Connecting Residents with Local Benefits

Sat, Oct 20th, 2018

The Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership is the first organization in the country to create a specialized hyperlocal feature with the tech company Benefit Kitchen that allows low-income households in our district to quickly and easily learn about government benefits available to them. Residents can also learn about free services and discounts within walking distance at local businesses in the neighborhood.

Thanks to a grant provided by the New York City Department of Small Business Services’ (SBS) Neighborhood Challenge 5.0 competition, we have spent the past year facilitating access for local residents to the quick and easy web-based screening tool developed by tech company Benefit Kitchen. The web-based screening technology allows anyone to anonymously answer a few simple questions about his or her household on a computer or mobile device and find out eligibility for up to 18 federal, state, and local benefits. Interested residents can simply answer a few questions about their household, without ever revealing a name or social security number. The screening takes about 5 minutes and an immediate response reveals what the household is eligible for and provides steps to take to claim the benefits. Anyone can take the screener here.

THE FACES AND VOICES OF BENEFIT KITCHEN ON MYRTLE

Here are the voices of the community leaders and business owners who are helping to make the connection between services and people in our community, alongside the voices of neighbors who are benefitting from this amazing resource.

Meredith, Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership

“Our organization does a lot to support local businesses, but we also do a great deal of community-based work, which includes increasing access to affordable fresh food resources through our monthly pantry, summer jobs for community youth, and programs for local seniors. This work is important because as the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill neighborhood is changing, we want to ensure that Myrtle remains welcoming to ALL in spite of that change. We are thrilled to join with Benefit Kitchen in connecting residents with federal, state, and local benefits right here on the Avenue that increase access to services, while saving them money, and we hope to inspire more businesses to find ways to serve the entire community.”

Chengwan, Whitman Pharmacy (329 Myrtle)

“I grew up in Brooklyn and I am a huge believer in serving, giving back, and helping out my hometown. Our pharmacy participates in the Pharm to Farm program that allows our customers who are SNAP recipients to receive $30 in farmers’ market coupons, or “health bucks,” once per month if they fill prescriptions here and if one prescription is a blood pressure medication. Health Bucks can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets throughout New York City. Since our pharmacy focuses on serving the low-income residents in this community, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene invited us to join this Pharm to Farm pilot program to serve as the access point for promoting good nutrition. The goal of this program is to promote healthy eating among low-income, high-risk patients. We have a large number of low-income residents in the community confronting the growing economic uncertainty and it is important for us to educate them about healthy eating and adhering to their medication regimens.”

Antoinette, Clinton Hill Resident

“I’ve been living in the neighborhood for like 28 years. I heard about the Benefit Kitchen app through my friend and neighbor Nicole. I’ve known her for 20 years. She told me about it, and then I went on the website. I put my information in and discovered things in the community like the pantry, the free stuff you can get — you know, what you are eligible for in the stores and stuff. I have 5 children from age 28 to 12 and 3 grandkids ages 6, 5, and 2 who all live with me. I found out about daycare for my grandson. They have a yoga class on Myrtle Avenue. And the pantry helps save me money on groceries. I tried the Citibike because I’m a NYCHA resident, but those bikes are heavy. I’m going to tell someone about this because they really need childcare and they also need that food pantry. Nobody says no to food. I also know someone who needs the healthcare. I’ll tell them it’s easy to do. You don’t have to sell your soul. It’s just about being eligible. I can tell people at my job because I work with a lot seniors who can benefit from lots of things.”

Joseph, Fort Greene Resident

“I learned about Benefit Kitchen at an event called Community Corner on a Saturday in Fort Greene Park. Myrtle Avenue was doing an event for kids, and my brother has a baby who is one year old. My brother lives with me. I wanted to be screened for benefits so I got a link sent to my phone and did it. It was really simple and fast. It took like 5 minutes. When I finished I had the whole list of benefits. I have really bad eyesight so the eye care benefits on Myrtle stood out to me. Because I put my brother’s stuff in there as a member of my household a lot of stuff came up like WIC and other cool things I didn’t know about. I have gone to the pantry and still have fresh corn in my fridge. I’d say to other residents in Whitman that you never know until you try the screening. Even if I knew about a certain business, I didn’t know they were offering these services. Best to get as much information as you can. Even if you don’t qualify for a certain benefit, you might know other people who do and you can tell them about it.”

