Food Stamps Challenge Epilogue: CAFB & HHSC work together to increase enrollment.

November 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

If you followed last week’s Food Stamps Challenge, you may be wondering about the current state of SNAP. First and foremost, increasing enrollment in this program is essential to our mission to nourish hungry central Texans.  When more qualified families access SNAP, we can we can provide for more families that don’t qualify but still need help.

With SNAP on the chopping block and economic recovery a ways away, demand will most likely remain high.  We’re working with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) through our SNAP outreach program.  And the results are paying off with increased enrollment and reduced time to receive benefits.  Take a look.


Last week’s Food Stamps Challenge: Some final thoughts

November 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

I first thought about naming this post: “Over, but not forgotten.”

It’s true for me, fortunately.  I went grocery shopping this weekend with an expanded budget, and didn’t forget my family’s experience living on $4.50 per person per day last week.  I began to understand the difficult choices SNAP recipients make at the grocery store.  I say “began to understand” because right now, I don’t live with ongoing anxiety accompanying food insecurity.

There are ways to make healthy, nutritious choices using SNAP benefits.  The choices are hard when you have to purchase something SNAP benefits don’t cover, like diapers.  They’re hard when you work two low-wage jobs and don’t have the time or physical energy to hit three grocery stores to maximize your benefits, or prepare home-cooked meals from scratch.

“Over but not forgotten” wouldn’t have worked on any level because the food stamp challenge isn’t over for millions of people.  Not by a long shot.

Things didn’t just slow down in 2007 – they broke down.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, specifically designed to help people at risk of hunger get through tough economic times, caught 3.6 million Texans and more than 40 million Americans.  Now, the program itself is at risk.

Our country’s premier nutrition safety net must be protected and not forgotten.

On the other hand, we should forget some things, like Newt Gingrich’s ludicrous statement about a political party of food stamps.  He clearly doesn’t understand SNAP’s economic multiplier effect – every $5 of SNAP benefits spent generates more than $9 for the economy and can figure into those paychecks!  Cynicism is a term that doesn’t apply to SNAP.

These terms do:

Anxiety. Choices. Difficult.Security. Decisions. Dignity.

Guest blogger, David Heiges, shares his Texas Food Stamp Challenge experience

October 29, 2010 § 29 Comments

By David Heiges

When my wife asked if I was interested in taking the Food Stamps Challenge I thought, “How hard can it be?”  Surely we can live on $60 for five days.  I might get hungry, but I could stand to lose a few pounds.  It will just take some creative menu planning.  When we came up with our shopping list I realized that this was going to be more challenging than I thought.  I love Italian food.  It’s relatively inexpensive.  Anything covered in melted cheese is fine with me.  But cheese is expensive and doesn’t have the nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetables.  And, I have a four year old son.

Wendy and I decided that we wouldn’t restrict our son’s diet.  He’s four so he doesn’t need a lot of food – but he does need healthy food.  His diet didn’t change much:  Organic yogurt and milk, cereal, almond butter and jam sandwiches, apples, plums, orange juice and multigrain Cheez-Its.  We could have saved about five dollars if we had purchased cheaper bread, peanut butter and milk, but that was non-negotiable.  Wendy and I bought pasta, marinara sauce, cereal, English muffins, cream cheese, fixings for a lasagna, eggs, beans, rice and garlic.  No spices. No salt. No pepper.  No salsa.

We ran out of milk and yogurt on Wednesday.  I drank water for breakfast so my son would have orange juice all week.  We ran out of OJ this morning.  We used the last two slices of bread for his lunch today.  Almond butter – gone.  Plums and apples – gone.  We have eggs, spaghetti and some rice and beans left.  We made it by the skin of our teeth.

But here’s the catch: I had an unusually gratuitous week at work food-wise.  Monday I had lunch with a colleague; Wednesday a client brought us breakfast; and Thursday and Friday my employer bought me lunch.  That’s four meals I would have eaten, and we would be down to eggs.  I hate eggs.  Even when they’re covered in cheese.

In my life, I’ve worried about a car breaking down, my American Express bill, having to replace the refrigerator unexpectedly.  But I have never had to worry about food.  I’ve always bought what I want, when I want, and as much I want at the grocery store.

The Food Stamps Challenge was enlightening.  I now understand the terms “food insecurity” and even more, “bread-winner”, a term thrown around casually by many people, but for more than 40 million people, that term has an entirely different significance.  They worry about buying the bread.  It isn’t a game.

On Wednesday, I started to worry about running out of food.  Would my son have enough to eat on Friday?  I realized that if I lived like this for an extended period of time it could change who I am.

After five days of living on a small fixed budget, here’s what I learned:

  • If you’re worrying about food, you’re probably worrying about a lot of other things – rent, daycare, credit card bills, utilities, putting gas in the car.
  • I take food for granted.  I waste food.  I appreciate its taste and nutritional value, but have not viewed food as a true resource.
  • “Honey, let’s just go out for dinner” is not an option.  Neither are olives, snacks, Diet Coke, Starbucks or ice cream.
  • Condiments are a luxury.
  • Participating in a potluck at work, buying a gift for my niece, or having a holiday meal would cause great anxiety.
  • Quantity versus quality is an extremely difficult determination.
  • The confines of the budget didn’t allow for smart shopping.  A dollar or two more could have purchased a larger quantity of an item that would last longer but would have required taking something critical out of the cart.
  • $62 = 2 square feet in the refrigerator.

