Food Stamp Challenge Diary
September 27, 2011
(Day 7) I started the day off with dry oatmeal. I was out of milk, eggs and bananas. I read the newspaper and then, I headed out to do a 7 mile run, which, to my surprise, I completed very slowly despite my low energy level. After that, I had some errands to do. When I got home, I was soooooo hungry. Fortunately, I had a good-sized bowl of chili left. So I ate that and had a couple of teaspoons of peanut butter. I was feeling OK and headed off to my daughter's field hockey game and then to my son's football game. It was homecoming day for my son's football team so there was a team party at the coach's house after the game. When I arrived at about 6:30pm, I was quite hungry. I have to confess that I did eat some salad and a hamburger at the party. I just could not sit and watch everyone eat all this delicious food. And so I rationalized that it was free so I could have a little. Also, I told myself "you made it this far in the Challenge -- this was the last meal and you ran 7 miles today -- you can have a little something to eat." The thought of having another peanut butter sandwich or a can of soup when I got home was not at all appealing, in fact, it was a little depressing. On a positive note, I did not have anything to drink or have any of the wonderful desserts at the party. But once again, I am reminded how much we can take things for granted -- like having a nutritious meal. There are so many people who work long hours -- sometimes at physically demanding jobs -- or are taking care of families or have no support system, and they have no choice but to scrape by on a meager food budget.
I have been humbled by this experience and have enjoyed reading the posts of the other participants. I want to thank everyone who participated in the Second Annual Maryland Hunger Solutions Food Stamp Challenge. Please send us your stories, pictures and videos. Tell me what you learned this week and how the experienced changed you. I look forward to hearing from you.
Chris Byrd (SHARE Food Network)
As Marvin Gaye said in Whatís Happening, Brother from his classic seminal album Whatís Going On, ďCanít find no work, canít find no job, my friend. Money is tighter than itís ever been.Ē Forty years after Whatís Going Onís release, Marvin the Masterís devastatingly deceptively understated analysis eloquently describes the reality of the record number of Americans living in poverty. If you canít find work, you canít afford a place to stay, and finding food that is affordable, nutritious and accessible becomes a great challenge.
I wonít claim participating in the food stamp challenge opened a window to the daily reality of a typical SNAP participant. For one thing, when I went to the store to shop for groceries for the week, I drove my car to a supermarket. Although I do a lot of work in Maryland, I live in the District, and normally shop at a Safeway in Capitol Hill. There are relatively more affluent District neighborhoods with more options for grocery shopping than the hill, but we are no means deprived and in a much better position than our poorest neighborhoods where there are only two supermarkets to accommodate 70,000 persons.
Persons from communities without supermarkets either have take several busses or worse pay for a taxi to shop at a supermarket or more likely shop at a neighborhood corner store with few healthy, affordable grocery options. Owning a reliable car is a luxury and great convenience many donít enjoy.
I did, however, have an advantage other challenge participants did not. I am the Grants and Partnership Coordinator for the SHARE Food Network, where I have worked for more than 10 years. I have been there so long because I believe so strongly in our mission: enhancing personsí food security by providing affordable, nutritious grocery packages monthly to persons in the Washington-Baltimore region. Individuals pay $20 and perform two hours of volunteer service and in exchange receive a grocery package of 14 store quality items- fresh produce, frozen meats and fish, and other grocery and staple items- that retail for $45 at the supermarket. I earn a modest living and donít shop extravagantly, but the challenge limited and impacted my choices. For instance, two pounds of cookies is much more affordable- $2- than four nectarines- $4.11.
I harbor no illusions my experience on the challenge approximates what SNAP participants encounter daily, and I suspect fellow challenge participants feel the same way. If our modest efforts make us better advocates for the poor and hungry and engages more persons in Maryland to do more to overcome hunger and food insecurity, then the challenge, to the degree that it was, will help advance our cause.
