This post is from guest blogger Emily Kraft, Food & Nutrition Services Outreach Coordinator for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, one of the hunger relief organizations Cisco employees support through the annual Global Hunger Relief Campaign.
I’m at the library on my lunch break, searching for a good book to read in my downtime. My concentration is broken when I hear whispers coming from a nearby table. “Is that the Food Stamp Lady? I think it is. She’s great – helped me out a lot. You should talk with her.”
Many local shelter residents congregate at the library during the daytime, and it is here among them that I have achieved pseudo celebrity status. The beloved moniker of “Food Stamp Lady” has been bestowed upon me during the past two years after I became a Food & Nutrition Services (FNS) Outreach Coordinator for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina in November 2011.
The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina (Food Bank of CENC for short) is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Raleigh with the mission to fight hunger in its 34-county service area, assuring that “no one goes hungry” in central and eastern North Carolina. To accomplish this, the Food Bank of CENC has a network of over 800 dedicated partner agencies, consisting of food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and children’s programs. Food is distributed to our partners through our six branches in Raleigh, Durham, Greenville, Sandhills, New Bern, and Wilmington.
In the 1990s, Food Stamps switched from paper stamps, similar to paper currency, to an EBT card, similar to a debit card. Calling the program “Food Stamps” seemed outdated, and with the 2008 Farm Bill, the program was federally renamed SNAP, short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. However, North Carolina was ahead of the rebranding curve and had already renamed the state’s program Food & Nutrition Services or FNS. Food Stamps, SNAP, and FNS all refer to the same program.
Realizing that many people were unable to take advantage of this program due to transportation or time constraints, many food banks throughout the United States have begun bringing education about SNAP and application assistance directly into communities. For food banks, it’s another way to provide a sustainable end to hunger without increasing the food supply.
In 2011, the Food Bank of CENC’s FNS outreach team, called “Three Squares for CENC,” began outreach in 7 counties and has since expanded to 9 counties. When New Hanover County was selected as an ideal area for outreach, I was hired to develop and implement the FNS outreach program there.
The proximity to the beach was what brought my husband and me to Wilmington. Finding this rewarding yet humbling job was the icing on the cake. Over the past couple of years, I have met hundreds of individuals and families, each with a unique story. By making my own schedule, I am afforded the luxury of time with these applicants, giving me a chance to go beyond paperwork and talk with them about their circumstances, dreams, and goals.
Applying for FNS is more than filling out an application and receiving money for food. It’s a lifestyle change for the person who applies. The stigma associated with food assistance is so great that many families wait until they are in crisis before seeking help. These individuals are “responsible” Americans. Many owned businesses, have worked, and taken part in their version of the American dream, but when their situation took a turn for the worse, it wasn’t until their savings were obliterated that they decided to reach out for help, realizing that there might be no other option.
- Hannah* was referred to me by her hospital social worker. When her social worker called me, she had already been living in the hospital neonatal intensive care unit for a month with her daughter. Having a premature baby is never easy for a parent, but when the mother is two hours away from her nearest family member with no transportation, how else will she purchase food?
- Like many Americans, Michael* had a difficult decision to make. Most of his and his wife’s Social Security checks were going toward her nursing care after her terminal cancer diagnosis. When his car broke down, he took $70 from his already limited food budget to make the repairs. To visit with his wife, he needed his vehicle, so he chose spending time with her over purchasing food for himself. I helped him apply for FNS to give him a few extra food dollars and lessen the occurrence of those difficult and heart-wrenching decisions.
- Milo and Helen* were embarrassed to be asking for food assistance when they used to feed people for a living. The skyrocketing price of real estate in their burgeoning town put their family restaurant out of business after over 80 years. In an attempt to save their restaurant, they had given up their home, cars, and almost everything they owned, forcing them to move in with their daughter – a single mother who was already living paycheck to paycheck to take care of her son. FNS was their last resort.
*All names were changed to protect the privacy of FNS recipients.
Fighting hunger on behalf of these individuals is a private and public partnership. Neither public nor private agencies can solely attend to the entire burden. A strong charitable network needs the support of a federal anti-poverty safety net and vice versa.
As Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera, says, “We can all acknowledge our shared responsibility to help these fellow citizens survive and ultimately create productive lives of dignity. What kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country that turns a cold shoulder to the problem of hunger? If [the SNAP Challenge] taught me anything, it’s that hunger is not a problem of ‘them;’ it’s a problem of ‘us.’”
To learn more about helping those who are hungry, please visit www.foodbankcenc.org.
Cisco contributes more than $500,000 each year to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, largely as a result of employee donations and matching during its annual Global Hunger Relief Campaign. Cisco employees are also highly engaged with the Food Bank on many levels. Last year, they donated more than 2000 volunteer hours, helping to sort food and products, volunteering at events, and providing technical assistance — including expertise in networking and security, VoIP installation and configuration, and web programming.
Emily Kraft has been a Food & Nutrition Services Outreach Coordinator with the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina for two years. She works to bring FNS benefits into New Hanover and Pender Counties, providing a sustainable source of food for many individuals and families.