I am so fortunate.

The Food Stamps Challenge: Day 4

October 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Monday, we had lasagna. My husband and I finished it yesterday for lunch (Day 3).  My son wasn’t into lasagna at all, so he’s been eating sandwiches and fruit (the plums and apples) for both lunch and dinner all week.  This is fine with him.  I soaked black beans last night and cooked them this morning while getting everyone off to work and school.  We’re having beans and rice tonight and for lunch tomorrow. I’ve eaten eggs, and my husband has eaten cereal.  Today, everyone is eating a sandwich for lunch.  We’ve run out of fruit and milk.

After our grocery trip to prepare for the challenge, we realized we’d purchased an onion and garlic for the black beans, but no other fresh vegetables.

My son’s passion for yogurt topped with grape-nuts, which he calls “crunchy yogurt,” simply can’t be understated.  We ran out of yogurt yesterday. This morning, I thought the absence of yogurt could be a DEFCON 2 situation.  Fortunately, he ate cereal without complaint.  Because breakfast is such an important meal – especially for a young child – I hone in like a laser to determine the things he likes because sometimes, as is normal, he doesn’t to eat other meals.  Breakfast is non-negotiable.  I was so relieved he didn’t have a meltdown over yogurt.  I know I’m not alone in thinking along these lines.  We’re concerned about the quality of our children’s meals and seek out healthy options our children like to eat when their appetites vary.

We have less than $5 left of our benefits and could have made different choices.  Something we couldn’t do was purchase peanut butter since his school bans it due to the other children’s food allergies. We bought almond butter instead.  Almond butter is substantially more expensive than peanut butter.  What if a child prefers peanut butter – cheaper and still healthy – but can’t take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school?

That bread aisle we visited in preparation for the food stamps challenge with the 68 cent white bread?  Those shelves had been raided.  The shelves with loaves of whole grain bread seemed fully stocked.  We chose the whole grain bread.  We didn’t buy fresh vegetables.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) is so powerful.

Imagine this scenario:

You were laid off; and pray your unemployment benefits won’t expire any time soon. You have to find money somewhere to buy medicine, soap, detergent, paper towels, shampoo, and Drano because the kitchen sink is clogged.  Your child really wants triple A batteries for her favorite toy. You have a dog you love more than your father-in-law, and he’s running out of dog food.

What about meals for your family?  Though SNAP benefits don’t cover non-food items, they do help with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The program truly is a safety net.

As I think back to that trip to the grocery store, I remember passing the different aisles with cough syrup, trash bags, and toothbrushes. I think to myself: I’ve taken so very much for granted.

Read Laurie’s (@Lonely Gourmet on Twitter) blog post about her Food Stamp Challenge: Day 3


Take the Virtual Texas Food Stamps Challenge

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Is it true that choosing healthier options is often too expensive for low-income families?  Take a virtual shopping trip and purchase food for the 5-day challenge without spending more than $20.90.  What tough choices do you find yourself making to meet your budget?

Prices are based on data collected for the blog post: Eating Healthy Without Breaking the Bank: a (non-scientific) CAFB experiment – the child-friendly edition.

About the Texas Food Stamps Challenge
The Texas Food Bank Network and Capital Area Food Bank  challenge you to eat only using the ‘food stamps diet’ next week from October 25 – 29. But there’s a twist.  For the first three days, you can spend only $4.50 per day, the current daily average allotment. For the last two days, you will be  challenged to spend only $3.70 per day in order to demonstrate the average effect of the proposed cuts.  Click here to learn more.

Texas Food Stamp Challenge: Day 1

October 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

Senior Director of Advocacy & Public Policy, Wendy Heiges, shares her experience.

Austin Food Blogger and host of the Lonely Gourmet “Foodie Friday” blog talk
radio show, Laurie Leiker(@lonelygourmet on Twitter) shares her
experience on her blog

The Texas Food Bank Network Food Stamp Challenge – Some Preliminary Observations

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on hunger and food insecurity in central Texas to a group of church members.  Despite the gloomy topics we discussed, I really enjoyed myself because the presentation quickly became a conversation.  There were differences of opinion about the underlying causes of food insecurity.  People expressed varying points of view related to the dispensation of federal benefits to people at risk of hunger. What struck me the most was a brief discussion about who deserves SNAP benefits versus who cares if someone deserves them if they’re  hungry.

Related to the question of  who deserves public benefits was a statement about the prevalence of fraud and waste.  This is a legitimate question and should be asked of any program or service.  We should examine fraud and waste within entire sectors of our economy!  Should isolated incidences of SNAP fraud cast doubt on the intentions of millions of people who depend on these benefits?  I say, no.

Later in the day, my family went grocery shopping using the Food Stamp Challenge budget criteria (more about this experience tomorrow).  There were seemingly hundreds of people in the grocery store, many peering at their grocery lists just like me.  I had no idea who they were; where they live; why and how they were prioritizing; and how they were paying for their purchases.

My son was with me, and as I looked at him, I pondered the lengths to which I would go to make sure he gets the food he needs.  He’s four and his development depends on good nutrition.  I will do anything for him.

I believe this, too: As a decent, caring country, we should go to any length to ensure members of our society at risk of hunger have a safety net.  It isn’t a question of being deserving.  It’s our privilege to uphold human dignity.

Correction 10/26:  Infographic updated.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Food Stamp Challenge category at Capital Area Food Bank of Texas Blog.