Caritas of Waco leads assistance for SNAP

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Caritas is now taking leadership of a program that assists people in applying for the federal food stamp program SNAP. Caritas has received $75,000 in grants from local foundations in order to support this new responsibility.

Since 2009, Helpings, a local SNAP outreach program, has been facilitated at Caritas but was lead by the McLennan County Hunger Coalition.

As of Jan. 1, however, Caritas has taken the reins.
“The McLennan County Hunger Coalition is really not set up or geared to be a direct services program,” said Buddy Edwards, executive director of Caritas and president of the coalition. “So they’ve facilitated getting grants and funds for SNAP outreach all these years, but it’s just felt as though that was really not the area they are concentrating their efforts in. So it makes more sense for this program to be under the guidance of a service organization like Caritas.”

Many people don’t have the experience or ability to access online applications, Edwards said. People who could benefit from government assistance may never apply for it because don’t know how to access SNAP, he said.

“I think it can be a little bit of a daunting task for some people,” Edwards said. “They may be more willing to forgo trying to get into the program than to make the attempt to proceed with the enrollment.”

Helpings is not a program that determines whether a person is eligible to receive benefits through SNAP, but instead assists individuals in filling out the applications necessary to receive benefits.

“Probably the mass majority of the folks who come to Caritas do not have computers, and they probably do not have a lot of background or experience in being able to fill out online applications,” Edwards said. “They benefit by having someone walk through with them through the whole procedure. That’s what we do now.”

Caritas is not receiving government funding for Helpings, since Caritas is privately funded. Caritas was given grants for its new leadership of Helpings through a $30,000 grant from the Masterson Fund at Waco Foundation, as well as a grant for $45,000 over three years from the Paul & Jane Meyer Family Foundation. Edwards said the money will be primarily supporting the staffing of the outreach program.

Caritas is not hiring any new employees to facilitate the change in leadership at the moment, said Esther Morales, program director of Helpings. At the moment she is the full-time director and intake coordinator of Helpings, though she said Caritas may look into hiring a part-time coordinator in the future.

“Now it is a full-circle program at Caritas,” Morales said. “It makes Caritas’ services provided so complete, because we have our assistants for people’s emergency needs, we have the SNAP outreach program for their future needs, and we also just brought into play a case manager. That will be for people’s further needs in the future, to get them on the right path for success. So, by getting everything in one place, in one facility, it lessens barriers for people and brings more success for them to move forward in their life and not depend on different pantries and support themselves.”

Edwards said there could be as much as $100,000 of economic impact that Caritas’ SNAP outreach can bring in to the community.

“We’ve kind of figured that on a monthly basis there could be something over $100,000 of economic impact that we, through this program, are able to bring in to the county through people enrolled in the program,” Edwards said. “That is, folks can get into the SNAP program and become eligible to receive the benefits, and then they will go to the grocery store and purchase things with their benefits. That is beneficial to the stores, and ultimately has a trickle-down economic impact that benefits the community.”