Dara, Sacred Yoga (334 Myrtle)

“I’m from Evanston, Illinois originally but I’ve been in Brooklyn for 20 years so I have a little street credibility. LOL. We chose Myrtle Ave because we love it here and have a genuine connection to the people, culture, and neighborhood. We offer a free yoga class on a first-come, first-served basis to the community every Saturday at 12pm. All bodies, fitness levels, and experiences are welcome and supported. We also supply free mats and water to the class. Sometimes people come every week or even just once and say it was the highlight of their week, or the first moment they’ve had to feel at peace, or to grieve, or to feel love and acceptance. We hope that yoga practice helps people to be a bit kinder to each other. Yoga can help reduce pain, improve breathing, and reduce stress and anxiety. We are grateful this community allows us to be here and we are dedicated to making the powerful medicine of yoga available to the people who could benefit from it the most. Many people hold a stereotype of yoga from advertising and the media as being only for the wealthy, the white, the able-bodied, the young, the skinny, and the female and this leaves out SO MANY people who can benefit from feeling better in the body they are in. It’s not easy to be a small business, but when we are open and generous and connected, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Kimberly, Fort Greene Resident

“I learned about the Benefit Kitchen screening process at the University Settlement Street Fair on Myrtle Avenue in the summer. I approached the Myrtle Ave table about a raffle because I wanted some information on it. They told me about the website I applied for it and was surprised to see how many free services I was qualified for that I didn’t know about. Like childcare, more food stamps, and a lot of stuff. I remember seeing something about free yoga classes here on Myrtle and the Farragut food pantry. I have a 2-year-old daughter. I’m still looking into it and trying to figure it out. I would say to other residents here to take all of the services that are offered to you because you never know what you might be missing.”

WHAT IS BENEFIT KITCHEN?

Benefit Kitchen is a free financial literacy platform that connects working families with a path out of poverty. Through a quick online screener, you can learn about your eligibility and estimated dollar amounts for up to 18 federal, state, and local benefits, unlocking up to $13,000 for your household annually! Plus, you’ll find free or discounted services and products that are available from local shops on Myrtle Avenue. Learn more here.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

“Fort Greene and Clinton Hill have experienced incredible growth and economic development in the past decade, but that cannot be at the expense of leaving behind low-income individuals and households. Benefit Kitchen is important because it empowers many people in this area along Myrtle Avenue and surrounding areas to access Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, and other benefits while also learning about discounts and special offers in local businesses. It empowers residents and local businesses alike! Businesses must cater to all in their surrounding areas, regardless of income level. The way that we build up communities, promote unity, and empower individuals and families to rise up the economic ladder is to provide the tools for our local businesses to thrive by easing access to their products and services for all. Neighborhoods evolve and that means everyone in the community should be actively engaged, sharing in the opportunities that come. This tool is really all about the fact that there are too many resources that individuals and families are eligible for that go unused. Businesses have products and services that can also be made more available to people who would not otherwise have access to them. It’s a great way to promote empowerment and change our communities for the better!”

Taquan, Fort Greene Resident

“I’m turning 28 in a few weeks. I’m not employed currently, but am interested in doing video production work. I’ve also written a TV show with a partner, and we are working on selling it. A friend from the neighborhood told me about the Benefit Kitchen app, so I did the screening and learned that I’m eligible for like $80 in food stamps, or SNAP I guess it’s called, per month so I’m going to apply. I also get some kind of tax credit and high-speed internet for only $15 a month, so I’m going to look into that. I live in Farragut Houses now, but I grew up in Lafayette Gardens and went to Benjamin Banneker Academy on Clinton (Avenue) for high school. I love this neighborhood so much, man. So crazy to see the changes. Never thought this would be a world-class neighborhood. I remember running up and down Myrtle Avenue as a kid and having family reunions every summer in the park here.”

