COVID pandemic boosts demand for SNAP benefits at the Food Bank

June 8, 2020

The time reference for many conversations these days is indicated by before – or after – the COVID-19 pandemic. Before mid-March, Food Bank of Delaware SNAP Outreach Coordinators Lisa Gibbs (pictured right) and Debbie Manina (pictured left) fielded about 11 or 12 inquiries each day from people who wanted to apply for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps.

These benefits supplement income and allow families to purchase food through an EBT – Electronic Benefits Transfer – card issued each month.

In mid-March, when the state – and the nation – started observing stay-at-home protocols, and many people lost their jobs, particularly those working in the hospitality and retail industries, the SNAP Outreach team quickly realized the number of daily calls nearly doubled.

Most people she worked with, Lisa explained, had done an internet search about how to apply for benefits, but some had questions about the process or their eligibility. If residents visit www.fbd.org, they land on a short form that links to a Food Bank representative who will respond to their questions and assist them through the application process.

Debbie and Lisa are providing more than assistance, they are offering hope.  “Most of our neighbors are in panic, so we are here to encourage them to stay calm and offer them some hope and also promote the pop-up mobile pantries in their area,” Debbie said.

Since 2014, 1,095 Delaware residents have received SNAP application assistance through the Food Bank of Delaware.

Because of social distance requirements, Lisa and Debbie responded – and continues to respond – to all inquiries by text, email or phone call.

In dealing with the uptick in applicants, Lisa noticed that “they [people] were literally from all walks of life. A lot of people had been laid off or furloughed, and for the first time in their lives, seeking benefits.”

Some applicants include seniors with fragile health who are shut in because of the pandemic. Other seniors were working part-time to supplement their retirement savings or social security, but have been furloughed.

“Just knowing that we can make a difference by reaching out to our neighbors during the pandemic is rewarding,” said Debbie.

Statistics show that 2/3 of people who receive SNAP benefits are children.

Sometimes, people do not qualify for assistance. “It’s still income based,” Lisa explained, noting that unemployment benefits may exceed the income requirements. The income guidelines for Delaware residents are posted on www.dhss.delaware.gov/dss/foodstamps.

In addition, the Healthy Pantry Centers at both Food Bank of Delaware sites in Milford and Newark sites have seen increased traffic. Since March 16, there have been more than 9,000 visits. Residents can pick up both nonperishable and perishable food.

In fact, a new part-time staff member joined Gibbs to help with distributions. “It can be daunting and overwhelming,” Lisa said. “I feel for them, and I have found a lot of grateful people. I have cried with them. I’ve had people tell me they don’t know what they would do without the Food Bank. It’s very rewarding to help someone in need. I feel blessed, and I look as this as my ministry. I have been placed here to help someone else. I have to have compassion because there is no judgement here. I empathize.”

For more information about SNAP benefits, click here.

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