Category Archives: Featured Story: Health

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Which would you chose?

By Katie LaBarbera

Imagine it is the middle of winter, it is 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside on this particular day, and including the windchill, it feels like -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people hibernate in their homes with the heat on full blast, wrapped in a blanket sipping hot chocolate in the warmth. Now imagine a delicious, extravagant home-cooked meal. There is juicy steak, savory mashed potatoes, salad and a colorful assortment of steamed vegetables. But you can only have one: heating or food. Imagine choosing between having heat in your home and having food. Which would you choose?


According to the N.J. Federation of Food Banks hunger survey “49% of emergency food clients in N.J. report having to make the decision between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel.”


Making the decision between paying for food and paying for utilities is not the only struggle people face. The difficult decisions people are also forced to make include paying for food or paying their rent or mortgage, as well as deciding between food or medical care.


Putting food on the table should not mean sacrificing other necessities. People use the money provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for other reasons besides purchasing food. Granted that there may be some loopholes within SNAP, the program has positive aspects that work toward the overall goal of ending hunger.


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally paid program that provides food purchasing aid for low to no income individuals and families living in the United States. This program is one of the largest in domestic hunger safety. So large, that about 48 million people utilize the program.


The program aims to help eligible people in assisting them to make nutritional and informed decisions about food. SNAP recognizes that New Jersey is one of the largest populations of SNAP recipients in the country, with numbers nearly doubling nationwide in times before a recession.


According to the website, www., half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits before age 20, proving how much of an impact this program has on people.


"Floating Tree" By Daniel Brady
“Floating Tree”
By Daniel Brady

On the other hand, as stated previously, many people do not have the means to provide both food and heat in their homes for their families. According to the 2012 USDA Analysis of FNS’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Fraud Prevention and Detection Efforts, many recipients take advantage of the SNAP program by trading their benefits for cash or such things that are banned by SNAP, like cigarettes and liquor.


Moreover, such fraudulent accounts may occur due to the fact that SNAP denies recipients hot foods. Go back to that cold winter night; a hot bowl of soup or a warm meal would certainly make a huge difference in someone’s life. Because there are no hot meals being served, it is arguable that the food SNAP does offer does not meet optimal nutritional standards.


In addition, SNAP has recently been under scrutiny for changing their requirements for eligibility. This change is so drastic that about a third of families will be affected, and no longer qualify for their food purchasing assistance services.


According to Hank Kalet, a writer for N.J. Spotlight, “The change in eligibility … is the result of the cancellation of a utility allowance for about 159,000 New Jersey Families.” That is a huge number of families that are left without a way to put food on the table.


No child should wonder when their next meal will be and no parent should have to worry when they will be able to put food on the table for their loved ones. Being forced to make the decision between paying for warmth in one’s own home and food should no longer be a reality.


The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is aimed at helping people not only get food, but also  to have access to quality information about food. Despite recent complications with eligibility, SNAP is making progress to end hunger across the nation.

Building a Network: Food Waste and Recovery

The problems facing those currently experiencing homelessness are wide and varied. Among these complex and multi-layered social and political issues, the widespread problem of food waste has been gaining particular attention in recent years. According to a recent USDA report published in 2014, 31 percent of available food in the U.S. (or 133 billion pounds / 430 billion pounds) is wasted or discarded of each year.

For the homeless community, food waste represents a very serious threat and presents particular challenges to nonprofits trying to end hunger. Interestingly, the vast amount of food wasted each year is not only the result of poor planning and negligence, but also stems from legislation that makes it increasingly difficult to give leftover food to the homeless.

A report published by the National Coalition to End Homelessness (NCH) in 2014 titled “Share No More: The Criminalization of Efforts to Feed People in Need,” touches on the structural problem, highlighting three main ways in which legislative action has led to food waste. The first has to do with cities placing strong restrictions on the use of public property, forcing groups to buy a permit to distribute food to the needy in places like public parks. The second legislative barrier consists of the stringent food safety regulations that groups must follow if they wish to distribute food. The final and most significant barrier has been the “Not in my back yard” (NIMBY) mentality, which is often used to prevent groups that help those experiencing homelessness from entering communities.

Groups like the NCH are now spearheading a movement to enact legislative reform in the area of food sharing legislation, eventually hoping to make it easier to provide food to those in need.

On a grassroots level, groups like the Food Recovery Network (FRN), are also making significant progress in alleviating food waste and improving distribution.

Started in 2011 by three students at the University of Maryland College, FRN aims to fight food waste and hunger by organizing college students to donate leftover food on campuses to local soup kitchens and other nonprofits. Since its creation in 2011, FRN has expanded to 95 colleges across 26 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

"Love Life"  By Samantha Rivera
“Love Life”
By Samantha Rivera

Most recently, students at The College of New Jersey have started organizing a chapter of FRN in hopes of helping to solve the food waste issue in Mercer County. Student leader Gavin Parker first became interested in starting FRN at the College after it was assigned as the final project of his Social Justice First Seminar Program (FSP) taught by philosophy professor Dr. Morton Winston.

Parker and his classmates have been working with Sodexo, the food provider for the College, to work out practical issues, such as how food with be transported and how food safety training will be administered. The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen is currently onboard as a community partner for FRN at the College.

Explaining the origins of the idea to bring FRN to the College, Winston explained that he was “looking for a project for the class…that would enable them to tackle a real social justice issue and do something to address it.”

Although the issue of food waste still looms large, the combined legislative and grassroots efforts will likely help to reduce the staggering figure of 133 billion pounds of food that is wasted each year nationally. For the homeless community, few issues are more important than ensuring that food is distributed in the most efficient and resourceful way possible. Along with important social and economic reforms, the elimination of food waste will be critical in solving the related issues of poverty and hunger.


Article written by Steven P. Rodriguez for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall