By Amariante Mohedano
It's hard to believe that a financial hub like New York City is home to so many underserved people who work hard, yet struggle to get enough to eat. There is an entire population of New Yorkers who hold down 9-to-5 jobs, but still live paycheck to paycheck, having to choose between paying rent or buying food for their families. Food Bank For New York City is here for them, and I'm proud to be one of the benefits specialists at Food Bank's Call Center who help our neighbors access critical benefits that make a huge difference in their lives.
At the Call Center we receive approximately 65 calls a day, and it is up to us to provide these callers not only with basic information, but also with an empathetic ear. Sometimes people just want someone to listen.
For the majority of our calls, we offer information and assistance accessing emergency food. But we know that if people are calling us to find out where to get food, odds are they need other services as well. So we use our various resources to do more than provide people with a list of food pantries. We pre-screen callers to see if they qualify for SNAP (also known as food stamps), and let them know how to take advantage of Food Bank's free tax preparation services. We also offer referrals to housing resources, the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), legal services and more.
When seniors call, especially if they tell us that they live alone, we like to refer them to Meals on Wheels to ensure that they can get food delivered right to their door, and also to Congregate Meals if they want to have meals with other seniors at a senior center, like the one at our Community Kitchen and Pantry in Harlem, or another location.
As benefits specialists, we know that assistance is not one size fits all. But we try our best to tailor fit services to all of our callers. It is a great feeling to know that at the end of each call we have helped fellow New Yorkers put food on the table and find a variety of resources that can help alleviate their struggle.
Amariante Mohedano is a Benefits Specialist at Food Bank For New York City.