They Look Like Us

When you picture a person who needs food stamps, what do they look like? I think there are some common images that are easy to conjure, and perhaps difficult to challenge. When I started my year as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Roadrunner in June, I thought I had a general idea of who a “typical” food stamp user would be. But after visiting a few food pantries and helping a couple of clients fill out the application for food stamps (now called SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), this assumption was rapidly and drastically proven false.

Over the course of just a few months working in SNAP Outreach, I have assisted a wide range of individuals, coming from a myriad of circumstances, facing diverse challenges. I have helped a woman with three kids who, after leaving her husband the day before, did not know where to begin in picking up the pieces of the life she knew. I have assisted a senior who worked his entire adult life at the bakery of a grocery store, and could not fathom that he now had to depend on his granddaughter to drive him to a food pantry to get food.    

Cynthia

(Photo taken at a food distribution at the Pajarito Mesa. The mom and her young daughter visited the monthly Mobile Food Pantry location to receive help with food.)

Recently, as I have done so many times before, I was helping a client complete a SNAP application. But while doing so, I could not help but notice how, from an objective perspective, he looked a lot like me. To begin, he was just a few years younger than me. He was a college student, but was recently forced to take a leave; I just graduated in May. He lived in an apartment with a few other roommates. He had his mom with him, who sat quietly next to us, allowing him to take the lead, but willing to offer him clarification on the more complex questions. He had a part-time job, but due to his health issues, was not able to work as many hours as he once could. This man was not homeless; he was not the product of any string of poor decisions; he was not abandoned by his family. He was just a person who reached a point in his life where he needed extra help feeding himself, and had run out of places to turn. As we sat together completing the application, I could not help but wonder whether I would be as mature and capable as he was if my situation suddenly changed as his did, and I found myself in his shoes.

Before I started my work here, I knew that a year of volunteering would expose me to a diverse population of people in need, and I quickly learned that food stamps could prove to be a vital tool in helping these people get back on their feet. By providing monthly benefits that can be used to purchase food, SNAP helps alleviate hunger and provides nutrition assistance to those who need it most. SNAP Outreach provides an opportunity to get out into the community and offer application assistance and SNAP education to hungry New Mexicans.

Considering 1 in 5 New Mexicans currently participate in the SNAP program, food stamp recipients are all around us. There is no mold, no checklist of circumstances that necessitate the need. They come from various cultural backgrounds; they are families, children, and seniors; some work, some do not, and some cannot. And through my work at Roadrunner, I have come to the realization that they also look a lot like me.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with the Food Bank’s SNAP Outreach Program, contact Liz Curry at 505.349.5328 or liz.curry@rrfb.org in Albuquerque.  In Las Cruces, please contact Paige Sharp at 575.323.5149 or paige.sharp@rrfb.org.

Liz Curry is an AmeriCorp VISTA member helping at Roadrunner Food Bank through the summer of 2015.

 



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