In 1963 John F. Kennedy declared May to be Senior’s Month as a way to acknowledge the accomplishments of our past and present older citizens. President Lyndon Johnson signed Older American’s Month into law in 1965.
This year’s theme is Get into the Act to encourage healthy aging and community involvement for seniors.
Healthy Eating = Healthy Aging
At the St. Louis Area Foodbank, we are doing our best to better serve the community of low-income seniors by partnering with the State of Missouri and Illinois as part of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
This program provides a nutritious box of food every month to qualifying seniors who are 60 and older and who meet the income requirements set by the USDA. We are excited to be able to provide this service to over 8,800 seniors in seven counties in Missouri and two in Illinois.
Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, just one of the many agencies who distribute the CSFP boxes, had this to say about the program:
“For our low-income senior adults living in our affordable housing apartments, the monthly CSFP food box is such a blessing. It is so beneficial in providing our residents with something extra that allows them to stretch their limited budgets. And as the items they receive month-to-month change, it provides some variety in their diet, as well. We feel very fortunate that we are able to partner with the St. Louis Area Foodbank in providing this program to our residents.”
More Care to Share
In addition to CSFP, we proudly provide SNAP (food stamp) application assistance to the people living in the St. Louis Area Foodbank’s 26-county service territory.
We help with filling out and submitting the application, answer questions about the program, and provide follow-up assistance as well. This is extremely important, given only one third of eligible seniors receive SNAP benefits.
Suzi Seeker provides this service in Missouri where eight percent of seniors are living in poverty and Andrea Hale in Illinois where eleven percent are living in poverty as well.
Please join us at the Foodbank in celebrating our older friends and neighbors!
If you’d like to Get into the Act and volunteer with the St. Louis Area Foodbank, click here to sign up today.
Suzi Seeker Missouri CSFP/SNAP Coordinator, St. Louis Area Foodbank
Last week, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts introduced legislation to cut $36 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years. These cuts could reduce benefits for the millions of American who rely on the food stamp program to feed their families.
Nationally, the average SNAP benefit per person is less than $1.50 per person, per meal. For the last several years, community leaders and organizations have taken a “SNAP Challenge,” to better understand the realities of living on a food stamp budget.
In November, the Washington University Social Justice Center led a campus-wide hunger awareness week that included such a “SNAP” Challenge. The organizer of the event, Joshua Aiken, shares his thoughts on what it was like to live on a food stamp budget and learn about hunger.
After a visit to my brother’s classroom at Roosevelt High School — one of many struggling schools in a now unaccredited school district — I came away with an unanticipated fixation in my thoughts.
Certainly the peeling paint, lack of textbooks, and poor teacher-student ratio occurred to me as reasons the school might have such poor academic outcomes.
But as I left the school, I was stunned by a few words I heard amidst clinking lockers, from one young girl: “I’m so hungry, I can’t think!” The vast majority of students at Roosevelt benefit from federal food assistance programs like SNAP and WIC. After hearing this comment, my interest in understanding these federal programs was peaked.
As the advocacy chair of the Washington University Social Justice Center this year, I had the opportunity to develop and implement an advocacy campaign for a social justice issue. It was my duty to raise awareness and educate students, staff and faculty about the implications of poverty and hunger in the United States.
The Leadership Council expressed excitement when I first suggested the idea of holding a hunger awareness week. Hunger, from a social justice lens, interacts intricately along socioeconomic, racial and gender lines.
As an organization that focuses on raising awareness about the complexity of such paradigms, understanding how food, nutrition and hunger interact with justice is almost perfectly aligned with our mission.
Yet, we did have one concern. “Hunger” is not necessarily an issue our campus chooses to discuss. Outside of organizations like Campus Kitchen, the vast majority of students do not deal with hunger on a daily basis.
At a school heralded for its’ lavish dining services and quality of food, we forget that just a few blocks away from our campus, food is not as accessible as a two-minute walk from your dorm.
