Offering help and hope… My day working the Hunger Free Hotline

“I’m a disabled senior about to lose my job and I have my 17-year-old teenage grandson living with me,” said one caller. “We literally have no food, and I saw that you may be able to help us.”

Another shared, “I work full-time, but my small income makes it hard for me to take care of my two children and myself, especially when food at the grocery can cost so much.”

Those were just two of the nearly 300 stories shared when we answered the phones during our recent Hunger Free Hotline appearances on 9NEWS. Hunger Free Colorado staff set their alarms earlier than normal on Oct. 24 and 27 to take calls during an on-air helpline, in conjunction with the 9Cares Colorado Cares drive and “Make a Difference” Day. On those mornings, 9NEWS focused on the issue of hunger and the help available in Colorado as well as how viewers could contribute to support those in need.

Two-hundred-and-eighty rings brought 280 different stories from people seeking help either for their families or loved ones.

The experience served as a reminder of how great the need is—and how Hunger Free Colorado’s initiatives and our partners’ work are making a difference for Coloradans from all walks of life who are experiencing hunger.

During Saturday morning’s Hunger Free Hotline on 9NEWS, I joined three of our food assistance navigators in answering calls. Between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., more than 120 people dialed the helpline. We asked a simple question—“How can I help you?”—and what followed is what will stay with me.

The callers shared stories about losing their jobs, being disabled or just trying to get by on a meager salary. Others talked about their parents, siblings and friends who were struggling to put enough food on their tables; to feed every mouth in their household and stop the rumbling bellies.

After sharing how the Hunger Free Hotline could help—from screening them for public assistance nutrition programs to finding nearby food pantries and meal sites from the 1,200 statewide resources in our database—they expressed their gratitude for our services and ability to connect them with needed food resources. Before calling that morning, many were unaware of their options to access nutritious food.

Acting as a food assistance navigator during those few hours, I witnessed firsthand how many neighbors are at risk of hunger, just in the viewing area alone. My heart was heavy for the callers as well as the thousands of others from around the state who can share similar accounts of daily hardships. But we were able to offer help—and hope—to those who called that morning and to the more than 10,000 households that have contacted our Hunger Free Hotline since its launch in 2011.

This is why our work and programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, are so important. More than 800,000 Coloradans are at risk of hunger right now, and SNAP truly is the first line of defense against hunger in our communities, here in Colorado and around the nation.

But, of those who are eligible in Colorado, only 48% of households are receiving SNAP benefits. That means thousands of working families, children and seniors are struggling without this program’s support, unsure when and where they’ll get their next meal; going to bed hungry. Hunger Free Colorado and many partnering agencies are working to change that.

Yet, the truth about SNAP and the people receiving its benefits are buried in myths and misconceptions that we, together, need to erase so we can increase access to the nutrition assistance program. It is a program that focuses on public health—nutrition in particular—and literally puts food on the table for millions of Americans. SNAP provides a safety net for people like you and I, and it has helped a countless number of people step out of poverty. SNAP provides recipients with the ability to buy healthy foods that may have not been accessible before due to cost and other barriers.

Our team at Hunger Free Colorado works tirelessly every day to find sustainable solutions and eliminate barriers to existing programs that often carry stigmas. Progress is being made, but to make an even larger, long-lasting impact, we need to bring a strong voice to this silent issue and we can’t do that without your support. Everyone can be a part of the solution beginning today.

On the Hunger Free Hotline, we ask callers how we can help. I’ll now ask you—How will YOU help fight hunger?

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About Michelle Ray

Michelle is the Director of Communications for Hunger Free Colorado.

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