PITTSBURG — Area agencies and residents from several southeast Kansas counties gathered “at the table” on Thursday for the Kansas Appleseed’s Hunger Action Summit.
Kansas Appleseed is an organization that advocates for Kansans who “need advocating for the most,” said Caleb Smith, Southeast Kansas Campaign Director for the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “We advocate for people who are dealing with food insecurity, dealing with foster care kids who can’t afford things like a lobbyists or an advocate or lawyer. We are just making sure that all Kansans are treated fairly and have an opportunity to thrive.”
The group did an overview of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the summit. The organization explained what food assistance is, and shared what an average person on food assistance “looks like”, along with what changes might be coming to some SNAP holders in April. They also shared the “falsehoods and assumptions” of people who are on SNAP. For example, Smith said, “a lot of people think that if you’re on food assistance you’re not working,” adding that 84 percent of Kansans who receive food assistance have “worked and are working.”
According to Kansas Appleseed, the percent of households in Crawford County who receive SNAP is 12.7 percent, in Allen County 12.5 percent and 12.9 percent of households in Cherokee County.
They also held a panel discussion with “hunger experts” where area organizations and guests could chime in on topics relating to food assistance, such as barriers and problems with food insecurity in southeast Kansas.
“We feel like there is just a lot of Kansans out there who essentially qualify for things like food assistance and there’s a lot of Kansans who we feel are interested in doing things like voting but for whatever reason they sort of have fallen through the gaps a little bit,” Smith said. “They may need a little help filling out the forms or just knowing that food assistance is available, and maybe something that would make a difference in their lives while they are moving toward not needing assistance anymore.”
After meeting with representatives area agencies and organizations — including Wesley House Executive Director and Pastor Marcee Binder and Live Well Crawford County’s Eat Well Food Policy Council Chair Matt O’Malley — decided to find a way to train people connected to their organization to create a snap outreach. Their trained staff and volunteers would be able to help people fill out the 28 page SNAP forms, which Binder and O’Malley said they found out that people can be assisted with filling out the forms outside the DCF office.
Both O’Malley and Binder said the outreach will help the people who may not have access to the only DCF office in Crawford County.
Through Live Well Crawford County, which received a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation as part of the Healthy Communities Initiative to improve health equity in Kansas, Arma was provided a community liaison, O’Malley. With his guidance the Arma Nutrition Council was created, led by a handful of Arma residents including Arma Library Director Brenda Banks, who was also at the Hunger Summit. O’Malley said people who need assistance with their SNAP applications could receive help from the trained council members.
“We know that the northeast corner of Crawford County experiences high poverty rates,” O’Malley said, “We would like to remove the barrier — that they don’t need to go to the DCF office in Pittsburg to apply.”
Along with discussing SNAP other ways agencies are helping people who need food assistance shared about their “food systems.” These include, mobilizing access to resources, backpack programs at schools, students’ access to food during school breaks, The Lord’s Diner and food pantries.
Binder said she feels “hopeful” because many people and agencies were at the meeting, listening in and providing information on ways to help the community.
“I feel hopeful, the fact that we had a representative from the Crawford County Commissioner, Jeremy Johnson, that a commissioner was at the table and wanting to listen to what’s going on in the community, and that we had somebody from Communities in Schools and several folks from SEK Cap and the Crawford County Health Department.”