The Jewish Family Service of MetroWest is pressing for senior citizens in its catchment area to sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal food stamp program.
JFS received a $25,000 grant from MAZON, the Los Angeles-based anti-hunger group, to recruit needy Jews and non-Jews to apply for food aid.
MAZON, in partnership with the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies and with funding by the Walmart Foundation, has offered grants to JFS agencies in seven states.
MAZON says about 1.5 million adults aged 55 and older are eligible for supplemental nutrition.
“That number is staggering,” said Reuben Rotman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. “We are proud to be involved in a project to address such a pressing need that ensures adults in New Jersey are feeling food-secure.”
Alyson Kaplan, social worker for caregiver services at JFS, is in charge of the recruitment effort. Since March, JFS has reached out to more that 100 seniors in Essex, Morris, Sussex, and parts of Union and Hudson counties, offering to guide them through the pre-application and application processes to qualify for SNAP.
They are eligible if they are older than 50.
“A lot is based on income and assets, whether one has medical expenses, rents or owns a home, has a car,” Kaplan told NJ Jewish News.
Those who qualify may receive differing amounts of food assistance each month, depending on their financial needs.
“Some are between 50 and 65, and they are not the traditional group you might expect to go on food stamps,” said Kaplan. “But due to the economic downturn, they may need to enroll in SNAP and they feel there is a stigma attached to it. But being part of SNAP is not a permanent thing. It could be the bridge that helps gap from where they are now until they have a steady job and are back on their feet.”
JFS volunteers are working to overcome the barriers that may prevent some seniors from enrolling.
“It is not the easiest process to apply for SNAP, and some seniors feel it’s not worth it,” Kaplan said. “Not all of them are connected to the Internet and can go on-line. They may have to go sit in some government office or wait on the phone for an interview and have to show all kinds of documentation for just $16. So they say, ‘If I only get $16 a month, why bother?’”
“What they don't realize,” she said “is that $16 a month can buy a loaf of bread, some bananas, some chicken, some milk, some eggs. If they are not spending that $16 on food it can go toward their medication.”
Kaplan and her volunteers are seeking to spread the message at synagogues, social welfare agencies, geriatric centers, and libraries. People seeking information should call JFS at 973-765-9050 or visit jfsmetrowest.org.