Celebrate SNAP on Sunday

May 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

by Wendy Heiges, Sr. Director of Advocacy and Public Policy

Did you know that Sunday marks an important event in our nation’s history?

I wonder if Mabel McFiggin knew that her trip to the store on May 16, 1939 was the genesis of a program that supports millions of low-income families today.  Here’s the thing about Mabel: She was an unemployed factory worker living in Rochester, NY.  And she was the country’s very first recipient of food stamps.  That Tuesday, she bought butter, eggs, and prunes.

At the time, the Food Stamp Program was an experiment that had two purposes: to help people and families in need by providing the means to purchase food, and to improve the economy and help farmers through the distribution of wheat and other surplus products purchased by the government to prop up farm prices.

[NOTE:  This video contains some graphic images of the effects of malnutrition and hunger on children.]

The program has significantly changed over the years – and we’ll be blogging about its evolution.  But to go “back to the future,” the food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is the country’s premier nutrition safety net for nearly 40 million people.

If you look at the backdrop of Mabel’s story, you can’t help but recognize it as a familiar picture. In 1939, the country was still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, with widespread unemployment, homelessness, and the kind of crushing poverty that causes hunger and ruins health. Today, millions of people suffer the effects of a severe economic recession and grapple with the same problems.  And beyond nourishing hungry people, SNAP does something else: it upholds human dignity.

Children should never feel embarrassed that they have less to eat than their friends.  Parents should never feel distressed about how or if they can feed their children.  Older adults should never feel worried about choosing between food and medicine.

People should not feel ashamed because they don’t have enough to eat.  Hunger is unacceptable.

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