Pork and Beans for Fifteen

May 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Wendy Heiges, Senior Director of Advocacy and Public Policy

As someone who is passionate about ending hunger in our community, I understand the vital importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) for  people at risk of hunger – at any point in their lives and particularly now, in the midst of the economic downturn.  I’m also curious about the evolution of the program since its inception, and I’m immersing myself in its history.  I recently wrote about Mabel McFiggin, the very first food stamp recipient and her food purchases in a store in Rochester, NY on May 16, 1939 – a date that seems pretty momentous to me.  But there’s more to the Food Stamp Story.

The first phase of the Food Stamp Program ended four years after Mabel used her food stamps.  Over the course of nearly two decades, the program was analyzed and debated, and there were a number of legislative proposals. Congresswoman Leonor Sullivan of Missouri was a true champion of the program and successfully steered the passage of food stamp legislation in 1959.  But it wasn’t until President Kennedy hit the campaign trail in 1961 and witnessed the devastating effects of extreme poverty in West Virginia did the food stamp program finally gain traction.  He initiated pilot programs, with a focus on fresh foods.

Tomorrow marks yet another historic milestone of this essential safety net. Think back almost half a century…

The Muncy family lived in Paynesville, West Virginia.  Fifteen people lived in the household.  On May 29th, 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy went to Henderson’s Supermarket.  Their transaction at Henderson’s heralded a new era of the Food Stamp Program.

And they bought a can of pork and beans for their household of fifteen.

At this very moment, tens of thousands of people in our community are at risk of hunger.  Parents wonder how they’ll put food on the table tonight.  Will they go without so their children won’t?  People live in the sun and the shadows feeling the physical pain of hunger.  Older adults are humiliated to tell their children and grandchildren they have to choose between food and electricity.

United in the belief that Hunger is Unacceptable, we can end these tragedies.


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