, address, and phone number in a quick succession. His voice was gravelly and his words were slurred. I tried my best, but I couldn’t understand him at all. Later, I found out about his head injury. I was at a food pantry helping people sign up for SNAP benefits like I’ve done so many times in the past year. I’ve spoken to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. I’ve helped folks fill out the form in Spanish even though my Spanish is very poor. I’ve gone over the application process sitting on park benches, in the rain, in the hot summer sun, in the winter with snow falling, and, sometimes, in a nice air conditioned office. I couldn’t recall ever having this much difficulty understanding someone. His repetition was not helping. Finally, a man we’ll call Jack stepped in.
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.
“I’m sorry, we’re out of food.” The volunteer at the food pantry registration table wasn’t trying to be cold or harsh. It was a statement of fact. They had ordered food for about 80 households and they had already served about 85. “There’s nothing left?” A young woman with brown hair asked. “Nothing left at all?” The young woman with brown hair stepped away from the table. She folded her arms and began pacing. She looked worried. She started to cry. “Miss, are you okay?” A dark haired woman called out. There was no response. “Hey, come talk to me.” “I don’t want to talk about it. They said they are out of food, and I couldn’t get here any earlier because of the stupid bus. I don’t know what I’m going to feed my kids tonight. But, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m just upset.”
It is becoming too easy to forget Veteran’s Day. One of the downfall’s of an all-volunteer military is that people in many walks of life don’t even know someone who served. What should be a day of honoring sacrifice becomes a day off from work or a day you wish you had off. My father was Vietnam veteran. If he were around, he probably wouldn’t want me writing about it. But, sometimes he’d tell me things about the war. Fishing trips with my Dad and my uncles who had been there really brought out the stories. He was the first to say that he was one of the lucky ones, and the real heroes didn’t come home. When Roadrunner started the SNAP Outreach program, one of the “target populations” I wanted to work with was Veterans. The idea that people who offered years of their life to serve our country are now going hungry in it is unacceptable. Once a month, I have the opportunity to go down to the Veteran’s Administration. I’ll help men and women fill out the application for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps. But, it doesn’t have to be at the VA. I’ve met many, many vets standing in line at food pantries around the state. Sometimes, they’re easy to spot in a crowd; a fatigue jacket, a USMC tattoo, or an Air Calvary button on a cowboy hat.