Thomasina Johnson

With need for food assistance for Miami University students and Oxford residents increasing, local agencies have offered a helping hand.

Unemployment has spiked and food stamp use around Cincinnati is up more than 50 percent, according to the Nov. 28 edition of The New York Times.

According to Diane Ruther-Vierling, executive director of the Oxford Family Resource Centers, Oxford is suffering.

“There has been an increase overall (of food assistance at the Oxford Family Resource Center) of about 10 to15 percent since last year,” Ruther-Vierling said. “We help a number of independent graduate students, especially foreign graduate students.”

The rising number of Miami graduate students needing assistance may be related to government programs financially helping laid-off people to finish school, said Lisa McIntosh,

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach coordinator.

“Because of the economy, people are laid off and they may go back to school,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh works with Shared Harvest in Fairfield. McIntosh and Shared Harvest make daily visits to local food pantries. She said she uses special software to screen potential food stamp recipients.

“A lot of people don’t realize they qualify or are embarrassed (to receive food stamps or food assistance),” McIntosh said.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets “strange” policies for a student to qualify for food stamps, McIntosh said. For example, to get assistance, the student must be working part-time or have children, McIntosh said.

“A student must independently have a gross income of at least 130 percent of the poverty level to get food stamps and at the 150 percent level to qualify for assistance at a food pantry like the Oxford Family Resource Center,” McIntosh said.

If a student living on their own was at the 130 percentile, they would earn at most $1,174 monthly. For a family of two, the requirement goes up to $1,579 monthly, McIntosh said.

According to McIntosh, the most students qualifying for food stamps could receive for a one-person household is $200 monthly. Two people can get up to $367.

“This is for food only, nothing prepared,” McIntosh said. “For example, some deli items from Kroger may not qualify for food stamps.”

Another resource for people receiving food stamps is the Uptown Farmer’s Market, said senior Laura Flamm. Flamm, a member of the Western College Program, is writing her senior project on farmers markets and food assistance.

“This is the first year that the farmers market is taking food stamps, but not many people are taking advantage of it,” Flamm said.

According to Flamm, the new Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer has helped win grant money to allow farmers markets nationwide to help those needing food assistance get fresh, local produce.

“Some people think the farmers market is more expensive than the grocery store, but it often has better deals on things that grow in bulk, like apples and peppers,” Flamm said.