The Meaning of the Miles
Today, on my drive to an outreach event in Davenport, Iowa, I noticed the increasing number of miles I’m putting on the car the Iowa Food Bank Association provides me. Thinking about this number made me reflect differently on the numbers that surround my daily work with the Iowa Food Bank Association, the numbers associated with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) recipients and the numbers that show the issue of hunger in Iowa.
11,865.5 – the number of miles on my IFBA car
3 months – the amount of time I’ve been a full-time SNAP Outreach Worker
396 – the number of days the Iowa Food Bank Association has been implementing SNAP Outreach throughout the State of Iowa
898 – the number of online applications IFBA SNAP Outreach Workers generated between February 2011 and January 2012
80,000 – the number of people in Iowa who are eligible for SNAP benefits but are not currently accessing those benefits
417,208 – the estimate dollars of economic benefit for the State created by those new SNAP participants
6 – the number of times $1 of SNAP money turns over in a community.
1 – the percentage of client related fraud within the SNAP nationally
382,000 – the number of food insecure Iowans
If you’re like me, it may take a moment (or more) for these numbers to mean something to you. It takes time to understand the magnitude of 382,000 people struggling against hunger throughout Iowa. What isn’t hard to understand, what doesn’t take time to process, is the stories of individuals who benefit from the SNAP program. Individuals like Arlene, John and Sheila*.
Arlene isn’t a number, though numbers do impact her life. Arlene is a 65 year old diabetic. Several times daily Arlene checks numbers: blood sugar numbers, insulin guidelines and the amount of sugar in what she eats. Arlene was thrilled when she learned she might be eligible for SNAP benefits. The first words out of her mouth were, “Oh, this would help me buy more fresh food!” Arlene is one of the 382,000 Iowans who are food insecure. More than one of 382,000, Arlene is a person – a person who can meet her food needs by using the SNAP program.
John isn’t a number, but numbers make his life harder. John is a 40 year old man who cares for his disabled sister and elderly mother. The three of them live in an Iowa I didn’t know existed. The Iowa where people live in homes with dirt floors; the Iowa where there is never enough food; the Iowa where working together to “take care of your own” doesn’t ensure being taken care of. John’s days are consumed by numbers: the numbers on the bills he tries to pay monthly for the care his sister needs, the number of cents he has left over after paying for utilities to keep the lights and heat on in their home with dirt floors, and the number of dollars associated with each trip to the grocery store. John is a person – a person who deserves support. John is helped by the SNAP program.
Sheila isn’t a number, but the number of dollars in her checking account once meant the difference between food for her five children and going without. Thirty is the number of years it has been since Sheila used SNAP benefits. Sheila is now the volunteer coordinator of a food pantry, working hard now to serve others because she remembers what being hungry meant for her family. Sheila used SNAP benefits to help support herself and her five kids after her husband passed away. With a large family to take care of Sheila knew she needed help, she needed to go to college, and she needed to feed her children. Sheila is a person – a person who knows the benefit of the SNAP program. Shelia is a person paying it forward so others can use the SNAP program or the food pantry to get back on their feet.
Numbers have the uncanny ability to flow into and out of our minds. Maybe you can’t remember all the statistics and figures associated with the Iowa Food Bank Association, the SNAP program or hunger in Iowa. What I want to know is can you remember the stories of Arlene, John and Sheila? Did you know about the Iowa of dirt floor homes, the Iowa where widowed mothers try to make life better for their families, or the Iowa where seniors can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables? Maybe you didn’t, but now you do. What will you do with that knowledge?