These past few weeks, we have been doing a lot with SNAP Outreach: leading trainings, developing some sort of a follow-up plan, having to reschedule some trainings due to low attendance, and calling around to other SNAP Outreaches in other states to get some ideas. SNAP Outreach is quite new to Arkansas. Because of its newness of the program, we are still having to wrap our brains around how best to implement the program.
I want to put a disclaimer on this post: this is my opinion. I'm not saying that my site is not doing the best to implement a great program but these are some thoughts that are going through my head. Again I repeat these are my thoughts in my head and not a reflection about how I feel about my site.
With that said: When we do our trainings, we basically teach them about the online and paper applications and we leave it at that. Now we are developing a follow-up plan where we are going to try to help them in anyway possible to get started. After they get a good start with SNAP Outreach we hope to assist them with the progress of their SNAP Outreach program. But what I hope to see in the future is that these hunger relief agencies move from just assisting with filling out applications and do both application assistance and education.
When I speak of education I mostly mean nutrition and budget education. Even if you are not into health studies, you know of the childhood obesity epeidemic that is sweeping across the United States. Studies are showing that the rise in childhood obesity is due to decrease in physical activity, the increase in fatty and sugary foods and the lack of vegetables and fruits in a child's diet. I bring this up to say when the parents get these benefits they should have information about the right foods they should buy to be sure that their child has the most nutritious meals possible. A part of this program is not to only make sure that children are eating but eating nutritious foods. If a parent takes their benefits to the store and buy already prepared meals, high calorie snacks, and little to no produce, it seems the child is still starving; now they are starving nutritionally.
This leads to my next point. We live in a generation where cooking has turned into a "hobby." Young women are no longer in the kitchen with their mothers learning the fundamentals of cooking. Because of this we have a lot of younger mothers who do not know how to cook from scratch or how to prepare fresh produce. These mothers instead buy already prepared meals that are high in calories, sodium, and full of preservatives. They also shy away from fresh produce because of a lack of knowledge on how to prepare them. As much as I love to cook there are only a few vegetables that I know how to prep and cook (I stick to frozen or canned vegetables). If these mothers had access to a cooking class that concentrated on preparing fresh produce I would like to say that more mothers would not be intimidated to buy produce.
From our knowledge about SNAP benefits, we know that these benefits are not to cover the whole grocery budget. But if we are being realistic about this whole thing, a great deal of those on benefits are having to use their benefits for the whole grocery budget because of an insufficient amount of funds. Having some sort of budget class could help the families that are having to depend heavily on their SNAP benefits make their benefits go far. This class needs to help them make those benefits stretch: how to use unit pricing, what is a deal and what is not, how to use coupons efficiently, etc.
As I stated earlier, SNAP Outreach is new to Arkansas. We (VISTAs) are learning just as much as our food pantries. Right now our main goal is to get the food pantries learn about the application so they can help their clients. But as soon as we get the application assistance down, I hope they could consider creating education classes to go with application assistance. The way I see it, helping them get the benefits is only half the answer to the solution.