Amid the global upheaval spurred by COVID-19, the Food Bank witnessed a surge in not only the need for food, but also the need for assistance with other critical areas. The Food Bank’s new Life Stabilization team, created in response to this need, is revolutionizing our organization’s approach to assisting those across the three rivers region.
According to Chris West, director of life stabilization at the Food Bank, “[we] have been thinking about life stabilization for a long time, and we’ve done work with health care providers for many years and some with employment [providers], so we’ve kind of dabbled in [providing other services before].”
“When the pandemic hit, we were getting 200 calls a day,” he explains. “A lot of folks were pulled from their regular jobs to answer the phones, and all kinds of different needs were coming up- that just kind of really accelerated everything. A dedicated call center [was established] very soon after the pandemic began.”
Though offering SNAP (food stamp) assistance had already been a service provided by the Food Bank’s staff, the call center is entirely new.
“People didn’t know for the longest time that we helped with SNAP applications, now it seems they know that (due to the pandemic and people really talking about food banks), so we [just] need them to realize they can come to us for resources that are more than food,” says SNAP Application Coordinator Nicole Mizerak.
Members of our local communities can now count on this team’s support when they would like to be directed to career counseling services, emergency food, registration for a drive-up distribution, mental health services, and a range of other necessary avenues to find assistance.
The Life Stabilization team’s necessity illuminates an important realization regarding the work done by food banks: providing direct, supplemental food assistance may not be enough to alleviate food insecurity.
Chris touches on this, “What are some of the root causes of food insecurity and how can we start addressing those to really make sure that we’re providing food to somebody so they’re food-secure today or this week? How can we help ensure that they’re food-secure for years to come? And that takes more than food.
“The clear majority of people have other things on their mind [when they reach out to us for help]- other things that are stressing them out beyond food when they’re talking to us,” he adds.
The team has already submitted 3417 SNAP applications this fiscal year, resulting in over 3 million meals for our neighbors, but they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
“With [the opening of] the new pantry and classroom space, [we’re looking forward to] bringing in info sessions and workshops- things like that really have a life stabilization [angle.] Whether it’s like financial stability or health care options or buying a home.”
Nicole adds, “I would like us to be a one-stop shop. I am hoping that when the pantry opens, people can stop in and talk with us about anything they need help with. Once we establish what it is they are looking for, it would be great if we can have [on-site] classes and [encourage] people to come to the Food Bank and see us a part of their community.”
For more information on this incredible development, visit their website.