But for those of us, to quote Marvin Gaye again from Right On from Whatís Going On, who ďfeel the icy wind of poverty blowing in the air,Ē we must remain committed to work we have been called to do and live with the hope others will join us and work to create a new movement to overcome hunger and poverty. We should pay no heed however to whether we are effective or successful. All that matters is we are faithful. As TS Elliot once said, ďOurs is in the trying. The rest is not our business.Ē
September 26, 2011
Delegate Shane Robinson (District 39, Montgomery County)
The first few days have reminded me of being back in the Peace Corps because I've changed my eating habits to model how I ate as a Volunteer. Essentially, I've been living off of rice and beans, pasta, and bread with assorted fruit and vegetables that I have had to select very carefully (due to price). Normally when I'm in the produce section I just buy what I want to eat, and I don't pay much attention to the cost, but that is not an option on this budget. I'm a vegetarian, so buying meat is not an issue for me.
Here are some things that I normally eat that I've cut out of my diet to make the numbers work: portabello mushrooms, kalamata olives, hummus, cheese (I should probably be eating less of this anyway), bagels (can't afford loaves of bread AND bagels), tofu (probably could have afforded it at the Asian market, but I shopped for the week at Giant and their tofu is too expensive for this budget), soy milk, jam, dijon mustard, orange juice. Also, I didn't go to the farmer's market last weekend.
Overall the last few days have been okay, but the sad truth is that I am not going to be able to finish out the week. I'm running in the DC Ragnar tomorrow and Saturday, which is a 12-person, 200 mile relay race from Cumberland to DC. I'm running three legs for a total of 20.5 miles, and on a $4 budget I'm not going to be able to eat what I want to eat to power my body for that distance. I will break the budget on GU alone, and I'll be eating a lot more than that over the 36 hours of the race. Could I run the Ragnar on food stamps? Maybe, but I'm not ready for that. I just don't know enough yet. I knew that this would be an issue when I pledged to live on a food stamp budget, but I figured a few days would be better than nothing (next year I'll make it the whole time!)
So, the summation of the last several days: It's been tolerable, but I've had to omit a lot of things from my diet and ultimately failed because I'm unwilling to change my sports nutrition.
Barbara Levin (Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland)
The food stamp challenge is now officially over. I can go back to eating what I want, when I want, in the quantity I want - And it feels great! Yesterday I went shopping for the upcoming holidays (Rosh Hashana starts Wednesday night) while still on the challenge, and I was struck by a number of things.
1) How could I possibly buy food for any holiday celebration on $30 a week?
2) There was no way on this earth I could have bought enough food for even a regular week at the Kosher supermarket I went to.
3) My husband and I absolutely would have eaten out while we were out shopping if it weren't for the $30/week rule. We had to schedule our trip to avoid mealtime, we couldn't stay out as long as we wanted so we could get back to eat, and even so, I was cranky and hungry by the end of the day. But there just is no way you can eat out - even at a fast food place - when you're limited to $30 a week.
4) Having to plan ahead when you only have $30 a week is a Herculean task - and I'm not very good at it. I am so looking forward to knowing if I run out of something, or change my mind about what I want to eat, I can just run over to the market and get it.
Yes, the week was absolutely worthwhile. I have a much better idea of the challenges my clients here at Meals on Wheels - and families throughout the region - face everyday on their limited budgets. But I have to say, I wouldn't want to have to do this forever. Though I know for well over 600,000 folks throughout our state, the realities of a food stamp diet never really end.
Senator Jamie Raskin (District 20, Montgomery County)
What I noticed was that when youíre on such a tight budget, youíre always thinking about how what you pay to eat at one meal will affect what you are able to eat at the next meal. Sometimes youíre tempted to splurge on one meal and then you come to realize that doesnít work so well when you get hungry later.
The recession has been hard on almost everybody and people feel the pinch in different ways. But itís one thing if you canít afford to buy the new car or suit that you wanted; itís another thing if you donít know where the money is coming from to buy meals for your family for the weekend. Even in this crisis environment, I was reminded that there are different levels of need. People who are hungry are dealing with the bottom-level basic needs. Weíre facing some brutal budget choices in Maryland as are other states across the country. This experiment that you guys do [with the Food Stamp Challenge] reminds us that keeping people well-nourished should be at the very center of our thoughts.
It was difficult thinking about the nutritional choices people have to make compared to the privileges a lot of us have. I quickly observed that, in a lot of professional circles, thereís a lot of food around for people to eat. Itís ironic that there seems to be more free food in society for people who donít need it than for people who do.
