Date of Defense:
April 20, 2018
Food insecurity is defined as “a household-level economic and social condition in which there are limited or uncertain access to adequate food (Coleman-Jensen et al, 2017).” In Minnesota, approximately one in ten households are affected by hunger (Second Harvest Heartland, 2018a). Medically, this contributes to 1.6 billion spent per year by the State of Minnesota to address the effects of hunger on individuals and families (Second Harvest Heartland, 2018a). At a population level, food insecurity is associated with different health issues for adults, pregnant women, and children (America’s Health Ranking, 2018). Therefore, it is important to bring greater awareness to the negative health effects of food insecurity. My field experience focused on one organization designed to address food insecurity, Second Harvest Heartland (SHH) in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Overview of Experience
SHH works to inform and educate seniors, working families, and others locally about federally funded programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP). SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities (Disability Benefits 101, 2018). SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net (Disability Benefits 101, 2018). My responsibilities focused on being an advocate for SNAP by 1) speaking with clients about SNAP and other relevant assistance programs, 2) prescreening clients who showed interest in SNAP, 3) prescreening interested clients for public assistance programs; and 4) providing materials and information to clients in effort to increase their knowledge and future utilization of SNAP and other resource in their community such as food banks. In addition, my responsibilities included assisting with client follow-up and making calls to ensure client’s application and interviews were complete along with providing feedback to SHH as to the needs of the community.
Learning objectives were vital in ensuring the completion of the field experience. The field experience addressed learning objectives such as 1) making concrete, positive changes in food insecurity in households in Minnesota; 2) becoming a knowledgeable advocate for SNAP and other social assistance programs; 3) increasing personal comfort and confidence with direct service to diverse and low-income populations; 4) learning to work independently while serving as an integral role within a broader team, and 5) gaining exposure to the inner workings of non-profit organization and developing a range of outreach skills. These learning objectives were successfully completed.
SHH, which was created in 2001, is one of the biggest (more than 90,000 square feet), most efficient, and innovative hunger relief non-profit organizations nationally (Second Harvest Heartland, 2018b). With a mission of “ending hunger through community partnerships”, a major goal of SHH is to fight under hunger locally (Second Harvest Heartland, 2018b). SSH collects; stores and distributes millions of food each year to low income families. They also advocate for programs and policies that support families. To accomplish their goal of fighting hunger locally, SSH works closely with nearly 1,000 partnering food shelves, food pantries and other meal programs, schools, hospitals, clinics, and other organizations (Second Harvest Heartland, 2018b). SHH also works with organizations in the community to raise awareness about the availability of SNAP benefits, including providing information for distribution to clients; assisting with SNAP screening and SNAP applications (with bilingual assistance); and post-application follow-up with counties (Second Harvest Heartland, 2018b). Therefore, as part of my field experience, I assisted with these activities by serving as a SNAP outreach intern at various food shelves.
From this internship, there were many lessons learned, both personal and professional. Personally, the field experience allowed me to enhance my time management and organization skills. I have learned to overcome challenges in talking to multiple clients, simultaneously, and delivering resources to clients effectively. I have also learned how to better engage a wide and diverse audience. As result of this experience, I have gained the skills in working with and having a sensitivity towards culturally and financially diverse communities. There were instances where clients did not speak English, and so, I improvised utilizing various methods such as body language to talk about food resources. As result, I have gained skills in interpersonal communication and utilizing different methods in presenting information based on client’s background.
- Remove potential barriers to accessing healthy foods at food shelves. At the food shelves I interned at, I noticed despite the promotion of access to food, there were limitations placed on clients such as household size and number of times in a month a client can receive food. To improve this process, it is vital to increase the number of times a client can shop at a food shelve and/or increase the number of items they can purchase. Therefore, reducing the likelihood of food insecurity when clients are faced with hunger when the food runs out.
- Increase awareness of SNAP and streamline the process of applying to SNAP. In working with clients, I observed various misconceptions regarding SNAP. Many of these are derived from stigma associated with the former name of the program, “food stamps,” or not meeting the income guidelines based on employment. In addition, the process of applying for SNAP confused many clients as they had many questions while speaking with them about SNAP at the food shelves. Serving as a SNAP outreach intern, I have helped alleviate some of these misconceptions and talked to clients directly about what the program is intended for and how it can help them and their family. Therefore, to reduce these misconceptions, it is vital that interns continue outreach activities at food shelves.
- Re-evaluate restrictions on what SNAP participants can purchase & making healthy foods more affordable. Studies have shown an association between poor mental health and utilization of SNAP. Consumers who utilize SNAP have been shown to be at risk for obesity and increased weight gain due to purchasing unhealthy foods (Capparo et al, 2014). There has been a national discussion centered on limiting consumer’s power in purchasing unhealthy food items and instead advocating for healthier choices such as fruits and vegetables (Leung et al, 2012). However, on the other side, others are advocating for the need to consider client’s background (Leung et al, 2012). Fruits and vegetables can be costly for low income families and instead of purchasing these produce, they might consider buying foods that costs less, which often are unhealthy (Leung et al, 2012). To overcome this, recently, SNAP has been rewarding program beneficiaries who are engaging in healthy habits with extra dollars based on how much they spent on healthy foods (United States Department of Agriculture, 2014). Therefore, clients can use the extra dollars to purchase more healthier foods.
In conclusion, food insecurity is a reality for many Minnesotans. Second Harvest Heartland (SHH) with its mission and focus has addressed this issue utilizing food distribution, programs, and initiatives, and raising awareness of programs such as SNAP. To increase use of programs like SNAP, several recommendations have been provided. They include:1) Removing potential barriers to accessing healthy foods at food shelves, 2) Increasing awareness of SNAP and streamline the process of applying to SNAP; 3) Re-evaluating restrictions on what SNAP participants can purchase and making healthy foods more affordable.
Coleman-Jensen, A; Gregory, C; Rabbitt, M. (2017). Definitions of Food Security. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx
Second Harvest Heartland. (2018). Hunger Facts, Hunger Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.2harvest.org/our-impact/hunger-facts/
America’s Health Rankings. (2018a). Food Insecurity-Households. Retrieved from: https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/2016-health-of-women-and-children-report/measure/food_insecurity_household/state/MN
Disability Benefits 101. (2018). SNAP: The Details. Retrieved from: https://mn.db101.org/mn/programs/income_support/food_support/program2.htm
Second Harvest Heartland. (2018b). Who We Are. Retrieved from: http://www.2harvest.org/about_us/#.WqmaFGbMwdU
Chaparro, M; Harrison, G; Pebley, A; Wang, M. (2014). The Relationship Between Obesity and Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Is Mental Health a Mediator? Retrieved from:https://www-tandfonline-com.ezp3.lib.umn.edu/doi/full/10.1080/19320248.2014.962780?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Leung, C; Ding, E.; Catalano, P; Villamor, E; Rimm, E; Willett, W. (2012). Dietary Intake and Dietary Quality of Low-Income Adults in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3471209/
United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). Evaluation of The Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) Final Report-Summary. Retrieved from https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/HIP-Final-Summary.pdf