Los Angeles County rolled out its new 34-foot Health and Nutrition Mobile Unit Wednesday, Sept. 29, which is designed to assist low-income residents in signing up for food stamp benefits.

The mobile unit made a stop at St. Joseph Center in Venice and provided residents the opportunity to fill out applications and meet with an eligibility worker.

Third District County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who co-sponsored the event with the Department of Public Social Services and St. Joseph Center, said the mobile unit will be an important tool to allow the county to target non-traditional locations to reach residents needing assistance.

“In these tough economic times, we need to take the department’s outreach effort to the next level, and bringing these eligibility and enrollment services directly to the community is the way to do that,” Yaroslavsky said.

In 2004, the Board of Supervisors instructed Social Services to increase efforts to enroll residents in the food stamp program, and the department has since implemented a number of programs with community-based organizations to reach those who might qualify for benefits.

“Since the recession began, more than 300,000 individuals have been added to the Food Stamp Program. However, there are many more who are potentially eligible to the program and are not aware that they are eligible,” Department of Public Social Services Director Philip Browning said. “Increasing participation in the program will allow us to assist low-income residents, reducing their hunger, insecurity and related health problems.”

In addition to being used for Medi-Cal and Food Stamp outreach, the mobile van will serve as an emergency response unit during a natural disaster.

As of August, there were 941,140 residents in Los Angeles County receiving food stamps benefits, a spokesman for the supervisor said. Many more qualify for the program, but may not know they are eligible, be reluctant to sign up or may not understand the process.

Residents may apply for food stamp benefits at any of the 28 social service offices located throughout the county.

A list of those offices, as well as eligibility requirements, may be found online at http://dpss.lacounty.gov/, or by calling the toll-free Health and Nutrition hotline at (877) 597-4777.