We determined that encouraging the campus to take a SNAP challenge would be an incredible way to provide an activism element to our campaign. As the important FARM bill was looming, we knew that the vulnerability of these assistance programs was real.
Initially, we planned to ask students and staff for just a week to eat on $4.24 — the average amount of SNAP aid received weekly by individuals in the state of Missouri. However, as we discussed the proposal with campus partners and other entities, we realized the vast majority of campus partners would not get involved.
Time and time again, when I told my friends or professors about the idea, they said they liked it — but couldn’t risk having hunger detract from their studies. People were not willing to put themselves in another person’s shoes for too long.
The problem with this mindset is that for most people receiving SNAP or WIC support, choosing not to be hungry is not an option. For most, it is not a simple choice of how long one wants to eat on a certain budget, or how careful one wants to be in purchasing groceries, or how thoughtful one has to be in determining portions. The fact that most of us do have the luxury of choosing was my main take away from planning this event.
So then, how could we address hunger in a way that engaged people in conversations around the stigma that surrounds food stamp programs? What could be done to involve the other social justice implications?
Most of us were aware that the St. Louis community is one where hunger is prevalent. Relaying this information to the rest of the Washington University community became our charge.
The leadership council and several other campus partners decided to give students an option to either take the challenge for a full week or just for a day. Eventually, more than 100 campus partners volunteered to take the challenge in some shape or form.
We asked participants to take pictures, tweet, blog, post on Facebook and make as many people as possible aware of the challenge. We received signatures from all participants to attach to a letter we sent to federal and state legislative officials, making our privileged voices heard.
This experience engaged many members of the University community in conversations concerning hunger, poverty, inequality and the role we all play
Furthermore, it has helped me and my Social Justice Center peers ask more questions about what we can do to change the realities of hunger in America.
This spring, we will be hosting a hunger banquet on campus, bringing needed attention to the domestic and international disparities around poverty.
Joshua Aiken Advocacy Chair, Social Justice Center Washington University ’14
Joshua Aiken is the Advocacy Chair at the Social Justice Center.
Washington University ’14
“Even as a foodbanker, and someone who deals with hunger issues on a daily basis, I felt like I walked out of the theatre with a better understanding of hunger in America.”
“One of the most touching moments to me was when a fifth grade girl named Rosie commented that she wanted her kids to have a better life than she has. Rosie’s family struggles with food insecurity, and this child is acutely aware of the hardships that her family endures on a daily basis. Having to be so concerned with such significant family issue at the age of 11 is a reality that most people never have to experience.”
– Sara Lewis, agency relations coordinator for the St. Louis Area Foodbank
“A Place at the Table undertakes the overwhelming task of illustrating the wide ranging affects of hunger. It’s about morality, education, nutrition, food deserts, food insecurity, poverty, politics and patriotism.”
“On one end, the documentary demonstrates how hunger can affect one child’s physical and mental health. So, we witness the affects of hunger on a very singular and personal level. Then, the film explores how the problem of hunger weakens our national security. We, therefore, witness how hunger affects every America, even if that American is not experiencing food insecurity. As reported by Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve, three out of four children are unfit for military service, and obesity is a significant contributing factor. The film coherently explains how food insecurity leads to obesity and poor health.”
“So, it makes sense when Jeff Bridges, a strong hunger advocate, says, “’It’s not only a moral issue. It’s a patriotic issue.’
“Ultimately, the film resonated with me because it shows how hunger causes a rippling effect in our country. The film is like watching a storm ravage a boat. For too many families, it is too difficult to steer the ship straight. Leaving the theater, you can’t help but desire a time for slack tide in our county – a time when the waves are still, a time when the boat rests with more ease, a time when mothers and fathers do not stress over providing nutritious food for their children.”
– Patrick Delhougne, development associate at the St. Louis Area Foodbank
“I thought that film did an excellent job at putting a face on hungry. I felt it wasn’t statistics heavy – there was a good mix of researched support, but I liked that it showcased different walks of life that are affected by the ever looming (and growing issue) of hunger. Some individuals that might otherwise be overlooked.”
