You may think you know what food insecurity looks like, but you haven't met this family.

Jillian Hollingsworth paid a steep price to stay home while her children were young.

With no maternity leave plan at her job in South Carolina and the high cost of daycare, she had quit to stay home to take care of her babies. But, that job had provided health insurance for her whole family, so her husband, Wesley, found a new state government job that had health benefits. The only problem? It paid about half of what his previous job had, leaving them in a tough situation.

“Our financial situation just nose-dived,” says Hollingsworth.


“We were struggling. I mean, we had a mortgage, car payments, and student loans,” she continues.

But she knew the cost of daycare was too high (it would've sapped all the extra income she could have earned working) and she wanted to be there for her kids.

Photo via istock.

She wanted to be home with her children because she knew how important bonding with a parent can be for their development.

But after their second child was born, the couple learned they qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

For more than 50 years, SNAP has offered nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income families. It’s the largest national program to provide families support to put food on the table when they need  it most.  

Benefits used to come in the form of food stamps, but after 2004, recipients in all states could use an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card as part of this program. It looks just like a credit/debit card, which reduces fraud and provides more dignity and convenience to those it helps.

Jillian and Wesley were both college graduates, and had maintained regular employment, but they just couldn’t make ends meet after they had children.

Image via iStock.

“I don’t think anyone in our family has ever been on food assistance, but it’s not something we were ashamed of,” says Hollingsworth. “We were so thankful that program existed to help us.”

About 34% of South Carolina’s children received SNAP benefits in 2015, according to a 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Nationwide, in a typical month, SNAP helps feed 20 million children.

That’s one in four children in the United States.

SNAP is helping stabilize food-insecure households, which gives kids a better shot at a healthy, happy life. Food insecurity is about more than being hungry. Malnourishment can affect not only a child’s health, but school performance and behavior. That, in turn, can alter their chance at success later in life.

But, just by eating healthy, regular meals made possible by SNAP, kids are getting sick less often and doing better in school. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP participation can lead to gains in reading and math skills among elementary school children, especially young girls, and increase their chances of graduating from high school.

Image via iStock.

With help from SNAP, Hollingsworth could buy fresh, nutritious food for her children as she taught them to eat solid foods.

A bigger food budget meant better choices were available, not just $1 menu deals at fast-food joints, boxes of mac-n-cheese, and convenience-store grub.

Plus, many farmers markets now accept SNAP, making it even easier to get locally-sourced, fresh food. Between 2009 and 2015, the amount of SNAP dollars spent at farmers markets actually quadrupled, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.

And that's great news for families like Hollingsworth's.

It’s especially nice to have more options when you’re a family strapped for cash, she says, because that’s often not the case. You can feel pulled in all directions with limited resources to meet your family’s needs. But SNAP provides low-income families with benefits to buy food which frees up additional income to pay bills. Hollingsworth appreciated that priority.

Today, Hollingsworth and her husband no longer need SNAP to feed their children.

After all, they never meant for it to be a long-term solution, but it was there to help them when they needed it most.

SNAP is designed to be temporary, requiring a renewal process every three or six months.

Image via iStock.

While receiving SNAP and taking care of her babies, Hollingsworth baby-sat for other children and studied to be a doula. And once her studies were complete, she was able to increase her earning potential. Those efforts, plus her husband’s work promotion, enabled them to get off SNAP within a year and a half.

However, they’re forever grateful for how SNAP helped her family.

“SNAP was very helpful while we had it. It’s built into society to help people just like us. People think if you’re on government programs, you’re living beyond your means or you’re lazy. But that’s not the case,” says Hollingsworth. “My husband was working every day. We were working towards being in a position so I could work and be with my kids, and we did that.”

Today, they have three healthy, happy children, and Hollingsworth attributes some of that to SNAP’s role in their early growth.

The needs of many families like theirs, considered the “working poor,” fall through the cracks. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 8.6 million working poor Americans in 2015 — those who work hard but are still below the poverty line. Many don’t believe they can qualify for this resource until they get back on their feet.

SNAP is one of the simplest ways for food-insecure families to put healthy food back on the table. The more families who know about it, and learn how much it can help, the more children will grow up with brighter futures.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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