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Today I tagged along to a site visit with my coworker. I visited a center where homeless or at-risk youth can 'drop-in' for resources, information and referral, to use a computer, for counseling, independent living skills, to get out of the cold, to eat a warm meal, or to just generally hang out. As soon as I walked in I was immediately impressed and excited to be there. The very spacious room was filled with mismatched and oversized couches, pool tables, computers, tvs with game systems and the walls were painted with half-finished youth art projects where kids were clearly encouraged to be creative. The center had a kitchen and a food pantry so youth could cook a meal for themselves if they needed or receive help in filling out a job application or writing out a resume. It looked exactly like the place where youth would want to hang out.

I met with the two ladies that oversee the project and their dedication and passion were nearly unmatchable. It was truly impressive how much work they did and what impact they were making on people's lives. One question we had to ask (since we supply the food) was if they charge for their meals or food. It's against our policy. The food is meant to be given to those that cannot afford to eat and thus, no charge should be made. The ladies answered honestly that they never charge for meals and that anyone can come in and take the food if they need it. They did say it was a pretty common scenario where a youth would want to contribute or give back in some way, so often, they donate a DVD or a video game or something that they have because it means that much to them.

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This is why I love my job.

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Last week I traveled to a tiny town in remote North Dakota. The average income for the county is $17,000. To say impoverished is a bit of an understatement. We drove up with a semitruck full of boxes of food for people to take if they were in need. I met an old-time pastor who ran five different churches in the community. His accent quickly gaveway that he was originally from Boston and as he told us his story, his past unfolded. He worked in the ghettos of New York and in the poor towns of Chicago.. and now here he is, in North Dakota, learning a new culture all over again. He talked about learning Native American customs and incorporating them into his preaching practices to honor and respect the individuals. He talked about bridging gaps and respecting others and the prejudices that he often encounters. He rambled on about things that mattered and it was heart-breaking and spirit-lifting all at once and I imagine he encounters both in day-to-day life.

After we handed out food, I sat around with the volunteers of the church who all expressed interest in setting up a regular food pantry. Here are the women who poured so much into their community. They laughed as they confessed we were really looking at about 10 different organizations since each one of them represented several groups, The Kiwanas, the Auxiliary, the Bank Foundation, etc. etc. These women were poor. These women often were in need of food assistance themselves and they told us that this is just life in their town. We were overwhelmed with volunteers that day. People were ready to load boxes, serve us hot chocolate and goodies, and do what needed to be done. They weren't afraid of hardwork or giving back to the community. It was completely touching.

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When I tell people that I work with food stamps outreach, I can often see that glint of prejudice behind their eyes. Some will go so far as to tell me that horrible people will take horrible advantage of such a system. Don't I know that people SELL foodstamps for drugs and alcohol? Don't I know that it only encourages government handouts and people to rely on anything but themselves?

That was the attitude I was raised on. My mother was attending college while working and raising two kids. We were poor. We received a food basket from the church one year and my mother actually turned around and gave it right back! We would have easily qualified for welfare. One year our community built a house through Habitat for Humanity and I helped in construction (as much as a 12 year old can!). My mother told me, not out of spite, but out of humility, that the family that received that home made more money than we did. She was trying to help us understand that you had to work hard to make it and I appreciate the work ethic she instilled in us. My mom really scrimped and saved and made it through, but certainly not without help. We lived with my grandparents for two years and though it must've been a blow to my mother's pride (especially now that I understand what her parents DID to her), we were able to make it through because of them.

I understand that even though my mom worked hard and pushed through it, in some ways we were still really lucky. There are others who do work just as hard and still cannot afford to put food on their tables. Mom wouldn't have been able to do it for us without my grandparents.

And yes, yes, yes, there will always be lazy people who take the handout and abuse the system and rely on assistance and don't go for it themselves.. and yes, yes, yes, I have only been at this job for three weeks so certainly there is a lot more to see and experience and witness But what I like is that food stamps helps people eat which is a basic necessity of life. And it doesn't cover everything, it isn't meant to. It's to help assist through some difficult times. It definitely helps those who are recently unemployed as is happening all over the country. And especially for a state whose highest income revenue is through food, it helps the economy. For every $5 spent on food stamps, $9.20 is generated in community spending.

And the program does encourage working, in fact, it mandates it. If a person is able to work, they must work. If they are unemployed they must look for work, take a job offer, or go on to further training.

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So that's what I do. I'll travel around to pantries and drop-in homeless shelters and churches and centers. I will talk to people about food stamps: what it is, what it isn't, clear up misconceptions and help people determine if they're eligible or not. If they need assistance applying for the program, then I will help them apply.

Every state is mandated to have a food stamps outreach plan because the percentage of people who receive benefits out of the total that are eligible is relatively low. The government has already set aside money for the funds and essentially that money is 'wasted' and not poured back into the economy and local communities as planned. (That and people who could be receiving better quality food, aren't, but the government cares more about numbers, let's face it). My state plan is basically ME. It didn't have one so the Great Plains Food Bank (the only food bank in the state) wrote a plan and a grant and shared the cost so I can come on board to do this.

Oh, and I haven't even started talking up the Great Plains Food Bank which is one of the most efficiently run food banks in the US!

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So that's my job in a nutshell. <3

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
pangie
Mar. 17th, 2010 12:03 am (UTC)
For every $5 spent on food stamps, $9.20 is generated in community spending.

Can you explain this more?
belovedwarrior
Mar. 17th, 2010 04:30 am (UTC)
I can try, but I am the first to admit that economic studies are mostly lost on me, It's a good question and if I don't fully explain to your liking, I'll ask my boss (or bring it at the SNAP training so I can better understand). After all, I'm supposed to be the expert on this but of course I'm still learning.

It's a trickle effect. The money is spent on tangible goods in local communities (grocery stores, farmers markets, etc) which then help those businesses. According to the USDA: "By generating business at local grocery stores, new food stamp benefits trigger labor and production demand, ultimately increasing household income and triggering additional spending."

Also, the more people spend on groceries, the greater the demand which helps agricultural states like ND even more! :)

You give people more spending power which helps boost the economy. As far as the exact numbers are considered, that was a study done by the USDA and I don't have the details on the study. I have a ridiculous amount of research on ND in the office if you're interested, but that number is from the USDA as a whole.

Here's another interesting tidbit from the USDA: "The national participation rate for fiscal year 2007 was 66 percent. If the national participation rate rose just five percentage points, 1.9 million more low-income people would have an additional $978 million in benefits per year to use to purchase healthy food and $1.8 billion total in new economic activity would be generated nationwide."

Oh! I found the study here: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/fanrr26/fanrr26-6/fanrr26-6.pdf I am too tired to read it now but I'll put it on my todo list tomorrow at work! :)


pangie
Mar. 17th, 2010 07:24 am (UTC)
I am too tired to read it now but I'll put it on my todo list tomorrow Ditto for your post. Find me on IM tomorrow. :)
ergoterraluna
Mar. 17th, 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
that's kind of rocking. not going to lie -- what a great job to have!
(Anonymous)
Mar. 23rd, 2010 01:11 am (UTC)
:)
I think you're job is fantastic. After working at a grocery store for years, I've got to say that I really love those programs in the end. Especially WIC. Seriously. I think you're doing fantastic things to help people get back up on their feet at a time when they need it the most.

Cheers! :D
rizmakeup
Mar. 23rd, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
Re: :)
Did not mean to make that anonymous. Twas me.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
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all the best

Jim
mme_n_b
Oct. 14th, 2015 03:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )