Cleveland Foodbank’s SNAP Call Center
The Cleveland Foodbank’s SNAP Call Center reaches out to bring those eligible for assistance in.
SNAP Call Center at the Cleveland Foodbank Helps Bring Nutrition to More Families
About three year ago, the Cleveland Food Bank implemented a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often colloquially called food stamps) outreach effort to help individuals transition from emergency food to longer-term solutions. “The best way for people to get food is by going to the grocery store and buying it. That allows them to choose food themselves and employ the person in the checkout,” Foodbank President Anne Goodman explains. “Our goal is to feed people and the best way to do that is to help people find their own food.”
The outreach began with the Foodbank staff going out to “where the people were” to help them sign up for food stamps and other benefits. These locations included Foodbank member sites, hospital emergency rooms, RTA bus stops, and Wal-Mart.
Using the Benefits Bank—an online tool for helping low-income families gain access to benefits—Foodbank staff and volunteers walk people through the SNAP application process and submit the form for them online. The whole process only takes about 15 minutes. Foodbank staff have also trained some member organizations (e.g., local food pantries and programs serving low-income seniors) on how to help needy individuals complete Benefit Bank applications.
In addition to this outreach, the Cleveland Foodbank has also established a Call Center so that people can sign up for benefits over the phone. “Not everyone wants to be seen face-to-face,” Goodman explains. The relative anonymity of the Call Center may be especially important to individuals using public assistance for the first time—a segment of the citizenry that has sadly grown during the Great Recession. Call Center workers are also able to help these individuals learn about additional aid programs for which they may be eligible, such as programs providing prescription drug coverage or childcare vouchers. Some Call Center operators are fluent in Spanish to help those callers for whom English is not a first language.
To encourage individuals and households to utilize the Call Center, the Foodbank raised awareness of the service through mailings, TV advertisements phone-a-thons, and door hangers, among other methods.
As of July 2013, Cleveland Foodbank has submitted 7400 SNAP applications on behalf of individuals in need, a significant increase from the previous year’s 3200 applications. These successful applications translate into 6.2 million more meals—on top of the 22.2 million meals the Foodbank itself has distributed—to advance the goal of ensuring that no Ohioan goes hungry.