Spreading the Word, One Flyer at a Time
The City of New York set up a very short term temporary food assistance program for those victims of Storm Sandy who were suddenly in need but were not eligible for Supplement Food Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly know as Food Stamps). But they arranged for only two application centers, one in Staten Island and the other in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, far from the neighborhoods hit by the Storm. The window for applying was only one week; there was no reasonable accommodation for applications by people with disabilities, and worst, the City did a terrible job of letting anyone know about the program. They did little to get the word out in affected neighborhoods, meaning most people had no idea that the benefit was available, or that they might qualify.
So NYLAG attorney, Jane Greengold Stevens suggested that the organization find a way to broadcast the news to as many people in the affected areas as possible. NYLAG developed a one-page flyer that simplified the complicated government information, clarifying that the assistance was available to eligible individuals and families, regardless of immigration status, who met four criteria: lived within certain specific zip codes, did not currently receive food stamps, had incurred disaster-related expenses and had identification. The flyer also provided information about center locations and transportation options.
Stevens then got the word out to NYLAG staff and volunteers, asking people to travel to affected neighborhoods across the city to distribute the flyers. By luck NYLAG’s annual holiday gathering was held on Thursday, December 14 – a perfect opportunity to distribute the flyers to those who would do the canvassing.
Over the weekend, a dedicated team of NYLAG volunteers – London Cruz, Sarah Leitson, Jessica Nevins, Sunny Noh and Camille Zentner – went to work. Some commandeered NYLAG’s Mobile Legal Help Center and visited Far Rockaway and Coney Island to distribute flyers and personally talked to people to let them know they might be eligible. Others travelled by subway and canvassed Staten Island neighborhoods in a car owned by a NYLAG attorney (decked out in NYLAG signs), canvassing strip malls within the eligible zip codes, talking to people and popping into local business offices. Nearby, they were cheered to see an FDNY food distribution operation and an Occupy Sandy hub, where volunteers were passing out information about the food assistance program. But when they checked out the Staten Island application center there was very little traffic. In the end, the last-minute efforts of NYLAG and other organizations were not enough to turn around a failed City benefits program that was poorly planned and executed.
“Still, I am proud that NYLAG and others stepped up to do what we could, and I am sure there are people today with food assistance they would not have gotten without our collective efforts,” said Stevens. “We did our part to spread the word. Next time, I hope we don’t have to.”