Though the partial federal government shutdown ended on January 25, there is fear that many people who receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as “food stamps,” will face significant food shortages in February. This is because the US Department of Agriculture asked states to issue February’s benefits to families a week earlier than usual to take advantage of federal funding that was available despite the shutdown. Vermont’s Department for Children and Families (DCF) complied with this request through its 3SquaresVT program as did New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services. However, the March benefit will be issued on the usual schedule, meaning that there will be a gap for most families. And as it is generally understood that SNAP benefits do not provide a full month of food for a family, the impact and shortage in available food will be even greater. This gap in food benefits also falls during the week of February vacation for many school districts, which means that children will not be receiving meals at school during this time, adding to the urgency of the situation.
To address this emergency, more than 20 community organizations have joined an ad hoc coalition to plan and implement an effective response for the Upper Valley to minimize the impact of this SNAP benefit gap. These organizations include Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Mt. Ascutney Hospital, Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, Granite United Way & NH 211, Vital Communities, the Coop Food Stores, Twin Pines Housing, Mascoma Bank, VT 211, Willing Hands, the Upper Valley Haven and Listen.
Three courses of action are being planned by the coalition. First, information about the pending food shortages will be publicized widely in the hope of generating a community response. This campaign will also include information about resources currently available, including community food banks and neighborhood dinners, and will work to share that information with people receiving SNAP benefits.
Second, the coalition has worked with local school districts to plan for the distribution of pre-loaded gift cards from local grocery stores to students who may be experiencing a food shortage during this period. Nearly 700 students from school districts including Windsor, Hartford, Hanover, Lebanon, Rivendell and Thetford have been identified by school administrators and needing this help. The goal is to raise $32,500 to provide $50 in gift cards per student.
Third, the coalition will work to increase donations of food and cash contributions to local food banks. Local grocery stores will be asked to help generate donations from shoppers through purchases of special food boxes and collection boxes. Businesses, foundations and individuals will be solicited for emergency grants. Upper Valley residents will also be asked to support this effort with donations of food and cash to local food banks.
The campaign is being organized under the banner of Upper Valley Strong, a coalition of community organizations that was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene to coordinate a community response to that devastation. Upper Valley Strong was also used in a few subsequent natural disasters with great success. The Upper Valley Haven is the fiscal agent for Upper Valley Strong.
Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines Housing and chair of Upper Valley Strong commented, “We’re committed to working collaboratively to address food insecurity in the aftermath of the government shutdown.” Michael Redmond, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven added, “I have been so impressed with how the community has come together in response to this pending food emergency. Together, we can ensure that families and individuals in need will have access to food and get through these challenging weeks.”
To find out how to get involved, visit our Give Help/ Get Help page.