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Saturday, November 22, 2014

The SNAP Challenge - Part 1

This is a busy time for most food banks and food pantries, but in case you think that means they are getting enough help and people aren't that hungry, I'd like to take you back to September and learn about the SNAP challenge. 

September is Hunger Action Month and this year, I wanted to try the SNAP challenge as a way to really understand what food insecurity means. I was also hoping that by sharing information about food insecurity and the SNAP challenge, I could motivate people to take action and help people who are hungry in their own communities. I hope by reading this post you, too, will be motivated enough to take action. 

There are hungry people in my immediate community. In our school district, at 180 families rely on our Backpack Initiative to supplement their food. In the North Hills, over 5000 families received assistance from North Hills Community Outreach. This is happening in my neighborhood, to my neighbors. I needed to do something. 

The SNAP challenge is a very simple concept. People who accept the challenge are asked to only eat food they could afford if they were relying the US federal government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This works out to about $4.50 a day. 

Here are the rules:
1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge days. That amount is $4.50 for all food and beverage.
2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge days, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout your days.

6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.

I wanted to do this challenge, but I didn't want to do it for the entire month. And I realize that I was completely lucky to be able to make these choices. I had two main reasons for not doing it the entire month. One, I knew I would be terribly stressed out. Two, I was training for a half-marathon and I was sure I couldn't get the nutrition I needed with the financial limits of SNAP. 

And I knew this was going to be hard for me because I love to eat.

My good friend had a great idea. She suggested I recruit people to participate in the challenge with me and cover the entire month. This was perfect! It fulfills #6 on the challenge description and by recruiting more people it spreads awareness of food insecurity and how insane it is to expect someone to eat on $4.50 a day. 

I put the call out on Facebook and got a great response. 

September rolled around and it was time for me to shop. I planned to shop for 4 days at once. $4.50 a day equals $18 and I figured I could get better food that I could stretch over 4 days. 

This was basically it. I factored in the cup of coffee I wanted to have at home each day and the creamer I wanted to use. I also factored in the cost of eggs I had already purchased. I also found a package of frozen spinach for .89. That was the only fresh produce I could afford on my $18 budget! My food was oatmeal with peanut butter for breakfast, eggs and spinach for lunch and pasta and beans at dinner. 

When I explained what I was eating and why to my children at dinner, one of them cried. It was eye-opening to us all. 

When I posted about the challenge and my limitations on Facebook, people wanted to give me free food from their gardens. I had to decline because of challenge requirement #4. Not everyone who receives SNAP benefits has access to caring, generous friends who have productive gardens. Some people live in food deserts. 

Let's hear from some of the other people who participated:

"We did our almost all of our SNAP shopping in Sunday night. Prior to going out to the store and using the newspaper ads for Safeway and Albertson's for pricing, we "purchased" several items from our pantry or refrigerator. These items were: two cans of tuna fish, a 32 oz bag of shredded cheddar cheese, a 12 oz package of bacon, and four bags of microwave popcorn, which used up $14 ( we rounded up) of our $45 for the week. Not an auspicious start. We did more shopping at Albertson's and pretty bought the cheapest stuff that was on sale.
There were several times during the week when we were a little hungry and would have eaten more if not for the challenge.
If we were limited to this all the time, we would also probably surrender even more our somewhat low-carb way of eating and buy more rice and potatoes. Otherwise, on a week-to-week basis, this would get old really fast. We also felt as if we were not able to eat healthy because fresh produce is expensive, especially in relation to number of calories provided. We did not have the extra burdens that come along with hard times and/or poverty." - Mike and Kathleen, Wyoming
My friend not only participated during her training for the NYC Marathon, she also involved her entire family. She's also a vegan and has even more limitations.
Participating in day 1 of the SNAP challenge as part of hunger action month. I'm committed to 4 days total throughout September. The challenge involves spending a daily allowance of just $4.50 on food. (The average amount a SNAP recipient is allotted). This is especially challenging for me as a runner-in-training. I'm trying to make smart healthy choices. So far I've spent 50 cents on a large but boring breakfast of plain oats.
What she didn't post is that she was so hungry by lunch she pushed in front of another shopper at the store to get the last protein bar.
Participating in another day of the SNAP challenge as part of hunger action month. Today I have the whole family onboard— it has been challenging explaining it to the kids. The challenge involves spending a daily allowance of just $4.50 per person on food. (The average amount a SNAP recipient is allotted.) I'm predicting that the kids go to school tomorrow and tell their friends that we don't have enough money for food. If nothing else, I am hoping that it helps them understand a little bit more about reducing food waste and appreciating what they have. -Allison, Pennsylvania
Allison's post elicited this comment from one of her friends: "And hopefully advocating more in the future for those who live this and aren't doing it as a challenge  seriously though good for you. I am consistently astonished at the pervasive lack of empathy and awareness people have towards so many people. They would rather stereotype and make snap judgments rather than bother to learn about individual and systematic reasons."

I'm going to share more about this in another post, called The SNAP Challenge, Part 2. But if reading this has given you enough motivation to take action. You can donate, start a virtual food drive, or speak out. Pick one.

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