Hi again. It’s Lynne, and I am settling into my AmeriCorps VISTA assignment doing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Outreach with AARP Foundation.
Earlier this fall, I joined the AARP Minnesota staff for a service project. Since my work has helped my colleagues learn about hunger among Minnesotans aged 50 and older, we decided to focus AARP’s annual Day of Service on providing healthy food to individuals in need. Since promoting SNAP as a tool to maintain a nutritious diet is something I do every day, I was aware of many projects like this one and their high success rates. However, the opportunity to see people’s joy at receiving fresh produce firsthand was still a strong source of encouragement.
Second Harvest Heartland operates a Food Rescue program to distribute grocery stores’ imperfect produce to food shelves. By volunteering at a Salvation Army food shelf for one morning, our team was able to sort and distribute over 100 boxes of fresh food that would have otherwise gone to waste. We were joined by two Salvation Army staff members, and a Second Harvest Heartland volunteer who was providing application assistance for anyone who wanted to enroll in the SNAP program. This initiative is a great example of fulfilling people’s immediate needs while reducing food waste and helping families connect with the resources to make ends meet.
For me, the impact of this project has stretched well beyond a single morning of sorting and distributing fruit and vegetables. Hearing the excited comments of both children and adults saying things like: “Wow, they have mangoes,” or “Can I take two zucchini?” validated my hope of integrating SNAP outreach with programs that help older Minnesotans obtain and prepare healthy, fresh food. Through further research, I learned that the Minnesota Department of Human Services has extended its SNAP Plus program due to high demand. This pilot project has provided SNAP recipients in three areas of Minnesota with incentives to purchase healthy food with their benefits. From now through December 31st, 2013 customers at three local grocery stores can earn coupons for each $5 in SNAP benefits they spend on fresh fruit and vegetables.
The success of this program and the enthusiasm of SNAP recipients I have encountered at my local farmers’ market demonstrate the importance of providing struggling individuals and families with opportunities to learn about nutrition and food preparation as they apply for the public benefits that may help them afford groceries. Longstanding initiatives, such as the education programs offered through the University of Minnesota Extension Services are reaching a great number of Minnesotans. All of these projects offer a great resource to struggling individuals and their broader communities.
As an advocate for Minnesotans 50+, it is my challenge to make sure older individuals have the same access to each of these fantastic resources as their younger friends, neighbors and relatives. I hope you will join me in working to improve access to nutritious food options for those who may be homebound, struggling to cook or otherwise prevented from maintaining balanced diets. For more information about any of the programs I have mentioned, or opportunities to get involved with SNAP Outreach, please contact me.