Every morning I walk through our front lobby and talk with our clients. I like getting to know people, and I hear about the many different circumstances that bring folks through our doors. It never fails to touch my heart. One of the hardest things to hear is when someone tells me that he or she is hungry or that their children or someone else in their family is hungry.
In Indiana the township trustees are charged with helping folks who are struggling to meet one or more of their basic needs; maybe they can’t pay their rent or one or more utilities or for a medicine they must take. A phrase I often hear meaning basic necessities is “food, clothing and shelter,” and I think that it is telling that the first item on that list is always food. Maybe that’s because when you’re hungry all those other problems take a backseat until you can get something into your stomach.
As one of eleven children growing up, I remember how delicious a simple peanut butter sandwich—sometimes spread pretty thin—could taste when I was hungry. Nowadays it seems that food is everywhere. Fort Wayne has so many opportunities to eat! There must be a thousand sit-down and fast food restaurants and as many grocery stores and specialty shops. How hard it must be for those us who can’t afford to buy it, to be surrounded by food.
So, how does the Wayne Township Trustee Office help those who come to our office needing food? Well, the Indiana Code says that first, before spending township tax dollars, we need to make sure that anyone who is eligible is signed up for SNAP, a state-run, federally funded program that used to be called food stamps that helps people who can’t afford food. Our investigators help connect their clients to SNAP and to any other community resource that might fit the client’s circumstance. For example, Fort Wayne is home to many food banks, pantries and farm wagons who offer low cost or free food to those in need. One of those farm wagons comes to our parking lot on Monday mornings and distributes produce and baked goods. Also there are soup kitchens and other non-profits offering free meals on a regular basis. We maintain current lists of those services to hand out to our clients.
Our office has a small food pantry of our own that carries non-perishable food items and paper products (paper products cannot be purchased with food stamps). We currently stock that pantry ourselves. For example, our staff members bring in a canned food for the privilege of wearing jeans to work once a week. Sometimes I will go grocery shopping myself to keep items on our shelves.
If a client can’t meet their food needs through SNAP or other community food sources, the township may issue them a voucher that they can take to a grocery store and buy food and/or paper products. These vouchers are for an amount fixed by our written standards according to the client’s household size.
These measures will often get someone through the food crisis until they can get back on their feet. But, I think that it’s important to not just hand a man a fish, but to teach him to fish as well. When a client has received township assistance, he or she enters a relationship with our office and makes several commitments. One of those commitments is to attend talks given by speakers from the community about various activities of healthy living. For example, the Allen County Cooperative Extension sends speakers to our office on a regular basis to talk about healthy and economical shopping, cooking and eating.
I am always listening for other ideas on how to help folks with their food and other basic needs, so if you happen to be in our lobby on a particular weekday morning have a cup of coffee on me and let’s talk.
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