“A few issues discussed that I thought were integral to portraying a full picture of what food insecurity entails – incomes remaining stagnant while the price of living and food continuing to rise, limited food choices – whether it be a food desert situation or lack of funds to purchase healthy food and instead having to resort to processed food (more bang for buck), and the negative effects on one’s health. Overall, I think that it appeals to someone that might be aware of the current issue this country is facing, but also can speak to those that might be more in the dark in regards to the severity of the issue of poverty and hunger.”
– Andrea Hale, SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank
“This weekend I had the opportunity to watch the often wrenching and surprisingly jaw dropping documentary “A Place at the Table”. The film chronicles the surprisingly intertwined issues of hunger and obesity in the United States.Facts and figures tied to tales of urban and rural poverty serve to illustrate the shocking real-world impact of policy decisions that have impacted America’s poor for over 30 years.”
“Drawing a striking contrast between the countries attitudes toward poverty in the late 60’s and 70’s, which nearly eradicated hunger, and the indifference toward the poor since the 1980s and the subsequent decline in government benefits, “A Place at the Table” is an indictment of government priorities which will hopefully force policy makers to look at the impact of their decisions on the huddled masses and think about their role in directly impacting the lives of American citizens and the course this country takes.”
– PJ Tamayo, illustrator and writer at PGAV Destinations in St. Louis
“What I liked most about “A Place at the Table” is that it illustrated why obesity and hunger go hand and hand. I have heard people ask “If hunger is a problem then why are poor people fat?”.
“A Place at the Table” explained in great detail why this is happening and how we can fix it. Debunking the myth that being obese and poor, is due to people making bad food choices when in reality it has much more to do with affordability and availability.”
– Allison Jones, Web and Design Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank
My Grandparents at their 50th Wedding anniversary, along my Mom ( left), Aunt (middle) and myself (right).
Why I wanted to work at the St. Louis Area Foodbank…
The short answer is that I wanted to help put food on the tables of people who needed it the most.
But longer answer – please indulge me here – starts with my Papa’s Mac and Cheese.
I know, I know. You’re thinking “what does your grandpa’s pasta dish have to do with the Foodbank?”
Well, a lot, actually. Like most family recipes, Papa’s Mac and Cheese is more than food, it’s a piece of edible history. Whenever Papa makes his now-legendary macaroni and cheese, he will inevitably tell the story of how his signature dish came to be.
He usually laughs and rhetorically asks if we know what government cheese is. My sisters and I always shake our heads and reply, “no.”
This prompts him to stretch out his hands, as though he is talking about a prized catch. He then tells us that “government cheese” was a huge mystery block of cheese that the government used to give out, along with other food, to families on welfare.
It’s hard to image my grandparents on welfare; they are both hard-working, smart, and well-educated people. Papa was a computer programmer before becoming a nurse. Nana was a nurse, and in her 40s, she went to law school and received her law degree.
But long before my time, the recession of the early 1970s had caused financial burdens in their household. When Papa was laid off from his job, they had no choice but to ask for help to feed their seven kids.
Papa and Nana first sought help from their family, and later from the government and food pantries, much like the ones who partner with the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
During this time, Nana went back to work full time as a nurse, and the household duties fell to Papa as he attended nursing school. Taking care of seven kids is no easy task, and having to feed all of them on a tight budget was a huge challenge for Papa.
He had always dabbled in the kitchen, but he had his work cut out for him to get seven kids to try some of the new foods that came from the pantries and the government.
First and foremost, he had to figure out what to do with that huge block of cheese they were given on a monthly basis.
If you Google “government cheese”, the description may make it hard to believe Papa could ever have turned it into anything edible. But somehow, just by adding a little spice and baking it with a bread-crumb crust, he turned this “cheese” into something special that would feed our family for a lifetime.
Over the years, Papa told this story to me, my sisters, our spouses and their families, as well many of our friends.