NY State Assembly Member Walter Mosley

“With 20 percent of residents living on or near the poverty line, the Benefit Kitchen initiative serves as a vital resource for the Myrtle Avenue district as it enables an efficient way for residents to determine which monetary benefits they are entitled to, as well as be made aware of any discounted products and services offered to them by local businesses. The Benefit Kitchen app simplifies an often-complicated process and provides local residents with a user-friendly and efficient way to find resources that they are entitled to, yet likely don’t know about. We have had many local residents very surprised at what they were eligible for and how much financial strain that took off their shoulders. The ‘stand out’ for me was the ability that this application has to enable people to achieve a better financial standing, simply by prompting them to answer a few questions and checking their eligibility. The goal of this initiative–to better connect local businesses with residents and provide better incentives for them–is a vital step towards moving families away from the poverty line and providing the community with better prospects to thrive. With the gentrification of neighborhoods occurring more rapidly, it is important that local businesses cater to all residents to allow the neighborhood to progress forward together, rather than separately. I’d like to say thank you to the local businesses, like Apple Bank here, that are providing these opportunities to the local community and for showing the true community spirit that we strive for in our district.”  

Omaira, Clinton Hill Resident

“I’m a stay-at-home mom for now. My oldest son is 21, my daughter just turned 19, and my little one is 11 years old. They all live with me. I learned about this Benefit Kitchen process from my friend who wanted to help me out in a time of need. My father was sick, and I was taking care of him. I wasn’t getting any help from the government and wasn’t eligible at the time for food stamps or anything like that. The screening process told me that I was eligible to do the yoga, which I need because my anxiety is very high. I also do the pantry once a month. What stood out for me was that I was eligible for free stuff like healthcare and right now to get some food stamps. I’m also going to help my father-in-law who is 83 years old to do this. It also told me that I could get paid to take care of him. I would tell other people in the neighborhood not to be afraid to do this because you never know what you need. I was kind of skeptical about it, but then I learned a lot about the neighborhood. A lot of things have changed here, and people don’t always know what’s available.”

Kevin, Apple Bank for Savings (418 Myrtle)

“I love that even though Myrtle Ave is in the middle of the busiest city in the world, it still manages to maintain a small town feel. The avenue is always filled with familiar, warm faces and exudes a sense of community. Here at Apple Bank, we currently offer an Extra Value Checking Account. There is no minimum balance to maintain, no monthly maintenance fees, unlimited check writing, and the first order of personalized checks is free. We offer affordable checking, savings and club accounts because we are aware that access to these accounts can save members of the communities we serve hundreds of dollars annually. Those savings can be used to provide food, clothing and other necessities for them and their families. We recently opened an Extra Value Checking Account for a young man who was being charged $12 per month in maintenance fees for a personal checking account at another bank. That’s a savings of $144 per year. He said that had he known about Apple sooner, he would have already saved close to $500 because he had been paying those fees for over 3 years!”

Melanie, Benefit Kitchen

“What’s unique about what we did with @myrtleavebklyn was offering zip-code specific benefits like free yoga or a farm-fresh box to qualified families. We normally zoom way out and put our energies on global, federal programs, so we were super excited to use our platform to focus in — literally on a population living near a specific avenue in Brooklyn. We primarily did direct constituent outreach at ‘corner’ events or the food pantry. The Benefit Kitchen staffers who worked at these events were struck by the warmth of the folks whom we helped do screenings. Some people were wary, which we completely understand (who wants to talk about family finances with a stranger!?), but those who opened up to us learned about new benefits and some were completely surprised by some of the opportunities that they were missing out on. That ‘AHA! moment’ was the most rewarding thing we experienced during our work with the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership.”

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