I have always loved food – growing it, cooking it, and especially eating it. In college I began volunteering at a food bank and realized that my love affair with food was largely one of privilege. This helped me cultivate a passion for combating hunger. As graduation inched closer I wanted to learn more about hunger. I wanted to do meaningful work regarding issues of food security, but I didn’t know how. Then one day I came across a description for an AmeriCorps VISTA position to work with an anti-hunger nonprofit to identify barriers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly Food Stamps – and improve program access by building capacity for SNAP Outreach Program. It was perfect and I quickly applied. Upon eagerly accepting the AmeriCorps position with Roadrunner Food Bank I moved across the county trading my beachy Virginia hometown for the beautiful mount views of landlocked Las Cruces. I have only been with Roadrunner for six weeks, but already I have learned so much, both on and off the job.
The past month has been spent researching the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Learning about its history, how it works, the myths surrounding it, potential barriers to the program for New Mexicans and more. But the most eye opening experience so far came from two visits to the grocery store. Two days before payday, I was notified by a cashier at the grocery store that I had insufficient funds when I attempted to check out. Luckily the cashier was friendly and helpful, constantly smiling as I handed back groceries until I could pay the bill. It was an embarrassing and emotional moment, but that was when I realized I needed to apply for SNAP. A week later I was waiting in the checkout line when the same thing happened to the woman in front of me.
Everyday New Mexicans face food struggles. Over 400,000 participate in SNAP, but there are still thousands of eligible individual who would benefit from the assistance but haven’t applied. Luckily, I work for an organization full of supportive individuals who understand the barriers to SNAP. I know all the myths and facts about SNAP, how to fill out the application, and am continually learning new details the program. However, not everyone considering the program is so lucky. Each myth, each barrier, is another obstacle making it harder to gain access to necessary food assistance. I can imagine the decision to apply would be more difficult if I was filling out the application on my own, trying to find the time to meet with the state’s Income Support Division (ISD) office, to locate the necessary documents, or facing the various myths floating around. That is exactly why SNAP Outreach is so important. Breaking down barriers helps those in need gain access to benefits that support them as they work towards self-sufficiency and maintain a sense of independence. It is only one step in the fight against hunger, but it is one I take gladly with Roadrunner.
Jessica Morris is a AmeriCorp VISTA member, Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corp helping at our Southern Branch in Las Cruces and involved in the Food Bank’s SNAP Outreach Program.