September 25, 2011
(Day 6) Today was a tough day. I am very tired. I was supposed to run 6-7 miles today training for the Baltimore City Marathon relay. I didn't have the energy so I just ran a little less than 2 miles and I am going to see if I feel better tomorrow to do the longer run. Also, I ran out of milk today and am getting tired of chili -- which I have had every day since Monday. However, the good news is that I still have enough chili to get me through the week (barely!) and I have one more day's worth of oatmeal -- but it will be without milk tomorrow. I still have some peanut butter and bread, but I am out of bananas -- so no more fruit for me! Again, it really helps to get through this knowing that it is temporary and that on Monday I can return to my regular diet which includes much greater choice and really no limitations on the fruits and vegetables that I will consume. Today, I feel extremely grateful. And I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity again to better understand what so many people experience every day -- for real. I hope that others have had a similar experience and will be motivated to advocate on behalf of vulnerable Marylanders. We can reduce hunger and improve well-being if we work together!
September 24, 2011
(Day 5) This week I have been thinking quite a bit about how families with growing children manage on a food stamp budget. We talked about doing the Food Stamp Challenge as a family, but then decided that I would do it solo. My kids are 12 and 10. They both play sports. My 12 year old son is playing football and my 10 year old daughter is playing 2 sports now -- soccer and field hockey. Needless to say, they require lots of calories to fuel their bodies during this time of tremendous growth and development. Actually, my son is hungry all the time! So, as a parent, I made the decision not to restrict their dietary intake this week. Why? Because I did not think it would be fair to them as they require proper nutrition to grow, play and learn. The point is that I was able to make that choice when so many don't have a choice. This has left me feeling extremely frustrated and sad. In a state as wealthy as Maryland, we should be able to ensure that all of our children have adequate nutrition. As a core advisor to the Governor's Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, we are working to eradicate childhood hunger in Maryland. Although we have made some progress, there is still lots of work to do. I urge all federal, state and local leaders and community members to join forces, and to work with us to end hunger in Maryland. This is a goal that everyone can and should support!
Barbara Levin (Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland)
(Day 5) Itís been a busy week for me, and the fact that I've needed to cook everything from scratch to save money, and couldn't afford to buy anything to save time, has only added to the exhaustion of the week. I've fallen asleep early every night this week. My kids are grown, but I know lots of folks who do this on a permanent basis have school-aged children. How do they find the time and energy to help their kids with homework, and do all the things that parents should do to help their kids grow up right, when they're this exhausted all the time? And what do they do when they get sick? There's no way I could keep this up if I wound up with a flu - or even just a cold. But I know I'd still have just that same $30 in food stamps if this was my life for real.
September 23, 2011
Eating on $30 A Week: A Non-Profit Leader's Dose of Reality
(Catonsville Patch, September 22, 2011)
Day 4 -- "Don't touch the chili pot!" This is what I hear myself telling my husband and kids everyday. OK, multiple times a day. I love my family, but I have made it clear that the chili is off limits! Is that selfish? Maybe, but I know that I have just enough food to get me through the week. I am confident that the chili will last through Sunday if I don't share! And they all just inhaled a pizza with pepperoni and had homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert -- so I think I am justiifed in guarding my chili like it's the holy grail. Ok, so food has been on my mind more than usual this week. When you have a limited budget and fewer choices, I think you are forced to do more thinking and planning around meals. You are also keenly aware of all the things you must forego. You can't just get a cup of coffee when you want or make a fruit salad because the fruit is in season or have friends over for dinner. Not having the necessary funds for food not only negatively impacts your mood and health, but also your social life, and can lead to isolation.
Doing the Challenge again has reaffirmed that adequate nutrition is critical to good health and overall well-being. I definitely feel different this week. I came home from work with a massive headache -- not sure if it was hunger-related or not -- but, I tend to think it was. Even though I was tired, I forced myself to go out and run. I did about 2.5 miles and then petered out. Also, my body is craving more fruits and vegetables. I would love a big green salad, but that will have to wait until next week. I am grateful that this experience is only for a week and it helps to know that next week I will have more options and more food. For far too many people in Maryland, relying on food stamps is not a choice, but the only way to meet a basic need -- food. Therefore, it is essential that we do what we can to ensure that all Marylanders have access to affordable, nutritious foods and that those who are eligible for federal nutrition programs benefit from them.
