The I CAN (Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition) Program, sponsored and funded by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service, USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program, has three nutrition educators in Santa Fe County. The program provides free, hands‐on, needs‐based education in the areas of healthy food choices, food preparation, food safety, exercise and food resource management. The educators come to a classroom and provide practical, healthy, kid-friendly recipes for children to make at home with limited assistance. The program has been in Santa Fe County for over 30 years. They are the “boots on the ground” that meet participants where they are. Last year they provided one-on-one educational services to 4,076 participants.
Two Educators’ SNAP Stories
“Most of my SNAP participants are families with both parents working multiple jobs. Low wages and high rents are usually their main concern. Add car payments, utilities, medical bills, school costs and a wide variety of other expenses to that, and food ends up at the bottom of the list.
“I also work with many elders on fixed incomes who need to decide on paying for medicine or paying for food. Most only receive the minimum payment from SNAP; some tell me they only receive $10 a month. Others say they make $10 a month too much to qualify. A few are caring for grandchildren and need to work part-time jobs to keep up.
“I know of at least two participants who became gravely ill and were not able to keep their jobs. They do qualify for SNAP, but it is not enough to feed them for the month. In these sorts of cases, I have referred them to food banks, which is where I now frequently see them.
“As an ICAN educator I have been able to help many SNAP participants spend their benefits more effectively while making better food choices. The Double Up Food Bucks program at our Santa Fe Farmers’ Markets allows them to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables while staying within a reasonable budget. It also enables them to stretch their SNAP dollars throughout the month, instead of using their allotment up within one or two weeks. For those who still don’t have enough left over for the month, food banks, unfortunately, are the only other option.
“I take SNAP applications with me everywhere I go, and give out, on average, at least five a month.”
— Janette Segura
”One day I was at a lunch site for senior citizens and someone told me that she only got $15 a month in SNAP benefits. She lives in the northern part of the county, and she said her father left her some land when he died, which is why she received so little money. She said it was hard to afford food, adding: ’You can’t eat land…’
“Anytime I am doing ICAN programming I hear people lament, without prompting, that the SNAP benefits they receive are not nearly enough to last through the month. Many of the people I am referring to have disabilities that prevent them from working, or they are advanced in age and unable to work anymore.
“There is one man who is elderly and caring for his disabled wife. Every month I see him at Commodities as well as at a local food pantry.”
— Renee Zisman
Cydney Martin is the Santa Fe County Family and Consumer Sciences agent for New Mexico State University and a member of the Santa Fe Food Policy Council.