Today, Papa’s Mac and Cheese still fills our bellies, and the story he tells his helps lift the stigma of food assistance in our culture by putting a face on it.
As I have gone out to talk to some of our food pantry clients, I have discovered that many of the families are like mine. They are hard-working people who are trying to provide for their kids, just like my grandparents.
Many of these people are just like Papa, who distributed food from the pantry to homebound elderly in his neighborhood, giving back the only way he could by volunteering at the food pantry. Like so many of the Foodbank’s clients, Papa felt he couldn’t just take something without giving back.
Food assistance has made a great impact on my life even though I have never received it myself. For me, working at the Foodbank is my way of giving back, just like my Papa.
Allison Jones is the web and design coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
With the start of another new year, we all look for new ways to transform ourselves and our lives. Some make resolutions to lose weight, while others try to kick a habit they wish they had never started.
For me, I look forward to the beginning of a new year as a time to make improvements, in both my personal or professional life.
Professionally, I am part of the agency relations department at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Right now, our department is going through its’ own transformation, particularly for those of us who deal with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
The Foodbank’s service territory encompasses 14 counties in Missouri and 12 counties in Illinois. In 2012, we were only able to provide SNAP outreach assistance to clients at our partner agencies in our Illinois counties.
That meant thousands of clients in Missouri were left to navigate their own way through the sometimes complicated process of applying for SNAP.
But now, with the start of 2013, we will be able to provide SNAP assistance to all clients visiting one of our more than 500 partner agencies in both Illinois and Missouri.
This new ability to provide SNAP assistance to Missouri clients seeking food assistance means a great deal to families in need. Many of these families never had the opportunity or the means to apply for SNAP themselves.
Many were not able to make it to their local Illinois Department of Human Services office or Missouri Department of Social Services, the sites where they can apply for SNAP.
For some rural clients, there is no local aid office where they can receive assistance. Even if there is an office in a neighboring county, many of our clients do not have the transportation – or gas money – to get there.
Many clients don’t even know they are eligible for SNAP, and some need that extra nudge to look into additional assistance for their families.
Now that we’re able to provide SNAP assistance in both states, the Foodbank is expanding our SNAP outreach efforts to senior facilities.
Now, not only will be able to provide almost 10,000 seniors with a much-needed box of food, but we will be able to assist them with food stamp applications. We can help them ensure they are utilizing all food assistance programs available to them.
We are very excited about these new opportunities to help our clients in need. This year will be a great one at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. I hope you will continue supporting us along the way as we continue to fight hunger in our community.
For SNAP assistance in Missouri email Suzi Seeker at firstname.lastname@example.org; in Illinois, contact Andrea Hale at email@example.com.
Andrea Hale is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
• Volunteering time, whether by sorting and repacking food for the hungry at the Foodbank, or tutoring an underprivileged teen.
• Donating money to a favorite charity, whether that means dropping a few dollars into the Salvation Army bell ringer’s red bucket, or making an online donation.
But one way we can all help ensure the future safety and health of our neighbors in need is by lending our voices to support the protection of government programs that offer safety nets for the poor.
As Congress works to write a new Farm Bill and bring our fiscal house in order, we, as generous Americans, must remind our legislators that they must not balance the budget by cutting programs that put food on the table for those less fortunate.
The St. Louis Area Foodbank is a proud member of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic charity committed to feeding the hungry. Feeding America offers many suggestions for ways to voice your support for struggling Americans.
• Visit with your local legislators in person, and voice your support for protecting invaluable safety nets like SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
• Call Congress! Just dial Feeding America’s toll-free number, enter your zip code, and you’ll be connected to your Member of Congress’s office. Take your advocacy to the next!
• Share your story here. If you’ve struggled with hunger, or if you know someone who has, offer legislators a picture of how hunger looks in your community.
• Initiate a letter-writing campaign with your neighbors, your church group or friends. Encourage them to convey this message:
I support my local food bank, and I know they are struggling to meet the needs of our community. Food donations are drying up, gas and food prices remain high, and nearly 50 million Americans are living in food insecurity. Cuts to SNAP will be devastating. While food banks, churches, and pantries are doing great work in our community, charity alone cannot meet the need for food assistance.
