Imagine that you are a single mom of two and also care for your young niece. You had a job, but have recently been laid off. You are falling behind on your electric bill, and your natural gas has already been shut off. You don’t have much gasoline left in your car. You’re left with just a few boxes of cereal, a pound of hamburger, and some condiments – aside from that, your refrigerator and pantry are bare. That is the situation that Denise found herself facing.
I’ve been an employee of the Food Bank for about six weeks now, and just yesterday had the opportunity to attend my first food box distribution. In Albuquerque’s South Valley, The Holy Family Parish is one of our largest partner agencies and gives food to hungry families through a twice-weekly on-site pantry and a monthly Mobile Food Pantry. At yesterday’s Mobile distribution, I accompanied three of our AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteers and three members of Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham’s staff to help with our SNAP Outreach program.
(AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteers - Paige, Liz, and Jessica – at the SNAP Outreach table.)
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps). It is a government program designed to provide benefits for eligible people who need help putting food on the table. Many people cannot get enough to eat by using one service alone. By helping clients sign up for SNAP benefits, they can often receive more consistent meals than if they rely solely on Roadrunner Food Bank and food pantries.
As part of our new strategic direction – FEED, SEED, LEAD – we are working to better serve people experiencing hunger by bringing additional related programs and services directly to food distribution sites. Our goal is that people get the help they need, without having to use their fuel driving all over the city and waiting in lines for hours each day.
When we arrived at the distribution site, the line was already stretched out into the parking lot. Clients were given numbers based on their place in line. I spoke with a woman named Barbara who was #2 on the list. She explained that she arrived at 4:00 a.m. to get her number. “I didn’t want to risk them running out of food,” she told me. “I knew I needed to get here early because I’ve been having to skip meals for the last few days to make what was left in my cupboards last until today.”
I learned quickly that when you’re hungry, you have to have patience. After waiting in line the first time and being given numbers, there was still much more waiting to come. Clients had to wait for the Roadrunner truck to arrive with the food. Then, they waited while the volunteers hurriedly set up the food along the distribution line. Finally, they waited for their numbers to be called so that they could fill their food boxes.
(Volunteers from Rep. Lujan Grisham’s office and from Holy Family Parish preparing food to be distributed.)
During this time, we were able to make our way down the line and talk to people about SNAP, letting them know what the program was, reviewing eligibility guidelines with them, and helping them fill out applications to get benefits. Through SNAP outreach, the staff at the Food Bank is able to encourage people to apply for benefits and walk them through the process. By reaching out to clients during food box distributions, we can help them avoid some of the bureaucratic red tape they might otherwise encounter and save them the time and gas money it would take to apply at the Income Support Division offices.
While Barbara had too much income to qualify for SNAP, she did get her food box and will be able to have a healthy meal tonight. Denise was able to both get her food box and complete her application for SNAP benefits at one place with less waiting.
There are no easy solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty, but every step we take to improve the lives of people in our community is a step in the right direction. This experience served to reinforce my belief that we all need a little help sometimes. No one should have to go without basic life necessities. I ask you to show compassion for those who are struggling. Help by spreading the word and raising awareness about hunger right in our neighborhoods. Even better, become a SNAP Outreach volunteer or volunteer to help sort food at our Albuquerque or Las Cruces offices. Together, we can solve hunger.
Shannon Kunkel is Communications Coordinator at Roadrunner Food Bank.