Jen Holz (AARP Maryland)
(Day 5) I feel pretty icky at this point. I am certainly eating enough. I purchased healthy foods, but I can't dream of choking down another banana, more beans or another cup of split pea soup. I am used to a variety of healthy foods. My diet is primarily vegetarian anyhow, but itís amazing how physically awful I feel without green veggies every day.
I made hummus, refried beans and discovered I really love grits. Never had them before. You have to get creative when you are working with such limitations. I am starting to experience a major slow down in terms of my energy level.
So here is confession time. I have had two cups of coffee. I couldn't take it anymore and I really felt like it was affecting my performance in the mornings. Sadly, I started to panic. "what if I get behind? what if I forget an assignment? what if I forget to pack my kids lunch?" all because I am completely whacked out tired in the morning. Then it dawned on me, this is another lesson in empathy. Low income folks living this way week to week, don't have the luxury to "cheat" and succumb to their coffee addiction or whatever food product it is that helps them feel healthy, alive and productive enough to go work a double shift 7 days a week. I can't imagine how awful physically they must feel at times. Emotionally it must be impossible remain patient enough to nurture a family.
Tonight I will be baking sweet potato fries for dinner. I ran out of my $1 bottle of olive oil so they will be a tad dry. What a week!
September 22, 2011
Barbara Levin (Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland)
(Day 3) Well, it turns out Iím losing weight on the food stamp challenge. Iím afraid to eat too much for fear Iíll run out of my allotted food before the end of the week.
And Iím definitely giving up some serious nutritional quality. I decided I would buy Lactaid instead of milk even though thatís more expensive (I really donít want to have to deal with an upset stomach all week) but I had to give up having the Lactaid be calcium fortified. (The calcium fortified version Ė not available at the discount store where I went shopping Ė would have been more expensive.) Iím figuring a week of having significantly too little calcium wonít hurt me too much. But if I had to do this every week forever, the fact that Iím only getting about 1/3 of the amount of calcium I should, probably would be a big deal. I have a family history of osteoporosis, and not getting enough calcium probably would be a very bad thing. Though if I only had $30 a week to spend, it wouldnít matter how bad an idea it was Ė Iíd have no choice.
Now Iím wondering how people with special dietary needs could possibly stay within the $30 a week average food stamp allotment. Here at Meals on Wheels, the majority of my clients have significant health issues. How could someone with Celiac disease possibly afford to buy gluten free products? Or someone with diverticulitis manage to buy cheap foods when they canít touch cheap meat substitutes like beans? Or diabetics buy diabetic friendly foods?
And how much are their conditions worsened when they canít afford the right foods to eat?
(Day 3) 8 am Started the day with sugar snap peas, salmon and cinnamon/ginger tea. Wow was that salmon good! I am not missing coffee but would like something crunchy like crackers!
10:30 Beans, apple, veggies and water. I find beans to be very filling and they stick with you awhile. More salmon at lunchtime along with broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots and more water. Trying to drink at least 64 oz. daily. Before going to pool at 4:30 p I tried something new - a baked sweet potato with peanut butter and cinnamon. My pool mates wanted an update on my challenge so I shared by new sweet potato recipe! Some of my Facebook friends sent encouragement today.
8:30 p broccoli, carrots and cauliflower with hot sauce. I was surprised I have not been getting very hungry. I think that is because I munch on veggies throughout the day. My challenge is going to be Sat. when I am going to a picnic!
September 21, 2011
Day 3 of the Food Stamp Challenge: I woke up hungry and started the day with a bowl of oatmeal -- my breakfast food for the week. Then it was off to the University of Maryland -- College Park to speak with a Women's Health class in the School of Public Health. More than 40 students in the class are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge! The students are very enthusiastic about doing the Food Stamp Challenge. A number of students reported that "it has been harder than they thought it would be." Some students also expressed concern about not being able to afford adequate fruits and vegetables on the food stamp budget.
It was great to hear about their experiences preparing for the Challenge and to have the opportunity to share information about the Food Supplement Program in Maryland. As we all know, there are potentially serious health consequences when you do not receive proper nutrition. The University of Maryland participants are blogging about their experiences, and I encourage you to check it out.
