by Allycia Brimson, Raul Lopez, and Treba Shyers of the HFO SNAP Application Hotline Leadership
Reflecting: Everyone everywhere is reflecting on the past year—the pandemic, the struggles, the loss, and the lessons learned.
About a year ago we all felt the shock and reality of the COVID-19 crisis.
We had questions…
• How do we take care of our family and our work family?
• How do we continue our work (virtually and remotely) when the need is greater than ever?
• How do we bridge the gap when the gap is rapidly getting bigger and bigger?
• How CAN we help?
• How DO we help?
We took a deep breath and we did what we do best. We looked at gaps, brought partners and ideas to the new virtual table, identified the resources available, and got to work with a focus on opportunities and solutions.
It began when Richard Comeau, HFO Program Director, approached the team with an idea of how we can help: create and operate a temporary hotline to assist callers in completing and submitting a SNAP application. We would not only assist Oklahomans seeking grocery benefits, but we would assist the Oklahoma State Department of Human Services (OKDHS) with meeting the dramatically increased need and demand for SNAP benefits. Richard was clear; this temporary project would need the whole team – and it would be challenging. Not one team member blinked an eye, and just like that, IT WAS ALL HANDS ON DECK.
Start and operate the temporary call center for about six weeks, with the thought that life would calm down and return to normal soon. (Yes, this is the part where you can chuckle.)
Next, we hit the ground running by researching call center models, identifying required consents and disclosures, revising our SNAP application training curriculum, writing caller scripts, developing a quality assurance program, and obtaining equipment; and we had to do all of this in our new virtual world. But the greatest plans are just that, plans. We needed a dozen team members to make our plan a reality. And we did it in a month. Yes, we did it!
The first round of training for HFO SNAP Hotline Agents began on May 11, 2020. One week later, our HFO SNAP Hotline went live.
Between May 2020 and April 2021, we have:
- submitted over 6,100 SNAP applications,
- answered close to 18,000 calls from Oklahomans,
- hired agents to assist English, Spanish, Zomi, and Burmese-speaking individuals, and
- connected callers to additional resources like 2-1-1, food pantries, Medicaid and Medicare, Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), food replacement assistance due to the October 2020 ice storm, and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
While the numbers and data quantify the direct impact of our work, it is the words of callers and agents which show the true impact:
“I have never talked to people so happy to help.” -HFO SNAP Hotline caller
“The Zomi and Burmese community does not always understand English very well which makes navigating the online application difficult. I am very happy to be the connection to help these communities.” -HFO SNAP Hotline agent
“Thank you for your sweet and cheerful attitude.” -HFO SNAP Hotline caller
“Thank you for outstanding customer service during our transition to Oklahoma from Oregon, it was an excellent and amazing process. You were understanding of our situation and patient with all of our questions.” – Postcard sent from an HFO SNAP Hotline caller
“It is so nice to talk to someone and not a voicemail.” – HFO SNAP Hotline caller
“I am so thankful for the help of your agent today, I really appreciate everything you are doing.” – Voicemail from an HFO SNAP Hotline caller
Celebrating: A year ago, the thought of celebrating anything did not exist. But, here we are, celebrating.
We are taking this moment to not only celebrate our work and what we have learned, but also our callers who had the courage to reach out to us during a time of need, our agents who show up every day to support their community, and our partners who continue to join us in finding solutions to food insecurity.
Although the Hotline began as a temporary solution, this program is now offered year-round to support Oklahomans applying for grocery assistance.
Call us toll-free at 1 (877) 760-0114 and our trained SNAP specialists are available to provide assistance with your SNAP application process. The application takes about 30 minutes!
English and Spanish application assistance available:
Monday-Friday 8 AM – 8 PM
Saturday 9 AM – 5 PM
Burmese and Zomi application assistance available:
Wednesday-Friday 1:30 PM – 8 PM
Saturday 1 PM – 5 PM
Visit hungerfreeok.org/groceries for more information!