Benefit Banks open at Plymouth food pantry; Heart and Hands

PLYMOUTH — Rebecca Griffy, director of Heart and Hands in Plymouth, told a tragic story involving a homeless family she and other staff were trying to help receive federal assistance for medical care.
Because of a mistake in filling out paperwork, a woman in the family passed away before she could receive care. Hard to understand forms and the move of information to the Internet, said Griffy, is taking a toll on people who desperately need help.
“The state has cut out all social workers for family and children’s services,” said Griffy. “They want you to go online to apply for (assistance) but, you know, if you don’t have the money to buy food you probably don’t have a computer.”
Many Marshall County residents seem to struggle with applying for benefits such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance program (SNAP), voter registration, tax filing, and Federal Assistance For Student Aid (FAFSA). According to Micca Stewart of the Purdue Extension, Marshall County has $9 million in unclaimed benefits. Benefits go unclaimed for many reasons, she said, including confusion over how to apply or confusion about eligibility. This is hurting not only the individuals and families who need the benefits, but also the local economy as people with less money buy less. Fortunately, Purdue Extension, as Indiana’s state administrator of the Benefit Bank program, is working on a solution.
Heart and Hands, Inc. and Bread of Life food pantry in Plymouth have both opened Benefit Banks at their locations. Four personnel at each location have been trained as Benefit Bank counselors to offer assistance in applying for SNAP, FAFSA, voter registration, and tax filing to anyone free of charge.
“We just got our training on Thursday, and this is our first week doing it,” said Terri Brandt, director of the Bread of Life food pantry.
Brandt added that the food pantry will have one extra person working specifically on the Benefit Bank every day.
“(The Benefit Bank) allows people to access benefits that they could have, which helps them basically exist, and then that money goes into the local economy and helps (others) exist,” said Brandt.
Heart and Hands and Bread of Life will work together, although they are each operating their own Benefit Bank site.
“We definitely want that $9 million in Marshall County that’s not being touched to get touched, to get used,” said Stewart, who is the program coordinator for the entire state of Indiana.
“For every $5 in food stamps that is spent, that actually creates $9 in economic activity,” continued Stewart, pointing out that when people have a little extra money, they are likely to spend it at local businesses rather than outside the county.
The Benefit Bank program in Indiana is currently being funded by the Lumina Fund for Education in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Foundation, the Wayne County Community Foundation, and the Crown Pointe Community Foundation.
Stewart said that several other grant requests are in the works, as they hope to eventually offer energy assistance and help with Medicare and Medicaid as well.
Benefit Banks will be open during regular hours. For the Bread of Life food pantry, hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1-3 p.m. and the second and fourth Mondays of the month, 4-8 p.m. Heart and Hands is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in Plymouth, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday in its Bremen location.