As lunch time approached, I was quite hungry. I am missing my mid-morning snack -- usually a piece of fruit or some carrots or peanuts. For lunch, I brought some chili from home that I made on Day 1 and a hard-boiled egg for an afternoon snack. After work, I plan to go for a run as I am preparing for the MDHS team relay marathon in Baltimore City. Click here to read about MDHS racing to end hunger. Your support is greatly appreciated! Then, to my daughter's soccer game and I will return home at about 8 p.m. to a fine dinner of creamy peanut butter neatly spread on crusted wheat bread. (Does it sound any better than it is?)
Yes, my meal options are very limited this week and certainly not as healthy as I would like. However, at this point, I am just appreciative to have the food that I do have this week as I know many Marylanders may be going without. For me, the Challenge is an "exercise in empathy." It helps us better understand what many of our vulnerable neighbors experience on a daily basis Ė sometimes for weeks or months or even longer. And it further heightens my commitment to ending hunger and improving well-being in our state.
Well, I have my food for the week: 5 lb gala apples, 3 lb. broccoli, cauliflower, carrot mix, 1 head cabbage, 18 eggs, 2 lg. onions, 1 14.75 oz. Alaska Salmon, 1 18 oz. jar peanut butter, 16 oz. pinto beans, 16 oz. navy beans, Fresh sugar snap peas, Total $29.97. But, oops, there is no money left for coffee! This should be an interesting week. I put my beans on to soak.
Weighed myself. If there is any justice in the world, there should be a decrease by next Monday the 26th!!
7:30 am First food eaten was raw sugar snap peas, steamed broccoli blend, then peanut butter with apples. Went to pool at 4:45p and ate veggies afterwards with 1 egg and a baked sweet potato. Hurrah for the sweet potato, it really saved the day! Soup didn't get done until late (8 p) and were very filling. Two scrambled eggs and veggies for dinner. I drank lots of water and got through the first day!
Have to get lab work this a.m. so can't have breakfast until later. Feeling a little hungry. Started eating sugar snap peas and carrots at 10 a.m. along with apple slices dipped in peanut butter. Since I don't have coffee I made hot cinnamon ginger tea. I found a website (www.answers.com) that said sugar was a condiment (anything used to flavor food), so I put some in the tea. Pretty good if I do say so myself.
Went to the pool at 9:30 a. Really hungry afterwards and ate a bowl of beans and more veggies and a TBSP peanut butter. Surprisingly I was not hungry until about 1:30 p when I had more beans and an apple.
For dinner I had a 2 egg frittata with loads of veggies!
In addition to the meals, I kept a covered bowl of lightly steamed broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and cauliflower on the counter and munched throughout the day! Drank more than 64 0z. water!
Tomorrow I am looking forward to opening my can of salmon!!!
September 20, 2011
Tim Adams (Neighborworks America)
(Day 1) I am taking a slightly different approach to the challenge, but suspect that it will still be both daunting & enlightening.
I'm calling mine the Workweek Food Stamp Challenge, and gave myself $21.50 ($4.30/day) to work with for Mon-Fri of this week.
I did pretty well on my first objective, which was the shopping trip. Thanks to some excellent bargains on a few key items (oatmeal @ $1.00/box & decent bread for only $2.29 a loaf) I was able to get out of the Giant for $21.29. While in the store, I quickly realized that fresh fruits & veggies would not have much of a place in my shopping cart. The bag of apples that I normally would have bought would have used up nearly 30% of my budget. And I had assumed that it would be cheaper to buy cans of tomato sauce to make pasta sauce like we normally do, but the pre-made sauce was on sale which made it the cheaper option: likley not as tasty as our homemade, but cheaper.
There are two unique challenges that I will face this week: I am a vegetarian and I am physically active.
As a vegetarian, there will be no whole chickens cooked & thoroughly consumed, nor extra cheap ground beef used to stretch meals. Nor will there be as much diary (eggs & cheese) as I am used to eating. There will be lots (& lots) of rice & beans, and peanut butter sandwiches. That will be some-what of a challenge, but mostly because my choices will get mighty boring after awhile.
