|AmeriCorps member Tamara Jordan, third from left, with U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), far left, and AmeriCorps Director Bill Basl, far right.|
Since 2009, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been hosting AmeriCorps members through the AmeriCorps State/National Program. The individuals are placed at the Food Depository or in member agencies and are utilized to assist with day-to-day pantry operations, community volunteer recruitment and retention, fundraising and nutrition and health education. The following post is an update from AmeriCorps member Tamara Jordan, who is currently serving on the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach Team, focusing on veteran outreach.
In 2006 I made a decision that would change my life. I joined the Army National Guard. I was an honor student at Hyde Park Career Academy, and planned to attend Loyola University. But, I quickly realized that the cost of college would be difficult to manage, so I looked for other options. A recruiter called my home phone a few days later and asked me if I was interested in enlisting in the military. About a year later, I was on my way to Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan. I spent a year there, and in that time I began to realize I wanted to help people in the United States. I wanted to do something to help beyond my military service.
I didn’t have the opportunity to do that until a few months ago, when my friend presented the idea of AmeriCorps to me. I’m now working on the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach team, utilizing the experiences I gained from the military to target a group of people that is often underserved: veterans. After visiting veteran hospitals and seeing how many veterans are homeless and hungry, I saw it as a chance to make a difference – especially because the veteran population is at a high-risk for hunger. In fact, in Cook County there are more than 18,000 veterans living below the poverty line, and that number is expected to increase considerably in the next few years.
On the SNAP Outreach team, I visit both Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital twice a month to help veterans apply for SNAP benefits. I also folow up with clients to check on their enrollment status, and to assist clients with re-applying to the program. I am able to incorporate my knowledge of the veteran population into my experience, and I see firsthand the impact that SNAP Outreach makes.
Recently, I helped National Guard Unit soldiers apply for SNAP. From my experience, I know that many soldiers and veterans find it difficult to accept assistance from other people. As a veteran, I was able to reassure the National Guard soldiers and connect with them. I was able to break down the ingrained misconception that receiving assistance meant they had failed. Ultimately, I was able to comfort them and let them know applying for SNAP would be beneficial and would make affording healthy food easier for them.
I also offer SNAP Outreach to veterans outside of VA hospitals. I recently worked with a group called Vietnow, which passes out food, clothes, and blankets to homeless veterans in Chicago. At their distributions, I have given veterans information on the Food Depository’s SNAP Outreach program, so they know where to turn if they ever wanted to apply for benefits.
As a veteran helping veterans, I’ve seen the startling amount of need in Cook County. Yet, I’ve also seen the huge impact the Food Depository makes through SNAP Outreach. It’s humbling to know we’re giving veterans in need a way to feed themselves and their families.