A Week on a Food Stamp Budget

December 15, 2011 at 11:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Could You Live For A Week On A Food Stamp Budget?

Food Stamp Challenge Participants Share Brown Bag Lunch and Conversation with SNAP Recipients at Children’s Hunger Alliance

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland has organized a team of volunteers to take the Food Stamp Challenge and better understand what it’s like to live on the average weekly food stamp benefit of $31.50.

The group–primarily comprised of Federation volunteers and professionals–will meet with current SNAP recipients, including Tonya Martin-Penn (a mother of four, whose husband lost his job after a devastating car accident) at the Children’s Hunger Alliance’s midtown offices (3634 Euclid Avenue, Suite 200, Cleveland, Ohio 44115) at noon on Wednesday, December 14.

Warren L. Wolfson, Chair of the Federation’s Community Relations Committee (CRC) is taking the Challenge this year. “The goal is getting people to pay active attention to the real crisis of hunger and poverty all around us and take action now to support federal programs that do make a difference,” said Wolfson.

Debra Parmer, Vice President of Regional Operations for the Children’s Hunger Alliance, started the Challenge on Sunday. After only two days, Parmer has already noticed a significant change in herself: not only is she more focused on food than ever before; she finds herself to be generally unhappy. Parmer spoke of the profound impact the Challenge has already had on her: “I work in the community and see hunger facing the children we work with everyday. I wanted to experience what others, without my choices or options, must go through. This has been a powerful experience for me.”

The team joins interfaith community activists across the country, that have already taken the Challenge, and together are sending a resounding message to legislators about the crisis of hunger in our own communities and across our nation.

The week-long challenge is part of the Fighting Poverty with Faith mobilization, which the Jewish Council for Public Affairs co-chairs with the National Council of Churches and Catholic Charities and includes more than 50 national faith groups as partners.

The objective is twofold: to send a message to legislators about the importance of supporting the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) that currently reaches more than 45 million Americans with vital nutrition assistance and last year kept almost 4 million from falling into poverty, and to understand what it’s like to live on the average weekly benefit of $31.50. 

See the daily challenges of the current participants. For general information on the program visit: www.foodstampchallenge.com.

Visit www.jewishcleveland.org to see the ways the Federation is working to alleviate hunger in Cleveland and for information on ways you can help. 



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  1. I’m in my 5th day and $3.00 ahead of schedule thanks to lots of beans and not too much fruit or coffee. Meat portions on a couple days were only 4 oz. of chicken, but I savored every bite, unlike the normal 8 or 9 oz. chx breast I normally would have wolfed down. It’s amazing how filling beans are and, if you flavor them up, they can be pretty satisfying with rice or pasta!

  2. Lunch meeting Tuesday as guest of Moxie the Restaurant to plan its annual foodie event benefitting Shoes and Clothes for kids, but I was the only one who didn’t eat! No free food permitted on the Food Stamp Challenge! It looked great. Poor people also do lots of eating with their eyes instead of their tummies! I went home and ate peanut butter sandwich instead. The apple to had for dessert wasn’t as interesting as the creme brulee I could have had at Moxie, but at was able to eat it in the car without sliming my tie!

  3. Not too much to eat lunch Wed. at Cleveland Children’s Food Network downtown along with a few of our Food STamp Challenge 2011 team. Anne Marie and I brought a great, hearty bean soup and we split an apple. We video-taped our halfway point impressions and asked questions to a real Food Stamp recipient who told us that she runs out of food stamps usually by the third week of the month. We’ve had to give up snacking in order to stay under the $31.50/week threshhold, but Tanya can’t hold back her kids’ food needs, so she has relied on the WIC program when she qualified and on some earnings she gets in order to get through the month. Sometimes, she can’t pay off utilities, but feeding the kids comes first. She’s pretty grateful for Food STamps! We’re grateful to her for sharing her experience, but more grateful that we don’t share her poverty!

  4. End of day 5. Anne Marie ahead by over $7! I’m up by over $3. Room for extra treats on Shabbat! Anne Marie’s butt-kickin’ pea soup laced w camelized onions and simmered for days! No need for meat tonight! I’m not sure too many poor moms will be able to take time to slice and dice and tend a chowder like this nor, perhaps, would their kids be too happy to be served “mush”, but, for us, this was great mush! Tomorrow starting home stretch. Looking forward to breakfast Sunday! If we can fit it in, probably chicken for Shabbat and spaghetti w meat sauce on Saturday.

  5. Friday, knowing we’re ahead of the game, we’re checking the bean and rice leftovers and planning on using our ground beef for a great Shabbat spaghetti (in the shtetl in Belorussia, did my great grandma use regular or angel hair pasta on Shabbos?). Breakfast is some leftover chili and rice, though we’ve run out of bananas, my morning staple. We do have enough money left to buy a couple, but I’m not sure we’ll have time to buy any today. We do have to go to Costco for dog food. The dogs cost almost as much to feed this week as us. What does that tell you about food stamps?!

  6. Home for Friday lunch and polished off the rest of Anne Marie’s great bean soup with an apple for dessert. No time for shopping this afternoon, however, though we have enough stuff left to get through tonight and Saturday. Shabbat dinner with daughter Amanda visiting from Chicago. She thinks the Food Stamp Challenge is “radical” and “awesome”. It feels great to have inspired her literary juices. Anne Marie’s make-do meat sauce laced with collard greens, an improvement over kale and, for that matter, over much more expensive escarole that we couldn’t justify for the Challenge. Lighting candles and saying Kiddush (okay, we cheated with just a small glass of wine), we’re conscious more than ever of our blessings; salad, spaghetti and a great little dessert of a cobbler made from apples, cinnamon, a couple of the last walnuts crumbled, oatmeal and flour – maybe a poor man’s tarte aux pommes, but it’s a great luxury this week – seems, however, like a night out at a great Italian bistro than a bare bones dinner.

  7. Saturday breakfast: What could be better than cold leftover spaghetti. Still no bananas. I was a mere spectator at a bountiful Kiddush luncheon, but I do know I’ll have some rice and finish the leftover chili when I get home. Anne Marie eats so little that I’m not sure if she’s well disciplined or just trying to set the new Food Stamp Challenge Guinness record. Saturday night dinner, our last Food Stamp Challenge meal is the high point of the week: hot dog with grilled onions and the last of the pea soup. Bon appetite.

  8. Sunday morning, first meal after Food Stamp Challenge is gluten-free chocolate banana pancake feast. This is a luxury no Food Stamp mom could enjoy nor could she have dinner we’ve planned with kids at a restaurant tonight. Yeah, we got through the week under $31.50, but the time and shopping travel involved was considerably more than a Food Stamp Challenge mom might be able to invest. We had the skills and resources to make great meals out of beans and cheap vegetables. And we had no kids clamoring for chicken tenders and potato chips. Going shopping today for our regular kosher, organic, grass-fed menu, it’s clear that, for those dependant on food stamps, getting by is nearly impossible. Not only should we be grateful for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which provides Food Stamps, but for other resources such as the Food Bank and the hunger centers so that the poor and homeless can survive and get nutritional support for their families.

  9. Food Stamp Challenge 2011 thanks to:
    Debra Parmer, VP Childrens Hunger Alliance, for participating, Karen Wyman, marketing dept. CJF, Dayan Gross, Director. CJF CRC, Anne Marie Wolfson for making magic out of beans and oatmeal, and to Kimberly Wolfson for converting my Microsoft Word posts to usable social media.

  10. I lived on Food Stamps for nearly a year, while in college, until they changed the law and being in college, on loans wasnt enough qualification. Luckily, I dont need to do that anymore.

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