The bigger challenge I see is simply getting enough calories. I ride my bike on average 70-80 miles a week (mostly work days) , and I am training to run a marathon, which would have me running an average of 6 miles/day this week. By my calculations, in order to have the energy I need to do all that, I need to consume at least between 3000 - 3500 calories a day -- for a 5 day total of 15,000 - 17,500. However, if I add up the total calories of the food I purchased, I don't even get to 15,000 calories.
While it is probably rare for someone to choose to ride a bike to work & also train for a marathon on a food-stamp budget, I do suspect that my high calorie needs are not all that different from someone who has to ride their bike to a physically demanding job. When faced with simply needing to get enough calories to physically get done what needs to get done, the food calculations start to be influenced less by healthy/balanced food choices and more by getting as cheap as calories as possible.
Here is a chart (pdf) that shows the cost & calories of the foods I purchased for this week. Notice that the fruits & vegies provide the fewest calories per dollar, and the pure carbohydrates give the biggest bang for the buck. Had I been more aware of this when I went shopping, I probably would have put back the 1 item of fresh fruit I purchased (the bag of clementines) and bought some more oatmeal. Had I done that, I would have a better shot at meeting my caloric needs for the week. Since I did NOT do that, it will be interesting to see how I feel & perform (in my job, for my family, in my training) while being hungry.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Jennifer Holz (AARP Maryland)
(Day 1) One thing that struck me is how spoiled I am in terms of variety, but not necessarily the quanitity of food I eat. I never thought of myself as a picky eater, but when I am so limited in terms of my selection, I chose to basically not eat very much over the past day because I "wasn't in the mood" for the limited items included in my 30 dollar shopping trip.
I consider myself somewhat of a whiz in the kitchen. On my way home last night I was brainstorming all of the different ways I could cook the legumes I bought and the various creative recipes I could come up with. What I didn't think about was that dried legumes take a day to soak and then however long to cook once they had been soaked. I basically never planned on what I would eat for dinner last night while my beans were soaking for another 8 hours. I had a carrot, applesauce and a packet of salmon wrapped in a tortilla for dinner. Imagining living this way and actually living it are very different.
A yummy tip for other participants. Chickpeas are very affordable and you may have purchased some this week. Saute them in oil until they become crispy and brown on the outside and sprinkle with salt. They are a tasty and healthy snack.
Michele Levy (Eat Fresh Maryland/Crossroads Farmers Market)
(Day 1) The first apple pie of the season-- first of many!-- was baked in my house last night. I'm feeling fall's arrival, and reveling in the gastronomic bliss that comes with it: dark leafy greens; Bartlett pears; Honeycrisp apples; Italian eggplant; and peppers, peppers, and more peppers. Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country. And yet, 12.5% of households-- 1 in 8-- struggles with hunger and food insecurity. Participation in the federal SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) is dramatically increasing nationwide, including in Maryland. But those SNAP dollars, critical as they are, only go so far.
The average weekly food stamp allotment is $30/person.
I'm thinking about my weekly food purchases. I'm thinking about last night's apple pie alone. I'm wondering how far $30 could possibly go when trying to eat healthfully, eat fresh, and eat local.
This week, our friends and partners at Maryland Hunger Solutions are asking each of us to find out by taking their Food Stamp Challenge. From September 19-25, participants are keeping their food purchases to $30. That includes eating out, and restricts participants from accepting free food and using food already in the house. Daunting, right?
It's a lofty challenge, an intimidating one, which in itself is a testament to the critical issue of food insecurity plaguing our community. This week, in the spirit of the Food Stamp Challenge, I invite us all to bring added mindfulness to our food purchasing. I certainly don't presume that many haven't been, or aren't currently, SNAP participants, and most of us are constantly weighing the cost-benefit of where our food has been sourced and how it's been grown vs. the associated price tag. But in the spirit of the Food Stamp Challenge, I welcome each of you to join the Crossroads team and nearly 100 others in a period of heightened attentiveness to the struggles that low-income families across the country face each day by bringing added pause, contemplation, and appreciation to buying and consuming your food.
Barbara Levin (Meals on Wheels)
(Day 1) As director of client services at Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, I see the intense struggles many of our elderly and disabled clients face as they struggle to afford food to eat. Most of our clients are extremely poor, and many, many of them really canít afford enough food to eat.
