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University Students Respond to Hurricane Irene
Students working at the Feinstein Center for A Hunger Free America responded to thousands of calls from people across the state who lost food due to widespread power outages caused by hurricane Irene.
From August 30th through September 19th, the students working with the URI SNAP Outreach Project worked one-on-one with Rhode Island residents to help facilitate their ability to receive replacement benefits to compensate for lost food. With almost 300,000 buildings without power after hurricane Irene, many households were forced to throw out perishable food items, while others were stranded in their homes due to felled trees and power lines.
The ten student workers at the SNAP Outreach Center worked day-in and day-out, seven days a week, making sure that everyone receiving SNAP benefits was compensated for lost food. Long work days--and even the start of classes--was not enough to deter the students from helping residents in need.
During the weeks after the hurricane, the students answered an average of 1,000 calls per week. This volume greatly exceeds the usual rate of 200-300 calls per month, and this level of activity has never before been seen in the center. However, despite the sudden and urgent wave of activity, the students responded with professionalism and determination.
“There was a willingness to just do whatever it takes---come early, stay late. [The students] threw themselves into it, rose to the challenge, and did a really good job,” remarked Kathleen Gorman, Director of the URI Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America.
One student worker came in as a favor one day and found the phones ringing off the hook. “It seemed like there wasn’t enough time to get to everyone, and some people were in really tough situations--people were upset,” recalls DJ Leal, who has worked with the center since the beginning of the summer.
At the end of the ordeal, the students felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. DJ reflects on the past couple weeks, saying “We responded very well, with almost no notice.” Although the students were pleased to find how well they handled the crisis, they just hope there isn’t a next time.
In other news...
President Dooley mentions the Hunger Center in his most recent "Conversation with URI":
Hungry For Answers: A Conference Addressing Barriers to Better Nutrition in the U.S. and Around the World
"There are currently 155,000 people participating in the SNAP Program and while that number may be an indicator of high need, it is also an indicator of great success."
- Hunger Center Director, Dr. Kathleen Gorman
“We sit behind the giants on whose shoulders we stand,” said Dr. Deborah Frank. The keynote speaker on domestic hunger was referencing the huge amount of advocates, doctors, researchers, and government representatives who fight on the front lines battling domestic and global hunger and who were there at the Hungry for Answers conference to share their stories.
The Solomon Center at Brown University was host to speakers and panelists ranging from world-travelled doctors, to college professors, to young graduates from Brown all there to share their stories, their research, and their advice for bettering the lives of millions of people all over the world.
Among the many speakers, The Hunger Center’s own Director, Kathleen Gorman, gave a presentation about the SNAP Outreach program at URI and the involvement of students in our work. Dr. Gorman proudly reported that last year the SNAP Hotline received 3,300 phone calls and Outreach workers met with over 14,000 individuals from 1,500 different sites. She emphasized the importance of participation in SNAP, which is one of the many programs slated for financial cuts in the 2011 fiscal year.
Other panelists included James Arena-Derosa, a Regional Administrator from the USDA who received some heated questions about their plans to keep people’s health their main priority. On the global panel, a young recent Brown graduate named Emma Clippinger, informed the audience of her non-profit organization Gardens for Health International operating in Rwanda, which she founded when she was still a student.
Topic discussions ranged from the cycles of malnutrition and infection both locally and globally, the cycle of food, housing, and energy insecurity, the puzzle of poverty and obesity, increasing availability and intake of fruits and vegetables with local programs like “Fresh to You”, and government initiatives like Hillary Clinton’s “1000 Days."
Along with the multiple speeches and panel discussions, several short films were shown by Doctors Without Borders portraying images ranging from rural families in Pennsylvania struggling to keep their fridges full, to children in Bangladesh whose tiny, broken bodies are just another picture of normality. Dr. Deborah Frank worded it best: “Public hardships and economic conditions are written on the bodies of babies."
The range of advocates young and old, governmental and grassroots, domestic and global all gathered in this one place was an important reminder that the fight against hunger comes from many angles, in many forms, through many faces, which was fitting considering the crisis of hunger and food insecurity works much in the same way.
Reaching Out to the Hispanic Community
The URI students behind the SNAP Outreach Project are constantly out in the community at soup kitchens, housing sites, senior centers, food pantries, and shelters making sure that those who need nutritional assistance are well-informed on how they can receive it.
Outreach workers have the opportunity to meet many people from various backgrounds and ethnicities, including those from the Hispanic community, which makes up 12% of Rhode Island’s population. Overcoming language barriers is an essential part of establishing the trust and comfort level between an Outreach worker and his or her client.
The Hunger Center is thrilled to have our Outreach Supervisor, Judy Walker, appearing on Telemundo TV station promoting the SNAP Program and spreading awareness to an even broader audience. These gains in advertising are exciting steps for the SNAP Outreach Program and their mission to supply Rhode Islanders with the abilities and resources to meet their nutritional needs.