You have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of hungry Americans. As Congress considers how to write a new Farm Bill and reduce our national debt, Congress must protect and strengthen hunger-relief programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With unemployment still high and many Americans struggling to make ends meet, Congress cannot cut the programs that are helping many of our neighbors put food on the table. Given the associated healthcare, educational, and economic costs of hunger and poor nutrition, cuts to these programs are not only immoral, they are short-sighted and costly in the long run.
As your constituent, I ask that you remember the families who are struggling in our state and remain committed to protecting programs that are a lifeline for hungry Americans. Please pass a strong Farm Bill that that protects and invests in TEFAP and SNAP.
Imagine you’ve worked a long day at the office, dealing with all the deadlines and responsibilities that come with a full-time job. And now, on top of your normal worries and obligations, you go home to find an empty refrigerator and cupboard. You have no idea what to feed your family.
For many of us, this reality simply means we need to make a trip to the store.
Unfortunately, running to the store is not an option for many of the clients served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank. By the middle of the month, they no longer have enough money left to buy food.
So for these individuals, the choices are limited. They can borrow food from friends or visit a food pantry. But sometimes the only available choice is to simply go without.
As the Foodbank’s SNAP Outreach Coordinator, I have the opportunity to meet many hard-working Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. For the clients I meet, the basic costs of living are far higher than the income they earn.
That’s why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is so important.
According to USDA, “many SNAP recipients are currently employed but they still need additional assistance so that they can put nutritious food on the table for their families. More than 29 percent of SNAP households had earnings in 2009 and 40 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings.”
What is SNAP?
SNAP is the program formerly known as food stamps. It is this federal program that helps low-income individuals and families purchase healthy food.
SNAP benefits are placed on a plastic card (LINK in Illinois; EBT in Missouri) each month. The card works much like a debit card and can be used at grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers markets and co-ops.
Who is Eligible?
SNAP eligibility rules can be complex, but the most important factors to determine eligibility and amount available are the income and expenses of the household. The program also considers the number of people who live in the household and buy and prepare food together.
Importance and Impact
SNAP has been shown to reduce childhood food insecurity and the negative impact on cognitive and academic development as children grow older. Also, it allows families to transition to self-sufficiency and financial stability. Most participants leave the program within nine months. The dollar amount of SNAP benefits decreases 24 to 36 cents for every dollar earned by the individual.
SNAP not only allows families to purchase much-needed healthy food, but it also makes a positive impact on the local economy. Every dollar in SNAP benefits spent generates an additional $1.79 in local economic activity, helping create revenue for local food retailers and farms. A 5 percent increase in SNAP participate would generate $1.8 billion in new economic activity nationwide.
Many who are eligible for SNAP benefits do not take advantage of the program. Sometimes they are too proud to accept help. In other cases, people in need do not have proper access to the application process. Some families in need may not even know they are eligible.
Each year, there are about $65 million benefits for low-income families that go unclaimed.
These resources could be used to provide good assistance for families who desperately need it. That’s why spreading awareness about SNAP facts is so important.
According to USDA research, 96 percent of Americans are aware of SNAP/food stamps, but only 43 percent of those who do not participate actually know they are eligible.
St. Louis Area Foodbank SNAP Outreach Efforts
The St. Louis Area Foodbank makes a conscious effort to educate and provide assistance to our clients. Every week, I visit our partner agencies – soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries – and provide application assistance to our clients.
I assist them with SNAP applications, answer questions, and guide them through the entire process from application submission to case management with their local Department of Human Services office.
Some clients I have assisted did not understand the program or even realize they were eligible. It is rewarding to help a family in need get food assistance through SNAP.
SNAP Outreach allows individuals and families the ability to continue to live productive and healthy lives. I am honored to be able to serve some of the most vulnerable individuals in the community.