What I have learned so far…
One of the most important lessons that I have learned as a SNAP Outreach Worker is that hunger does not discriminate. It affects people all over the nation without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, body shape or size. Inadequate access to food results in a wide range of negative consequences on variety of levels. Having worked at community meals, food pantries, senior centers, WIC Clinics, summer lunch programs, and other food distribution centers all over Iowa I have seen the multiple ways in which hunger effects individuals, families and communities throughout Iowa.
I will always remember my first senior meal center in northwest Iowa. It was the first time that I ever assisted anyone with a SNAP application and it was also the first time that I felt the change I was making in people’s lives. Rita* was newly widowed and forced to undergo numerous life changes as a result of her limited finances. Without her late husband’s social security check, she could no longer afford to live on her own and she was behind on her bills. As a result, Rita made the difficult decision to forego her prescription arthritis medication because she could no longer afford to fill it and still put food on the table. After signing Rita up that day, I was relieved to find out a week later that she received help through emergency services and her Iowa EBT card was up and running within seven days.
During the summer months while children are out of school, they have stopped receiving reduced or free meals and snacks at school. Consequently, families struggle to address their hunger.
While it is difficult to watch anyone go hungry, the children are the hardest. Their innocence and potential make it difficult to watch hunger reduce them to tears as anger and frustration overwhelm them. At my one of my most recent mobile pantries, I helped sign up Linda* a mother of 3 whose oldest son is severely disabled and requires constant care and medical attention. She and her husband are both college graduates who are struggling to make ends meet. I explained to Linda that she could still attend the mobile pantry and use the SNAP program as the intended supplemental financial assistance to the program is designed for. She could use the EBT money to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or farmers market, meat products or other food items that are unavailable at the mobile pantry. Weeks later, Linda called to let me know that they were approved and express her gratitude for my help.
The SNAP program is a crucial tool in the fight to end hunger. As an Outreach Worker I labor every day to ensure that hungry Iowans of every background are aware of SNAP benefits and are able to access this amazing program. I am always pleased to see the many successes that we experience but I know that the fight continues. Each day we have the opportunity to stop the spread of hunger, each day we get a little closer to winning the fight.
Written by Katie Reidy, SNAP Outreach Worker for the Iowa Food Bank Association.