FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jen Adach, email@example.com, (202) 986-2200 x3018
Maryland Food Stamp Challenge Underscores Struggles Facing Needy Marylanders
February 3, 2011 – Baltimore, Md. – Nearly 90 people participated in Maryland Hunger Solutions’ Food Stamp Challenge, which wrapped up this past Monday. Participants sent stories, shared their experience, and ultimately agreed that the challenge underscored the struggles many low-income families in Maryland contend with on a daily basis.
Challenge participants included Maryland Secretary of Aging Gloria Gary Lawlah, Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez (18 th District) and Mary Washington (43rd District), Senator Bill Ferguson (46 th District) Catholic Charities Executive Director Bill McCarthy, representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the Maryland State Department of Education, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, local DSS offices, and the Governor’s Office for Children, and Marylanders from across the state. Stories and a full list of participants are available on Maryland Hunger Solutions’ Challenge Diary.
“The goal of the Challenge was to illustrate the struggles facing many low-income Marylanders, and the limited choices they have – including what they can afford and where they can shop,” said Cathy Demeroto, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions. “I’d like to thank everyone who joined us for this Challenge. This experience will certainly guide our collective efforts to end hunger and improve the economic security of people in Maryland.”
Demeroto visited two grocery stores – Giant in Prince George’s County and Lee’s Food Market in Baltimore City – during her Challenge week to compare the availability of affordable food and to gauge accessibility to the stores and to nutritious food options. Low-income seniors and disabled individuals find it to be a particular challenge to get to full service grocery stores, and often have to rely on neighborhood corner stores which have a limited selection of produce and meat.
To address food access issues, Maryland Hunger Solutions will be looking at ways to support farmers’ markets in accepting food stamp benefits and to expand options like the virtual supermarkets in Baltimore City through the Baltimore City Health Department. Another option for Maryland is the Food Stamp Restaurant Program which allows seniors, individuals living with disabilities, and the homeless to use their food stamp EBT cards at participating restaurants. Only three states are currently using this option, which is allowed by the federal government.
Demeroto notes that she looks forward to working with Maryland policymakers to improve low-income families’ access to healthy and affordable food.
Quotes from Participants on the Challenge
I did the Food Stamp Challenge with my elementary school aged son. I chose to do this with him with some hesitation, but he was excited about it and wanted to know what we'd win if we won "the challenge". I told him we'd learn how some families have to pick and choose what they eat because they only have a certain amount of money.
It's very easy for him to go into his "snack cabinet" and grab something when he's hungry (which is often). I had to explain that the point of the exercise was to understand how it would feel if we didn't have all of the options that we have. If we only had those four grocery bags of food, what would we do?
Constance Carter ( Prince George's County Department of Social Services)
I find myself reflective of my experiences these last 7 days and I am glad that it is over, mostly because of the self-imposed restrictions that had to be upheld in order to stay in compliance with the program.
I learned that it is doable, although awfully limiting because all I consumed for 7 days were three food items and water. And I have not eaten anything green...this entire time because I could not afford it. After budgeting my money to stretch it as far as I could, I still had to monitor the food as I was eating it to make sure I had enough to last. I personally know that $30.00 a week is not enough money to eat nutritionally for a family of one. Thank you for this opportunity to participate in the Maryland Food Challenge. It has given me a new appreciation for the types of food challenges we face as a nation.
While a week is not a long time, I was struck by how - come midweek - I was obsessing over all the foods NOT available to me. I was craving more fruit, different vegetables, granola, yogurt, olive oil, cheese, MEAT...And it was boring, eating those meals prepared with limited ingredients. I found myself hungry more than once. [T]challenge made clear the difficulty a lack in funds presents…
There were lots of surprising moments during our week that I did not expect, the biggest being my daughter's friends coming over the house after school. That afternoon they finished off all our supplies for lunch for the week. That was the Ah Ha moment for us both. We spent so much time carefully planning each meal for the whole week only to have that plan go right out the window....but how do you tell your child they can't have friends over because you don't want them to eat all the food? By the end of the week I had to give my daughter my dinner for her school lunch so she wouldn't go to school with an empty lunch box. Better me hungry than her, am I right?
Bill McCarthy (Catholic Charities)
When I shopped for my groceries on Sunday, in addition to my grocery list and my $30, I had a calculator so that I could keep a running total of the cost of my food. I have witnessed in the past and could imagine myself getting to the cashier after completing my shopping only to have to leave items behind because I did not have enough money to pay for my entire order. This would be both discouraging and humiliating. Many people experience this embarrassment all too often.
Also unlike so many, living in Lutherville I have countless choices of grocery stores to shop. With choice comes the opportunity to comparison shop for the best deals possible. Many of our neighborhoods have few or even no grocery stores. This creates additional challenges for people to obtain affordable fresh and healthy food.
Again, I remain humbled by this challenge, recognizing that I am undertaking it for only one week, knowing that more than 643,000 Marylanders and millions of Americans face the same food challenges each and every day.
For more stories and videos, visit Maryland Hunger Solutions’ website.
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Maryland Hunger Solutions is the lead research, public education, and advocacy group in Maryland, dedicated to using public programs to end hunger in Maryland. Maryland Hunger Solutions is an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center.