According to the USDA, it costs $141 per week to feed a family of four and one in five children go hungry every single day.
Yesterday was the culmination of our week living below the poverty line and eating by the guidelines provided by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Living on a little over $4 a day was quite the challenge. I have heard that if you follow a well-balanced diet and abide by portion control, that you should wake up feeling hungry. During a typical week, I would often skip breakfast, feeling disgusted at the thought of eating as soon as I wake up. This week however, I woke up famished, for lack of a better word. I could not get sustenance into me fast enough. I believe this was the result of very strict portion control and the fact that Josh and I, almost entirely, cut out snacking from our daily regime. After dinner, I always felt satisfied, but never full. For me, the SNAP Challenge was more than a chance to see how the other half lived, but also an opportunity to better understand the inadequacies in my own eating habits. In my own life, poor meal planning and time management often results in the choice of convenience over health.
I’d like to revisit some of additonal the learning points I made earlier in the week and a few extra:
- The psychology behind food insecurity can be crippling. Second-guessing everything you eat and wondering where your next meal may be coming from can have both mental and physical side-effects that may result in more than just hunger.
- Many people who live below the poverty line do not have access to cars and therefore, must use public transporation to retrieve groceries. A weekly 2-hour excursion for you or I, may be a day-long outing for someone on SNAP and be both physically and mentally. We also hear of the term “food desert,” an area where affordable healthy food is difficult to obtain, particularly for those without access to an automobile.
- Budget planning and time management are key. SNAP recipients receive their allowance once a month. The volunteers and employees of JFS made us aware that many families struggle at the end of the period to eat due to poor planning.
- Living off SNAP benefits is almost counter-intuitive to money-saving tendencies. You or I may be able to buy bulk quanities of non-perishables and make it last over a long period of time. SNAP benefits are not accepted at wholesalers such as Costco or Sam’s Club and furthermore, SNAP recipients cannot afford to dedicate such a large portuion of their monthly allowance to a single item.
- The greatest challenge of all is maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet on SNAP. Fresh vegetables and fruits as well as proteins are typically the most expensive items available for purchase.
- SNAP benefits do not cover daily house-hold items such as cleanign supplies, feminine hygeine products, hair care, soap, dental products, etc. Buying such items can mean the difference between turning your heat on or going without.
- Many social outings and gatherings revolve around food. People who live below the poverty line usually live in an impoverished community and therefore, the offerings in such communities are often less than we see in upper and middle-class neighborhoods.
Yesterday, JJ and I had orientation for LEAD (Lead, Educate, Act, Develop), a program which gives participants hands-on opportunities to meet community leaders and learn about the numerous agencies and organizations that make up Jewish Cincinnati. This selective program is designed to prepare future Jewish communal leaders by creating meaningful connections to community organizations and each other, equipping them with relevant information, and empowering them to obtain positions on mutually suitable boards and committees. Coincidentally, the orientation took place at JFS (Jewish Family Service), which is home to the Barbash Family Vital Support Center and Food Pantry. The Jewish Family Service Food Pantry is the source for free kosher food, fresh produce, personal care, and household care items for individuals in the Greater Cincinnati Jewish community experiencing financial difficulties as well as anyone in need living in the 45220 zip code. In addition, Jewish Family Service (JFS) provides coaching and support for clients of the pantry to help improve their situation. Support may include referral to JFS Counseling or Senior Adult Programs, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services, Legal Aid, and other resources in the community. The LEAD oreintation allowed JJ and I opportunity to explore other ways to get inolved and raise awareness for food insecrity long after the challenge has ended. For more information on how you can volunter please vist their website at www.jfscinti.org.
In other [timely] news, on November 1st, every SNAP recipient saw a reduction in their benefits. That means, a family of four will see their SNAP benefits reduced by 36$ a month. For JJ and I, that would mean living off 59$/week instead of the already difficult 67$/week. That’s a week without chicken. Or a week without fresh fruits or frozen vegetables. For those of you that are interested in this cause, please reach out to your local congressman- our letters can have an impact! Ohio alone has two members (Rep. Marcia Fudge and Senator Sherrod Brown) on the Farm Bill Conference Committie, let’s challenge our leaders to find another way to balance the budget, other than taking food away from already struggling families.
I appreciate the kind words of encouragement from family, friends and my blog followers throughout the week. It has proved to be both challenging and exciting. I hope to continue to learn more about food insecurity and take a more active role in the fight to end hunger.
I leave you with a full belly and a happy heart.