Since 2008, the number of Ashe County families forced to seek food stamp assistance has nearly doubled to 2,100 from 1,100, according to Karen Riddle, Supervisor of the Food and Nutrition Services with the Ashe County Department of Social Services.
“A lot of people who have always weathered the rough times before, who’ve always been fine,” said Riddle, “in this economy, they’re not. And they don’t know how to access services.”
If you, or someone you know, is hungry this winter, there are a number of resources that can be taken advantage of, thanks to dedicated, caring individuals across the High Country.
Food and Nutrition Services
Formerly known as Food Stamps, FNS helps those on hard times buy the food they need to survive.
Benefits are now loaded monthly onto a debit-card like EBT card. Families worried about the stigma surrounding food stamps can take advantage of the EBT card, which can be swiped like any other at the grocery store.
To apply, simply fill out the application, which can downloaded at http://www.fns4nc.org/how_do_i_apply. You can also pick up an application at the Ashe County Department of Social Services, or ask DSS to mail you a copy. If you have difficulty filling out the application, ask DSS for assistance. You can fill in your name, address, and signature on the first page, and a DSS caseworker can help you complete the remainder of the application. Then simply return the application to the DSS office by mail, fax, in-person, or through an authorized representative.
“We tell people not to worry about whether or not they think they’re going to get the benefits,” said Riddle. “Sometimes, people were turned down 20 years ago and never filed for the program again. We encourage people to apply, even if they think they won’t get the benefit.”
Applicants then talk with a FNS caseworker about their eligibility for the program. Even if you can’t make it to the DSS office in person, a caseworker can help you by phone. You can also send an authorized representative that you trust to the interview. Caseworkers review proof of who you are, such as a driver’s license and proof of address. They also review child care costs, proof of any child support payments, and proof of income earned over the past 30 days, such as check stubs.
“If you can’t bring everything, come to the interview,” states the FNS website. “The caseworker will help you get what you need.”
If eligible, the benefits received vary by the number of people in the household. One individual, for instance, can receive up to $200 a month in benefits while a three person household can receive up to $526 a month in help.
Eligibility is based on a number of factors, including income, though FNS encourages everyone who needs assistance to apply. Even if you were turned down for the program in the past, re-apply as the program and its requirements are constantly changing.
Through volunteer support and the dedication of citizens across Ashe County and the rest of the High Country, there are several organizations designed to help feed those who need assistance.
Ashe Outreach Ministries, through the food pantry at Riverview Community Center,the backpack program for kids at the community center, and the free community meal provided each Saturday (11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) at the old West Jefferson Elementary School, help an estimated 1,500-1,600 people each month. There are no income requirements to enjoy the lunch at West Jefferson Elementary. (No meal on Saturday, Dec. 26)
Ashe Really Cares (ARC), a food and clothing pantry, distributes food, clothing, and other items of necessity to those in need.
“Our help is income based,” said ARC Director Pat Miller. “There is an application, and you do have to qualify for the help, but we don’t charge anything for those that do qualify. Schedule an appointment, come on by, and I’ll walk you through the process.”
Miller said ARC serves up to 235 families a month with food and clothing, and new families are added all the time. “We see anywhere from 10-15 new families every month,” she said.
If you’d like to help or donate, items can be dropped off at ARC’s Beaver Creek location Monday-Friday between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Donations can also be sent to Ashe Really Cares, PO Box 850, Jefferson, NC.
Ashe Services for Aging operates a Senior Center Pantry that works to alleviate hunger among the elderly. For those that struggle to fix their own food, or simply do not have the resources to provide themselves with food, the Senior Center Pantry may be able to help. ASA also provides Mobile Meals for the elderly who are unable to leave their homes.
The Ashe County Sharing Center, located in the alley beside the former McNeil Furniture in West Jefferson, offers food, clothing, and other household items that can be picked up Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m.
Contact information for these sources of help:
Ashe County Sharing Center – (336) 846-7019
Ashe Really Cares – (336) 846-5234
Ashe Services for Aging – (336) 246-2461
Ashe Outreach Ministries – (336) 385-1314
Ashe County Department of Social Services – (336) 846-5700
High Country CSA
Though it doesn’t necessarily cater to those with low income and struggling to find food and help, the High Country Community Supported Agriculture program provides bi-weekly grocery sales among area farmers this winter. High Country CSA accepts cash, checks, and EBT and SNAP benefits.
Nutritous, locally grown food can be selected by going to www.highcountrycsa.org/catalog. Simply select the products and quantities you would like to purchase and proceed through the checkout process. An email will be sent to you confirming your order. Products can then be picked up between 2-4 p.m. at the Agricultural Conference Center at 252 Poplar Grove Road in Boone.
The High Country CSA matches buyers of nutritous local produce with growers in Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga, and Wilkes counties.
To learn more about the High Country CSA, visit http://highcountrycsa.org/, or call 828.963.4656 for more information.