Michael Ginder, the Community Resources Manager, took me out of the Penn bubble and introduced me to the entire city of Philadelphia. I learned that within Philly, one in four are at risk for hunger and that about 180,000 people in the city alone qualify for SNAP benefits but do not receive them.
That number, 180,000 was why I was there. Over the next few weeks I will complete my training to become a SNAP hotline operator and join the Coalition Against Hunger in one of their main missions, to assist people with the SNAP application process.
For those unfamiliar with SNAP, it stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and it is a federally funded program dedicated to alleviating hunger. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase cold foods and items like coffee, spices, and seeds in order to grow one’s own food. For an individual that qualifies, the minimum amount of benefits is $16 per month and the maximum amount is $194 per month (Coalition Against Hunger). For each additional member in the household, the maximum extra amount of benefits received is $146.
As I heard these amounts, I started doing some mental math, “146, is almost 150, then divide that by 30 days in a month, leaves you with, $5 per day.” I could easily spend that amount of money just on coffee and a snack, not even a full meal.
This is when Michael spoke to the other types of calls that I would be learning how to handle, people looking for food pantries in their area. He explained the monthly routine. During the first two weeks of the month, most calls will be about applying for benefits or questions about benefits received. However, in the latter half of the month, when most have gone through their benefits, people will call for information about nearby pantries and soup kitchens. Run by volunteers, these pantries often vary in the days and hours during which they are open, the demographic they will serve, and possible requirements the recipient will need to provide (such as a referral).
As I concluded my first meeting with Michael and left the Coalition, I realized that it would take the whole community, not just a staff of 12, to fully eradicate hunger from Philadelphia. It would require creative solutions that would both support current efforts and fill in the gaps left by this monthly cycle.
So first and foremost, just as I was that day, we must all be introduced to the statistics, to reality.