The Impact of Food Access

The energy and passion of the students at Penn is an asset to our team at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. We will continue to highlight their voices and actions on our blog, in series such as Notes from the Field and Penn’s Year of Water. Today, we hear from Masha Jones, CHIP research assistant and Penn senior in the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS), Health & Societies program.

A couple years ago, I volunteered with the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, screening people for eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and helping them apply. I asked individuals a few questions about their living situation and assets. After plugging that information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, I waited eagerly for a number to pop up on my screen—does this person qualify for assistance, and if so, for how much? Some didn’t qualify, but many did—several for over $100 per month. One woman told me that her husband recently passed away and every little bit helps. Another young family had just immigrated to the U.S. and was able to apply for SNAP for the children. Just think, 20 minutes of my time that might have been spent chatting with a friend or surfing the web was able to bring a family or individual closer to buying groceries and putting food on the table.

The Impact of Access to Benefits

I helped at the Coalition Against Hunger long before I began working at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, and though I felt that my time was being well spent, the effectiveness of social assistance programs was not on my mind. Now, learning about successful interventions to combat food insecurity in the U.S., I was pleased to discover that benefits access programs have great bang for the buck. Connecting eligible families to benefits such as SNAP is an opportunity for impact featured in High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn: Focus on Housing, Health, and Hunger (A Guide for Donors).


The need to connect low-income individuals and families to benefits is as relevant now as it was a year ago when we released the Downturn Guide. Though more than a quarter of the city’s population uses SNAP, there are still over 150,000 eligible residents not receiving the nutrition assistance, according to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger SNAP Campaign.

Another benefits access program is Seedco’s EarnBenefits program, a Model In Practice in Opportunity 3 of High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn. In 2009, Seedco received several grants to expand EarnBenefits and plans to extend the program to three additional states in 2010. Seedco is also piloting a product that integrates its rules engine with existing organizational databases to streamline the benefits access process.1


Opportunity: Learn How to Address the Needs of Vulnerable Families

Find out how you can join the discussion with speakers such as John Arnold of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, Warren Kantor, philanthropist and founder of BenefitsData Trust, and Mariana Chilton, of Drexel University and Witnesses to Hunger. Learn about the issues related to hunger and benefits access at our upcoming Donor Education Seminar for Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Families at Penn/Wharton.

1 Seedco Annual Report 2009 (September 2010). Expanding the Reach of EarnBenefits. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from