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Tulsa Community Partners Program

by Robin Spilman, Hunger Outreach Specialist, Hunger Free Oklahoma

Food insecurity is a complex and widespread problem affecting communities across the United States.

Every year, millions of Americans face the uncertainty of not knowing how they’ll put food on the table for themselves and their families. In 2017, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, equating to 40 million people, including 12 million children. While these numbers are startling, there is hope to see them decline through providing greater awareness and access to the Federal Nutrition Programs that exist, but are underutilized, primarily SNAP.

Just as there is no single face of hunger, there is no single solution to hunger. We do know though, that of the Federal Nutrition Programs designed to fight hunger, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest and most effective. In 2017, 47 million people nationwide accessed SNAP. It lifted 3.4 million Americans out of poverty in the same year. SNAP is one of the first lines of defense against hunger and is a vital safety net for children, disabled, elderly, and low-wage workers.

In Oklahoma alone, over 825,000 people received food assistance through SNAP in 2018.

  • More than 74% of participants were in families with children.
  • Almost 33% were in families with members who were elderly or disabled.
  • More than 42% were in working families.

Research shows that SNAP drastically improves lives and is linked to better nutrition and dietary intake, improved health outcomes, lower healthcare costs, increased educational attainment, and employment stability. SNAP relieves the pressure on overwhelmed food banks, pantries, churches, and other emergency food providers. Yet, nearly 150,000 SNAP eligible Oklahomans are going hungry. Why?

Many factors prevent thousands of people from applying for SNAP each year including stigma, lack of knowledge and awareness, fear of risking immigration status, perceived complicated application, and a myriad of access barriers. In the Tulsa area, only 72.9% of all eligible people received SNAP in 2017. This equates to 50,000 Tulsa area residents regularly and needlessly going without proper access to food. Children going to bed hungry. Seniors rationing food in order to afford their prescriptions. Parents deciding between putting food on the table and paying rent.

SNAP is a solution, but more coordinated efforts are needed to expand its impact and reach the individuals and families that need it most. In partnership with the Tulsa Area United Way, Hunger Free Oklahoma has launched a community based pilot program with the goal of increasing SNAP participation to 85% in focus counties: Tulsa, Osage, Rogers, Wagoner, Creek, and Okmulgee. The Tulsa Community Partners Program (TCPP) is working to end food insecurity by improving awareness, decreasing stigma, and increasing the number of SNAP access points. The proven, most effective way to engage individuals and families in accessing assistance is through the organizations they already have relationships with and trust.

Under TCPP, community organizations are trained in SNAP outreach including:

  • How to talk about SNAP with clients,
  • How to assist in completing and submitting the SNAP application, and
  • Collaborating with other community partners for the purpose of creating a broad set of SNAP outreach best practices.

Multiple studies have proven that community-based SNAP outreach works. Two studies of SNAP outreach to seniors show that it can have a major impact – tripling applications from senior citizens. Further research also shows that targeted outreach to ethnic minorities can improve participation rates.

No one should have to worry about where their next meal will come from. By working together and combining the efforts of the many organizations already serving those most in need in our community, we can address a fundamental right of everyone having access to enough food. In doing this, we will improve the lives of thousands of Oklahomans.

To learn more about the Tulsa Community Partners Program and how your organization can join in the fight against hunger, contact Emma Sikich.

Working together for a hunger free Oklahoma.

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