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AARP unit offers food stamp help for seniors
Foundation helped sign up 800 people in 2011
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AARP food stamp sign-up program

Applicants are asked to bring information about income and expenses and a Social Security award letter, proof of residency (like a bill with their address on it) or an ID card. It typically takes four weeks for an application to be processed. For more information, call 877-957-7627.

Hall County
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and Wednesday; and 3-7 p.m. March 5 and 8
Where: Blackshear Place Library, 2927 Atlanta Highway, Gainesville

Forsyth County
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 25; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 2
Where: Cumming Library, 585 Dahlonega Road, Cumming

Nearly two-thirds of older Georgians eligible for food stamps are not enrolled in the federal program, according to AARP.

The group's charitable arm, the AARP Foundation, is trying to tackle that issue in Hall County this week.

AARP Georgia is holding a food stamp application drive today and Wednesday at the Blackshear Place Library in Gainesville and at the Cumming Library in Forsyth County on Feb. 25.

Representatives are offering to help adults fill out forms for the federally funded program.

Ed Van Herik, a spokesman for the AARP Foundation, said food stamps can go a long way in helping people with fixed incomes who are balancing multiple needs.

"For people who are really struggling, they find themselves in a position where they are choosing either to pay for a prescription or food... to pay for utilities or food," he said. "Food stamps are a direct benefit that ends up on the table."

Herik said there are several reasons seniors who qualify for food stamps aren't enrolled.

"For one, some seniors have a long history of being independent," he said, "and they want to remain independent."

He said there has also been a rapid increase in seniors who are suffering in the economic conditions.

However, the AARP Foundation has been working since September to sign up Georgians for the program. The foundation boasts of signing up 800 in 2011. Most of that work has been focused in the Atlanta area until now.

Merry Howard, director of the Hall County-Gainesville Senior Life Center, said there is a need in Hall County for the kind of work the AARP Foundation is starting to do here.

"I'm glad they are taking the initiative," she said. "Hunger for older adults can be really high if they are living by themselves."

An intern with the Senior Life Center had tried a similar program with its clients in the past, said Howard. However, since many of the center's clients live with family members, there were fewer benefits available for them and paperwork was more difficult to fill out.

However, Howard said she believes there are many seniors living alone who could be helped by food stamps if "they are not too proud to come forward."

Herik said some of the stigma in using food stamps has been eased by technology. These days, food stamp clients use a card that looks like a credit card rather than actual stamps.

"The system is designed so no one knows if you receive this kind of assistance," Herik said. "It's not noticeable to anyone."

Paperwork for the program can be burdensome, Howard said, so assistance in filling it out can be helpful.