I Used SNAP Benefits in College and I’m Proud of It

Jenesis sits at a table outside with a laptop and a mug in front of herI Used SNAP Benefits in College and I’m Proud of It

By Jenesis Long, MAAPS Academic Counselor, Oregon State University

Being an OSU Honors college student from a low-income family, with a FAFSA EFC of $0, came with a unique set of challenges. Even with earning high grades that helped me get scholarships, working two work-study jobs, and going to every free event where food was provided that I could – I still needed more help to ensure my basic needs were met.

I had heard of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits available but had no idea if I would qualify or how to complete the application, so I postponed really looking into it out of fear. I even sacrificed eating regularly and didn’t always buy required textbooks to afford food and avoid accessing this resource.

The idea of needing SNAP (which used to be called Food Stamps) was just really hard for me to come to grips with. I spent hours trying to convince myself I didn’t really need it, that I’d be okay. I remember my roommate offering me food and asking if I’d go out with her to dinner and even offering to pay for my meals so we could hangout (food was a huge source of community!). I finally recognized that it was time to stop letting my pride get in my way and learn how to apply for SNAP benefits and accept that I really did need this service. So, I applied online and hoped for the best.

I was in my bedroom when the phone rang for the follow-up call to my application for SNAP benefits, and my heart was racing. I had no idea what to say (or not say). I didn’t know what they were looking for or what the rules were for eligibility. I was working on campus, so did that mean I wouldn’t qualify for the program? I earned scholarships that helped with my tuition, did that mean I “made too much” for help? I was just hoping that my situation would be “good enough” for their program.

Looking back, I wish I had accepted support more readily. I was so nervous for that call and had no clarity on what to expect. Knowing now that there are resources for OSU students that are seeking SNAP benefits makes me so happy!

If I had been more open to support back then, I definitely would have reached out to learn more about what the process would be like so it didn’t take up so much mental energy to prepare for. After going through what ended up being a pretty brief interview, I was granted the full amount of food benefits possible, I was SHOCKED! It would have taken me an extra 25-30 hours a month of work to earn those same dollars for food. SNAP benefits helped me to regularly have food at home, and provided me with a sense of stability that I couldn’t have achieved on my own while balancing going to lectures and labs, doing homework, working, sleeping, exercising, preparing for my career through internships, and trying to spend time with my friends and family.

Jenesis at an outdoor event with three friends(attending an OSU Football game with my roommate and our friends)

I used to be too fearful to use the HSRC resources. I never even went in to see the space or meet the people who worked there until I had been at OSU for two full years. When I did finally go in, I met welcoming and friendly people. I learned about all the resources available to students like the textbook lending program, the food pantry, and comfortable, safe spaces to spend time and meet new friends. I decided right then and there that I was a forever advocate and supporter of the HSRC.

Jenesis in graduation garb with her friend Alexsandra, also in graduation garb

(celebrating earning my bachelor’s degree at graduation with my friend, Alexsandra Cortes, CAMP – academic counselor)

After graduating from OSU with my honors bachelor’s degree in psychology, I went on to earn my masters of education in college student services administration and now serve as an academic counselor for a program that supports first-generation and low-income students, just like I was. I no longer need the support of SNAP, but am so thankful that I utilized that program when I needed it because it is one of the many support systems I needed to get me to where I am today.

Jenesis with a staff mentor on campus

(celebrating earning my master’s degree with my mentor, Kim McAloney, EOP – Academic Counselor/Academic Engagement Coordinator)

Now as an academic counselor, I tell all of my fellow academic counselors and advisors about the resources available at the HSRC and encourage them to make referrals to their students. As part of the training our staff of academic counselors did, we went and visited the new HSRC space in Champinefu Lodge and we all were delightfully greeted by a home-y, comfortable, welcoming space.

If you or someone you love is an OSU student with questions about how the HSRC can help you, what SNAP benefits are and if you qualify, or want to connect with other people who might be able to understand your situation and support you, I encourage you to contact the HSRC.

 

Human Services Resource Center

Champinefu Lodge
1030 SW Madison Ave.
Corvallis, OR 97333
Send Email
Phone: (541) 737-3747

Email:

hsrc@oregonstate.edu
hsrc.foodpantry@oregonstate.edu (for anything related to the food pantry – Please see the Food Pantry page for pantry hours, etc. )

Faculty and Staff: Share your SNAP Story

grocery isle and text reading faculty and staff, share your snap story with a logo for the SNAP program

Beavers know how to work hard – how to get out there and dig in to accomplish big things.