Weíre able to provide 2 meals a day in exchange for a donation for some (when there are enough slots available through Title 3 of the older Americans act), but there arenít enough slots for everyone. (In Baltimore City, we havenít been able to add a new client onto the Title 3 program in the entire 14 months Iíve been here.) And so many, many of our clients must pay for their meals out-of-pocket. Even with fees based on a sliding scale, and the fact that we accept food stamps, many struggle severely to pay for their meals.
Some tell us to only bring them food three days a week when they hear what their meals will cost.
Many forego medicine, or heat, or paying their rent, in order to pay for the food they need.
Others try to live just on the food we bring. (And our meals are not supposed to cover 100% of their food needs. So if theyíre doing that, they are going hungry.)
Our clients are too frail or sick to save money by preparing food from scratch. They donít have the strength to stand at an oven and cook, or the dexterity to chop vegetables, or the memory to follow multi-step tasks.
And they canít get themselves out to a food cupboard or soup kitchen if they run out of food. If they canít afford to buy food the food they need, they just donít eat. No matter how badly that worsens their already serious medical conditions.
And that breaks my heart.
So this week Iím participating in the food stamp challenge to get a little better idea of the challenges our clients face every day. That means Iím limiting myself to eating only what the average food stamp participant can afford to eat. (The average food stamp participant receives $30/week in food stamps.)
And Iíll tell you, even on day one, itís rough. I donít know how people do it. The amount of food you can buy for $30 is really a whole lot less than you would think. If I had to buy prepared food because I could no longer cook, instead of the scratch items I did, I donít think I could do it.
September 19, 2011
More than 160 people are taking the Maryland Food Stamp Challenge. I am so excited that so many are joining us, and that so many are following our experiences on Twitter, Facebook, and our online diary.
Today is the first day of the Challenge, and it is a busy one. Iím heading to Santoniís this morning for a shopping trip with Rosemary King Johnston, Executive Director of the Governorís Office for Children, and Hank Greenberg, AARP State Director for Maryland. After that, we will return to Maryland Hunger Solutionsí office for a brown bag lunch to talk about our Challenge experiences. Weíll end the day with a screening of Food Stamped, a documentary made by two Challenge participants. The film will be screened at the Wheeler Auditorium of Baltimoreís Enoch Pratt Central Library (400 Cathedral Street) at 5 p.m., and will be followed by a panel discussion. We hope to see you there!
Our goal for this Challenge is to raise awareness of hunger in our state and to present solutions to end it. It all comes down to this one fact: one in eight Marylanders is struggling with hunger. For them, programs like SNAP are critically important and we must ensure to safeguard this program from cuts, and look for ways to improve its reach.
I canít encourage you enough to send us your photos and stories. We plan on compiling our shared Challenge experiences into a photobook that weíll present to our Members of Congress and other leaders in our state. Your words and pictures will be a powerful testimony for those who struggle in our state.
Thank you again for joining me and taking the Challenge.
Bill McCarthy (Catholic Charities)
I spent $19.45 and an hour in Walmart last evening. The experience was as humbling to me this year as last. Milk and carrots cost more this year. The food stamp supplement has not increased. More of our neighbors are shopping this way this year. Also remember many communities do not have choices in food stores or food sources and do not get the cost benefit of a Walmart like I did.
It is Sunday, and Iíve had several days to ponder my upcoming grocery adventure. Not a pretty picture. No fruits or veggiesÖI normally rely on those. Just as interesting, however, is how I have had to rearrange my work schedule to avoid ďfood gatheringsĒ ie. breakfast meetings, meet over coffee, lunch, etc. I have rescheduled several meetings, and one in particular - a lunch that was scheduled for Friday. I warned the person who invited me to lunch prior to a large meeting we were both attending, that I may be somewhat hungry (read grumpy) and that maybe we should postpone until the following week. She responded by offering to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us. What a gal!
Today, I took my 8 yr old to a LegoFirst meeting with his team, and mentioned the Challenge to the other parents. (They wanted to schedule a farm visit this week, of course Ė pick your own fruits and veggies, no less) One of the parents asked if she could join the challenge, so I sent her the website this afternoon.
Not only will the diet change this week, but so will work life, home life, after school life and more. Not to mention, meaningful conversation with my 3rd grader. Little conversation with others, just to spare them.
See you at the $1 bins in the grocery storeÖ