Hello again this is Lynne, and just to remind you, I recently began a new job developing SNAP outreach efforts to help Minnesota nonprofits combat hunger among older adults. One of the best parts of my work is the opportunity to explore new events and settings for connecting seniors to the resources they need. I am learning that the best conversations about Minnesotans’ daily struggles and the programs that can help often take place where I least expect them.
This year at the State Fair, AARP Minnesota sponsored a day of entertainment in Carousel Park. From early morning through mid-afternoon, this area of the fairgrounds was home to two bands, several carnival games and many AARP volunteers. Children, young men and grandparents competed in a strongman contest just yards away from my SNAP information booth. I expected many people to be drawn into my tent by colorful flyers and giveaways, then quickly distracted by the nearby games. Watching the crowd, I set a goal of engaging two hundred people in a quick trivia game to dispel myths about the SNAP program.
My goal proved to be based on a gross underestimate of our area’s popularity. By noon, we had largely abandoned our trivia game to answer individual questions about eligibility. The trivia sheets I distributed to volunteers were quickly filled with names, phone numbers and scribbled notes from passersby who asked for a personal follow-up or information on volunteer opportunities. Using the back of a flyer, I frantically began tallying the number of people I referred to the Minnesota Food HelpLine for application assistance and benefits questions. When this number reached thirty, I stopped to reflect for a moment.
At first glance, a hot, sunny Saturday at the Great Minnesota Get-Together seemed like an inopportune time to talk about gaining access to healthy food. It quickly became clear to me that for many Minnesotans, this gathering serves as an opportunity to mix learning with fun. Even amidst the state’s largest selection of fried foods on a stick, people were eager to learn about incentives and pilot programs that could help their loved ones stretch their SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets. Several caregivers and a handful of healthcare professionals stopped to inquire about bringing SNAP information sessions into their communities. This event was precisely the environment I envisioned when I realized that conversations about hunger, health and aging need to become part of our daily lives.
One of my coworkers made a comment that described this event and all of our efforts to combat senior hunger in Minnesota perfectly as we cleaned our area of Carousel Park. He said: “This was good, and we can do so much more.” With the help of volunteers, we can harness the concern and the motivation in our communities to make sure all Minnesotans have access to the healthy food they need.
Lynne McMullen is an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the National Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps, a project of New York City Coalition Against Hunger serving with the AARP Foundation at AARP Minnesota. Over the next year, she will be developing SNAP outreach efforts to help Minnesota nonprofits combat hunger among senior citizens and blogging about her experience.