Most know Be Mighty to be a meal distribution program. While this has been our focus, we are also expanding our capacity to facilitate nutrition education courses, and conduct food security screenings and referrals. Thanks to the help of our summer Associates, we have taken a big leap forward in our goals to provide greater access to not only food, but also broader food resources.
There is no denying that these have been difficult times. When the world fell into the pandemic, we fell into a lot of uncertainty. Many also fell deeper into poverty. Hunger was always a problem before the pandemic, but we saw it more broadly when the pandemic hit. With support from the National Recreation & Park Association’s Nutrition Hub grant, we have conducted hundreds of food security screenings and referrals so far this summer. These screenings measure food insecurity and based on the responses, we can point individuals to key resources they may not already be accessing, such as SNAP. You can access the questions here: https://bemightylittlerock.org/food-survey-resource-referral/
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps, is the greatest resource available to Americans experiencing food insecurity. It is a voucher program providing nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget for families and individuals in need so they can purchase healthy foods and move towards self-sufficiency.
It became clear during the pandemic how close the average American could be to teetering between food secure and insecure. It only takes one major shift to really throw things off. One medical emergency, one car engine needing to be replaced unexpectedly, and the list goes on. Most don’t stay on SNAP for long, but it alleviates hardship to some degree while they return to complete self-sufficiency. This social safety net is key to ensuring hunger is eradicated throughout our community.
SNAP gives folks the freedom to make their own food decisions. You can even use your SNAP benefits at a local farmer’s market! Many are enrolled in the Double Up Food Bucks program, allowing SNAP recipients to double their dollars at the market. Utilization of federal SNAP dollars puts money back into local businesses and corporations. In 2009, it was recorded that every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generated an estimated $1.79-$1.84 in economic activity (https://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/the-real-benefits-of-the-snap-program/). According to the USDA, SNAP participation for 6 months was associated with a 5 to 10 percent decrease in food insecurity, including households with food insecure children.
First, our Associates were trained as SNAP navigators. Bobbi McDaniel with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance walked us through the application, answering common questions or concerns that may arise during the application process. After all, the application process is extensive. Many would even say that the application process itself is even a barrier to folks who may need the assistance. Once our Associates became familiar with the application process, we also wanted to familiarize them with an average week as someone who receives SNAP benefits. The Food Research & Action Center developed a SNAP Challenge. This challenge helps to educate the public and leaders about the important role SNAP plays in mitigating hunger and poverty.
Here is what 2 of our Associates wrote about their experiences while participating in the SNAP Challenge:
Ashley Nguyen (Summer AmeriCorps VISTA Associate – Dee Brown Library)
The challenge of spending only $20 dollars on groceries for the week seemed daunting even before the week began. This was less than half my usual budget; I spent a few days planning and preparing myself for the week. I used the grocery store apps to find prices and figure out my game plan which made things a little easier when going shopping. At the end of the shopping trip, my groceries consisted of lots of carbs. I went into the first day of the challenge with a good attitude and high energy; I was able to stay within budget and felt hopeful about the next few days. This positive attitude began to fade when my exhaustion due to a rapid swap in food choices began to creep up on me. I felt more irritable and grew tired of eating the same meals every day. By the fourth day, I was ready to call quits and I did. The experience opened my eyes to the struggles many people go through; the most concerning part was how little variety in produce I could have with my budget. Food choices are limited when you don’t have the means to pay for good nutrient dense food and unfortunately, this is the reality for many Americans.
Jamee McAdoo (Summer AmeriCorps VISTA Associate – Children’s Library)
After just the first day of participating in the SNAP Challenge of $4 a day/$20 a work week, I instantly saw how difficult it would be to eat off $4 a day!
Having to plan ahead, count dollars, and make sure I wasn’t overspending. Overall, I did cut out some snacks, and I tried to eat out less, but I mainly ate this week as I usually do, and I still ended up spending nearly $50!
SNAP is a great resource and initiative to support individuals in need of a little assistance; however, even with this aid, most still struggle.
I see that it is a privilege to not feel stuck or limited in food options. The pressure of saving money adds so much stress that things like health and nutritional value oftentimes can’t be a priority.
I encourage everyone to spend a week really observing and calculating how much money is spent on food. Look at the different food choices you’d make with only $20 to spend for that week on meals and put yourself in the shoes of someone forced to live more frugal.
If you, or someone you know, needs assistance with their SNAP application, the address for a foodbank or food pantry in their area, and more, you can visit our Associates during their SNAP office hours until the beginning of August. Their hours are listed below.
Children’s Library & Learning Center: Monday and Tuesday 1:30-2:30pm
Dee Brown Library: Mondays 1:00-3:00pm
Main Library: Wednesdays 9:30-10:30am
McMath Library: Tuesdays 1:00-3:00pm
You can also contact the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance SNAP Hotline at: 1-833-SNAP-ARK (1-833-762-7275). The hotline is staffed Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 3p.m. Get answers to SNAP questions and help with your application.
Linked below are a number of useful documents from the NRPA:
Using SNAP/WIC benefits at the Farmers Market
SNAP Eligibility Checklist for Families
SNAP Enrollment Documentation Checklist
WIC Eligibility Checklist for Families