Recently, a mother contacted Second Harvest Food Bank to ask for help signing up for SNAP (food stamps). We are going to call her Heidi, to protect her identity. She had never applied before and had many questions about the program.
Sonsera Kiger, the food bank’s Food and Nutrition Services Outreach Coordinator, spoke with Heidi. “I learned that this mother had two children–one who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and one who is demonstrating neuro-typical development–both under age 5,” said Sonsera. “This mom is unable to work due to her daughter’s special needs. Although her husband works full-time, the family is struggling financially.”
The family rents a small apartment and has a single vehicle to share that is more than 20 years old. “I was able to get this family signed-up for benefits and to make a referral to another non-profit organization that does specialized therapy for children with ASD.”
“We also sent mom a list of requisites that would be needed for the appointment with DSS, along with a list of the state’s farmers’ markets that accept EBT, a list of the food pantries in her county, a list of additional benefits for SNAP recipients (NC will issue a fishing license at no cost for one year for individuals that are EBT eligible, plants and seeds can be purchased with EBT cards, the NC Aquarium offers a discount for EBT card holders), as well as answered her questions about the Low Income Energy Assistance Program,” explained Sonsera.
While all that may feel like a flood of information, we feel that it is important. For families such as this mother’s, navigating the systems to acquire help can feel very difficult–especially when your life may feel already like a tenuous balance. When one parent is working full time and the other parent is home with special-needs children, simple tasks like researching assistance or gathering all the information necessary to apply for assistance can feel like a mountain to overcome.
We believe that whatever burdens can be lifted, should be lifted, to make families strong, healthy, and well.
This family’s situation is a familiar situation to Sonsera Kiger. Every week, Sonsera puts many miles in driving to communities throughout the 18 countries that Second Harvest serves. She meets with individuals and families to answer their questions and to help them apply for SNAP.
Just like this family, most families that are seeking SNAP assistance have someone in the household working. Heidi’s husband was working, but his wages were not enough to cover the family’s basic needs, including food. Contrary to persistent stereotypes, study after study shows that the majority of people receiving SNAP who can work, do work.
Having reliable and affordable transportation remains a serious problem for the families that Second Harvest’s partner network helps: among the many tough choices food insecure families are making, 72% report having to choose between paying for transportation or food. While Heidi’s family had a car, her mentioning that it was 20 years old shows that its reliability was clearly on her mind.
Nearly half of all people enrolled in SNAP are children, just like Heidi’s. 43% of North Carolinians enrolled in SNAP are children. Over 663,000 kids in our state get essential nutrition necessary for their physical, emotional and mental growth through this program.
Across our country, 42 million people, including 13 million children, live in households that do not have consistent access to adequate food. SNAP benefits, combined with food pantries and community meal sites like the ones supported by Second Harvest, are a lifeline for many families.
SNAP will not make things easy for Heidi and her family, however, it will take one worry off this mother’s plate.
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