Food bank offers to help seniors navigate SNAP

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Being budget-minded and health-conscious doesn’t mean meals have to be boring, Victoria Howell of Feeding the Gulf Coast said Monday during a presentation at the Senior Center of South Pearl River County.

Howell, as she cooked a batch of black bean quesadillas for the group, talked about various programs that Feeding the Gulf Coast offers. Her agency, part of the national nonprofit Feeding America, conducts an outreach helping seniors negotiate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in southern Mississippi.

She distributed pamphlets containing the application form for SNAP, the system that replaced food stamps as a way to help low-income people buy food.

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“You fill it out, and we can take it from there,” she said. “You don’t have to go to the Department of Human Services yourself.”

Feeding the Gulf Coast, formerly known as the Bay Area Food Bank, also operates a food distribution system that serves the hungry in 24 counties in southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to the group’s website. In Pearl River County, it helps supply four food pantries.

The group also conducts nutrition education programs for young and old alike, Howell said as she combined black beans, picante sauce, cheese, fresh chopped cilantro and spices before spoonin the mixture onto low-carbohydrate tortillas. The recipe had been crafted by a Feeding the Gulf Coast nutritionist, she said.

“We made this at an elementary school the other day, and they went insane,” she said. “They were saying, ‘This is just like Taco Bell! It’s better than Taco Bell!’”

Howell said the school programs emphasize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “My Plate” program, which teaches children to devote half their plate to fruits and vegetables and get at least 60 minutes of physical exercise a day, and the “Cooking Matters” outreach, which takes children from simple snacks like a yogurt parfait to more complex dishes.

Feeding the Gulf Coast also organizes workshops and seeks grants to benefit community garden programs and distributes food and supplies after disasters. The group’s Mississippi offices are in Gulfport, and its food warehouse is in Theodore, Ala., southwest of Mobile, Howell said.

Victoria Howell of Feeding the Gulf Coast visits with her audience at the Senior Center of South Pearl River County.

Victoria Howell of Feeding the Gulf Coast visits with her audience at the Senior Center of South Pearl River County.