SNAP Outreach Pilot Ends Successfully, Tearfully

We interrupt our current article and storytelling series to share the results of our SNAP outreach – both in terms of raw numbers and a heart-wrenching story.

As the month of September drew to a close yesterday, so did our SNAP Outreach pilot project organized by the Food Bank Council of Michigan and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Our final application session held yesterday in Muskegon brought in another 5 individuals who wanted help filling out the online application for Michigan’s Food Assistance Program (FAP).*  By our count, that brings the total number of applications prepared through the efforts of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank to 206, exceeding our goal of submitting 200 applications.

In addition to submitting 206 applications, an unexpected series of events led one of our volunteers to help another individual resume receiving benefits:

I had just finished a disappointing session at one of our community partner sites, where I’d sat for two hours expecting to help someone, anyone apply for food stamps.  No one showed.  As I completed my drive home, I saw a man standing by a highway exit with a cardboard sign reading, “Homeless and Hungry.”  And I thought to myself: I need to stop and see if I can help this man.

I parked my car and walked back to him with one of the backpacks we use to carry our outreach laptops.  I introduced myself and asked if he had considered applying for food stamps.  He asked if I meant the Bridge Card, and when I said yes, he told me that he had one – but he’d lost it.

“Do you know how to get a new one?” he asked. I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t, but I offered to look it up at a nearby restaurant where I could access the internet.  On the way over, we talked.  His name was James.

It turned out that we were supposed to call the same number James uses to find out much money is on his card, the number he knows by heart.  I realized I didn’t have my phone with me, and another customer graciously let us use his phone.

I dialed.  The pre-recorded message started guiding me through the options.  I asked James if he knew his 16 digit card number.  Of course not, he told me; that’s where he always gets stuck.  I entered the prompt to repeat the previous instructions, and discovered we could bypass entering the number and speak to a customer service representative instead.  I was a little worried – it was getting late, and I was afraid one wouldn’t be available.  But we got one!

I passed the phone over to James, and he was able to supply the information necessary to have his old card canceled and a new one issued.  We parted ways with a hug.

After he left, I got in my car and cried, because what had kept James from getting a new card was himself.  I tear up every time I explain to someone that he simply didn’t understand how to navigate the phone system.

*Nationally the program is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), still known colloquially as food stamps.  In Michigan, benefits are delivered electronically on the “Bridge Card.”

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