Photo of a woman writing out a recipe card on a table with a bowl of rice and stir fried vegetables.

My journey applying for and obtaining 3SquaresVT was not easy. The initial application took me about two hours to complete. I have a lot of experience navigating complex tasks and applications, yet I found this application to be particularly confusing and long. I then had to call the Economic Services Division (ESD) interview phone line and complete the required interview which took me about three hours waiting on hold. Once I had completed the interview, I had to provide a number of verification documents before I could be approved. For my specific case, ESD required proof of enrollment at UVM as well as proof that I was meeting the 20hr/week work requirement.

After submitting the required paperwork and waiting weeks for a decision, I was denied benefits, for the simple fact that ESD could not understand my differing pay rates. This required me to start back at the beginning by reapplying and going through the interview process once again. After three months of persistent self-advocacy, I was finally approved.

As a graduate student who is struggling financially, I was relieved. But as a future nutrition professional I was frustrated and disappointed. I couldn’t help but think—if applying for 3SquaresVT was challenging for me, this process must be challenging for: the single parent who doesn’t have time to wait on hold for three hours, or the person whose first language isn’t English, or the person who doesn’t have the same privileges as I do to pursue a higher education, or the person who hasn’t been taught how to self-advocate and that they deserve help! 3SquaresVT was designed to support people through financial hardship, however, the stress of obtaining benefits might turn people away.

Although my experience applying for 3SquaresVT and obtaining it was not easy, it did spark a passion for food access education I hadn’t had before. Nutrition professionals are taught in school to provide resources for government assistance programs when counseling people who may be facing food insecurity. However, we are not taught how difficult it might be to obtain benefits or how the process really works. Going through the process myself has given me a level of compassion and empathy for clients that I had not experienced before.

I encourage nutrition professionals to dig deeper into the resources they recommend and provide additional help to clients who might be interested in starting the 3SquaresVT application process. After all, advocating for clients is within a nutrition professional’s scope of practice. I encourage them to deepen their own understanding of the application process by connecting with a resource specialist at the Vermont Foodbank to learn more about the 3SquaresVT application process and the benefits that they regularly recommend to clients. Not only will learning more about the 3SquaresVT application process deepen one’s own personal understanding of the barriers to government assistance, but it will also foster a deeper connection with clients, leading to better health and client care.

Vermont Foodbank offers one-on-one application assistance for 3SquaresVT, for anyone interested in applying for 3SquaresVT. The Foodbank’s 3SquaresVT team can provide personalized support through the entire application process, from translation services to suggesting the best times of day to call ESD (to avoid long hold times), screening for eligibility, answering questions, and helping submit verification documents. If you, or someone you know, is seeking assistance, you can click here to contact a resource specialist. Or, call (855) 855-6181, text VFBSNAP to 85511, or email 3svt@vtfoodbank.org. The 3SquaresVT application process is complicated…but you don’t have to do it alone!