The Coalition SNAP Hotline has been described as “an excellent resource” and the counselors, case manager and volunteers that staff it as “amazing”. You would have to be nothing short of amazing to meet the steady surge in calls due to the effects COVID-19 pandemic, ”It’s never ending. Even on our slow days, which we don't have anymore. I feel like I can never do enough. I’m always anxious. When I’m not working, I feel like I need to work”. says SNAP counselor Claire Richardson. The national rise in unemployment due to the loss of jobs has forced families and individuals across the region to experience hunger for the first time. For help connecting to food assistance resources they called our Hotline. “There are people who have never been on food stamps in their life. There are people who have worked all their lives, they were never rich, but they were making it. Now they are [receiving] unemployment. These are people who never had to ask anybody for anything, it’s really hard”, said Richardson.
Since the first call was answered, volunteers have been essential to the management and return of calls for the frequently dialed food assistance resource. Several Hotline volunteers like Anne Rosenberg have dedicated their time over the years and still wished to support the Coalition’s anti-hunger phoneline, even at the start of quarantine in March “When everything shut down and we had to stay home, I said ‘can you set up something so I can still do this’. I really missed going in and talking to the callers and trying to help them out, so I was really happy we could at least [help with the] voicemails, during this time it's so necessary” said Rosenberg. The volunteer support was needed more than ever as more individuals and families across the region were calling for help with food assistance “There are so many people in need, there are so many, the calls are multiplying. The other day I must have picked up 60 messages. Recently it's just been overwhelming”. Rosenberg continued.
To combat the spike in food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, community established food assistance resources have emerged in Philadelphia like the body’s immune system protecting it from a virus that causes hunger. “I go to all our neighborhood meetings, there are a bunch of different people who serve meals. You can drive by and see a long line and that's somebody on their porch, with a hot plate and a giant pot of soup, putting it in cups for people” said Richardson.
Volunteers like Rosenberg adapted to the stay-at-home orders by using past career experience to develop new skills in order to continue the fight against hunger, “I had to learn the Salesforce application and learn about the different food pantries and services that do deliveries. I was fortunate that I worked in healthcare [as a nurse practitioner] for a very long time, working with underserved [communities], so I knew a few things” said Rosenberg who says she understands the need for people to be connected to health sustaining resources.
With the continued assistance of volunteers and hunger fighters across the region, the SNAP hotline team will continue to answer the call, “I usually hear through the grapevine if something is happening in my neighborhood, someone might knock on my door and say we’re giving out boxes [of food] in an hour, and I’ll throw that out there [to callers] if I see anything about a 19132 zipcode in the applications” said Richardson. As the holidays approach Philadelphians are living up to the city moniker and sharing brotherly love and sisterly affection with their neighbors, by answering and returning one call at a time “I’m straight out of North Philly and these people have hearts like you wouldn't believe”, Richardson states proudly.