Toni's Kitchen is partnering with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey (CFBNJ) to help enroll guests in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides critical financial support to help alleviate food insecurity among individuals and families and help them purchase healthy food. The Food Bank is a state-designated SNAP navigator and has resource access coordinators that work with food pantries and soup kitchens throughout New Jersey to provide SNAP education, conduct eligibility screenings and help complete and submit applications. Since November 2022, Toni’s Kitchen has collaborated with the same coordinator who comes onsite monthly during our Choice Pantry service so Toni’s guests can learn more about SNAP and apply as well as pick up their groceries. Due to increased need, a second, bilingual coordinator joined a few months ago and beginning in July, a second monthly onsite date will be added.
Nancy Xenakis is a staff member at Toni's Kitchen who oversees our partnership with CFBNJ for SNAP. Nancy has SNAP informational flyers in English and Spanish that provide an overview of SNAP, list dates for onsite application assistance as well a detailed listing of required documentation on the Choice Pantry’s community resource tables.
“In my role, I educate guests about SNAP, encourage them to take the flyers and visit during one of the onsite days to see if they qualify and then apply online,” Nancy says. “I remind them that they can combine this with their grocery pick-up since both are co-located in the Sanctuary.”
The process for applying for SNAP benefits can be difficult. Nancy says that once the program got underway, one thing was clear. "We all thought it would be more efficient if we could prep guests [for the application process] in a better way because so many applications that are getting submitted are incomplete," says Nancy. A small, selected group of volunteers from Toni’s underwent training with CFBNJ to learn more about the process and every Friday when CFBNJ is not onsite, they assist guests of Toni’s Kitchen with the pre-screening process (overview of SNAP benefits, initial eligibility check, set-up an account in the application portal and review of documentation to bring to the CFBNJ onsite in order to apply). "This effort helps so when guests come to meet with the coordinator from CFBNJ, their documents are all in order, they don’t have to wait as long, we're able to process more guests and submit more complete [versus partial] applications.”
Nancy says that having guests more prepared has cut approximately 25 percent off the time it takes to apply. "If the account's set up and their documents are in order, it makes it go so much faster," she says. She points out that anyone can apply for SNAP benefits on their own, but there are advantages to using a state designated SNAP navigator. "The benefit is that our guests have the assistance of someone who knows the ins and outs of the application process, how to use the SNAP portal and can help with any troubleshooting.”
Since the program began in November of 2022, approximately 70 guests have received SNAP education and application assistance by Toni’s Kitchen and CFBNJ.
This collaboration has been particularly important in helping guests navigate the changes in SNAP benefits that occurred in February of this year when the SNAP Emergency Allotments due to COVID ended. The end of the Emergency Allotments significantly reduced guests’ monthly SNAP amount. This was followed by the State of New Jersey establishing the household minimum of $95 per month (federal household minimum is $23 per month). In Essex County there have also been serious delays in the review and processing of applications by the County Office of Social Services primarily due to short staffing. CFBNJ and Toni’s Kitchen share updated information with guests and advocate, when possible, to change the increasing structures to make the entire application process more efficient and guest-friendly.
SNAP benefits assistance is another example of how Toni's Kitchen is helping people in our community move toward a food secure future for themselves and their families.