Today’s blog is written by Rachel Floyd, Vermont Foodbank 3SquaresVT Outreach Coordinator – AmeriCorps/VISTA Volunteer. Rachel
shared this story with us about her work helping Vermonters all over the state, apply for 3SquaresVT, a federal nutrition program and the first defense against hunger.
For those of you who might not know what I do for work, I wanted to share with you a quick story. I love my job and feel privileged to do the work that I do. I was incredibly humbled by an experience I had last week and wanted to share that with all of you. In honor of Thanksgiving this week, I implore you to read this.
I am a SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the Vermont Foodbank. This means I provide application assistance to folks in Vermont who qualify for food benefits through the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps. The paper application is 18 pages long and can be confusing, especially for senior citizens. Like most of the people I help, the woman I want to tell you about is one of those senior citizens. I’ll call her Mary.
Last week I met Mary at a food pantry as she was waiting in line for groceries. I asked her if she was receiving food benefits or if she needed help applying. She answered in a tone of desperation, “I need help with everything! I just moved here and I’m scared. I don’t know what to do.”
Mary told me more about her situation and revealed to me that she has an intellectual disability. It makes it nearly impossible for her to read. I knew that it would be even more difficult for her to access food benefits, so rather than helping her fill out an application and let her do the rest, I drove over an hour to her house to take copies of the pile of documents I knew the state would ask her to submit. When I arrived, she ushered me into her tiny apartment, apologizing for the mess. She invited me to sit and then started to reveal her story.
Mary was in her sixties and had just moved to Vermont to be near family. She was starting over after her spouse of over thirty years left her for someone else. She has a physical disability with significant chronic medical issues in addition to her intellectual disability. Her move across state lines left her stressed out about finding new health care providers, federal benefits, and trying to figure out how to pay her mountain of medical debt. She worried about paying for rent and was scared that she wouldn’t be able to heat her house (VERY expensive in Vermont.)
I could see the toll that life’s circumstances had taken on Mary just from her facial expression. As I spent a full two hours filling out her paperwork, going over every hospital record and each individual prescription, she revealed an unbroken spirit despite significant hardships. She spoke openly of her faith that got her through, knowing that God would take care of her as he always had. I inquired if she had found a new church since moving to the area, hoping perhaps that they could also provide her with resources. “This is my church” she said, referring to the small living room where we sat. She pointed to her Bible. “I’ve got my book right there; it’s everything I need. I can’t go to regular church because of the people and my anxiety. But I know God is here.”
One of the best aspects of my job is that I can add human elements of kindness, patience, and empathy to the process of applying for food benefits through SNAP, which can be incredibly uncomfortable. When she said she had just moved to Vermont and worried about being able to afford the high cost of living, I was able to say “I know exactly how you feel.” And as someone who has also gone through the SNAP application process myself, I know how uncomfortable, confusing and embarrassing it can be. In my interactions with this woman, I could tell that Mary was appreciative of the WAY I helped her, not just that I could help her.
By the time I’d gotten all the information I needed, afternoon had turned to evening. I was about to leave when Mary asked if I’d care for a bottle of water for the trip home. I said yes. She returned from the kitchen holding a granola bar, an apple, and the water bottle. She shoved the food in my hands as we walked out the door. She insisted on walking me out to my car. On the way out, Mary asked to make sure I had a place to go for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. She assured me that if I didn’t, I was more than welcome to come back to her town and eat with her and a friend of hers.
I did have somewhere to celebrate Thanksgiving, and I was grateful to hear that she did too. On my drive home, I considered the impact and implications. I was able to provide a very personalized and impactful service to someone to reduce their food insecurity hopefully for the long term. It took about 5 hours including drive time, but because I had the opportunity to build a relationship with this person, she might be able to get a monthly food benefits so that she can eat. That is an important impact. However, I would say that the more significant impact is the fact that I met this woman at a food pantry because she was food insecure. I then helped her apply for food benefits because she was food insecure. But she did not give me an apple and a granola bar out of that food insecurity. I believe Mary shared her food with me out of her perceived abundance, her faith, her gratefulness, and because of the connection we shared.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”