But a growling stomach is distracting and bound to slow down even the best students.

So many OSU students struggle to pay tuition each term – and sometimes having enough money for groceries is a stretch on a student’s budget and a major stressor.

Food insecurity and struggling to make ends meet while in college – these things aren’t new. Many faculty and staff on campus today relied on food pantries or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (colloquially known as food stamps) to get through their years spent on campus.

Even though so many people rely on SNAP and similar programs, stigma and shame can really prevent today’s students from seeking help.

Did SNAP help you? Share your SNAP Story.

Learning that the faculty and staff they respect and admire needed SNAP to get through college can really help students see that they’re not alone, that college is hard for many people – and that it’s ok to ask for help.

 

Sharing your SNAP story is easy – you can email us to get started or, if you’re feeling inspired and want to jump right in, write a few paragraphs sharing your experience, how SNAP (and perhaps other programs) helped you, and related “things I wish I’d known then.” Keep the tone casual and conversational. If you have any photos of yourself from that era, we’d love to include them too. Send us your SNAP story (email HSRC@oregonstate.edu) and we’ll help you share your story both on the HSRC blog, but also help get it out to students who really need to read it. We’ll do some minor edits for clarity and add some text about how students can get support with a SNAP application, but mostly we’ll leave your words as you wrote them. After we post your story, we’d love to work with you to help share your SNAP story with HSRC students – and those you may have worked with too.

SNAP stigma is real and we don’t think it’ll dissolve quickly- so we’ll be looking for SNAP stories for years to come. Graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni – if you’ve got a SNAP story, it can really make a difference to students to read.

In One Snap, Students got SNAP

An illustration of two hands holding a banana and an orange, with the words one snap, get SNAP, reduce the stigma get SNAP benefits

The Human Services Resource Center and Student Sustainability Initiative aim to reduce student hunger with “One Snap, Get SNAP.”

On January 19th, 2018,  over the course of four hours, 53  students, in both graduate and undergraduate studies, filtered through to begin their applications for SNAP benefits, otherwise known as food stamps. Application processes can be intimidating. As we heard from one student, “I’ve attempted to apply before but never completed the application due to not being sure about some of the answers.” To help with the application process three SNAP experts from the OSU Extension SNAP Outreach team and the Oregon Department of Human Services were on hand to assist as needed. Staff had both paper applications, and provided laptops so students can complete the online application if that was their preference. 

A student is seated at a computer, an adult looks over her shoulder pointing at the screen to help her get SNAP benefits.
A DHS representative helps a student apply for SNAP benefits.

Roughly 36% of OSU students reported not having enough financial resources on the 2017 Campus Inclusivity Survey. While the average student attending the event applied for benefits only for themselves, at least 5 students who responded to our follow-up survey applied for benefits for a household of two or more people. One student shared through the survey: “This was such a helpful event. I kept on putting off doing the paperwork and was worried I wouldn’t get benefits. Any questions I had were answered and I don’t have to worry as much.” Eligibility qualifications for students can be confusing, so having staff available to assist was key to the successful event. 

Food was provided at the event, and 323 KIND granola bars were distributed, each affixed with stickers promoting event details prior to the 19th.  An important  value of the HSRC is abundance of resources, especially in regard to food. The HSRC sees the need many students experience in the form of increased Food Assistance Application numbers. Increased attendance at the multiple monthly food pantry nights at Avery Lodge, and term by term growth of the Textbook Lending Program also illustrate the growing need of students. Providing food at the event ensured that everyone who came by, at least got to eat lunch for the day.

Through the efforts of the HSRC and SSI, the students who attended “One Snap, Get SNAP” could, combined, receive upwards of $50,000 in grocery money over the course of the next six months (approximately $157 per month per person, though individuals could be eligible for up to $189 per month and those with families or dependents could see even more). While not a permanent fix to student hunger, programming and outreach for SNAP benefits helps provide students with resources that better allow them to focus on school.  Providing access to these community resources on campus, where students spend a lot of their time, helps make the process for applying for SNAP benefits easier. When students aren’t worried about where their next meal is coming from they are better able to concentrate on school and make the most of their education, further enriching themselves and their communities.