Cooperative Extension Program Helps With Food Insecurity
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Hunger affects every community in North Carolina. Within Alexander County, 14% of the total population suffer from food insecurity (County Health Rankings). Food Insecurity can be defined in two ways, low food security indicates reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet; little or no indication of reduced food intake. Very low food security is defined as reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake (USDA). Children and older adults have the greatest risk of being hungry. When people lack access to adequate and healthy foods, their health and well-being suffers. Children are unable to concentrate on learning, mental clarity is reduced, and people of all ages are more likely to be sick. Food insecurity can be worsened by other social factors including education level, low financial security, and insufficient access to housing, and healthcare.
There are several programs that help people access food. The largest federal program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly Food Stamps). In North Carolina the program is called Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) and operates through the Department of Health and Human Services. SNAP benefits are accepted at grocery stores, convenience stores, select Farmers’ Markets, discount stores, and some membership warehouses.
Large local retailers have begun accepting the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT card) online. Some of the larger retailers include Aldi, Amazon, BJ’s, Carlie C’s, Food Lion, Publix, and Walmart.
Many households depend on the SNAP monthly food supplement to help expand their grocery budget and purchase healthier foods. N.C. Cooperative Extension of Alexander County offers a program called More In My Basket (MIMB), which provides education about the SNAP/FNS program. Through More In My Basket, participants learn if they are likely eligible for SNAP/FNS, how SNAP/FNS can expand their food budget, and receive individualized assistance with completing an application. MIMB strives to reach people who may benefit from SNAP through increasing SNAP information dissemination via social media, websites, newsletters, newspapers, radio, and other online platforms.
More In My Basket was developed at North Carolina State University by Dr. Carolyn Bird, Professor and Family Resource Management Specialist. “People with limited resources must make tough decisions about how to spend their money. With the pandemic, formerly food-secure families are struggling to meet their nutrition needs. They may forego medical care to put food on the table. They may skip meals to pay utility bills. Through More In My Basket, we help connect more people to SNAP/FNS, allowing them to better manage their financial resources. FNS is not only good for families, but it helps the community as well. Research shows that for every $5 of FNS spent, there is a $9 impact in the community.”
MIMB staff reach the community to screen for SNAP eligibility, assist with SNAP application completion, and bridge the gap between community and local Department of Social Services. Assistance is provided through private, individual phone conversations. For more information on More in My Baskets, their programs, and how MIMB can help, feel free to contact Der Holcomb at 828-632-3125. If you would like to find out if you may be eligible for FNS, contact the MIMB Information Line at (919) 515-9568.