After years of working in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Louisiana and Washington, I am thrilled to bring my state-level experience to my role as Senior Advisor for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Though I now have a nationwide scope, field work will always be near and dear to my heart, and for policymakers to make the best decisions, we must remain attuned to the stories and impacts on the ground, where clients interact directly with our programs.
On April 11, I traveled to Colorado to observe some innovative approaches to co-located health and human services operations in Adams and Denver Counties.
In 2017, Adams County invested in the Pete Mirelez Human Services Center, designed as a one-stop shop - not only are important government services located in this building, but a variety of community partners provide a range of additional support services. One population that this co-location has served well is participants in Employment First – the state’s SNAP Employment and Training Program. SNAP clients can obtain benefits, engage with a case worker and the workforce and business center, and be referred to an onsite culinary program through nonprofit partner, Work Options. Students train for six weeks in culinary and job readiness skills, gain hands-on experience in the building’s cafeteria, and some have even gone on to permanent employment in the Head Start central kitchen located in the same building.
On the other side of the county line, the Denver County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is making the link between health and nutrition security through its partnership with Denver Health. Denver WIC is co-located at the Federico F. Peña Southwest Family Health Center, and as families seek pediatrician visits or urgent care, they are assessed for food insecurity. With a quick page to the WIC team, families can instantly meet with an educator to get connected to WIC and breastfeeding support resources. Additionally, Denver WIC can make referrals to healthcare, dental and behavioral health providers and offers space in its office to Denver Human Services employees to assist eligible clients to get enrolled in SNAP and Medicaid.
Hunger is not an issue that lives in isolation, and when we serve clients in a way that reduces barriers and addresses its many root causes, we can really begin to move the needle on hunger and health in America.