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Greater Miami Jewish Federation

Advocacy in Action

Food Stamp Challenge Experience

By Lori on 11/11/2011 @ 05:56 PM

As a member of the JCRC professional staff, Fighting Poverty with Faith has been a top priority to me. The Food Stamp Challenge is part of Fighting Poverty with Faith, a national alliance of faith-based groups working to end poverty in the United States by 2020. Fighting Poverty with Faith is sponsored by Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Catholic Charities, and the National Council of Churches, and this mobilization effort is endorsed by over 50 national faith-based organizations. Our JCRC has been actively involved in the JCPA Fighting Poverty with Faith initiative for the last three years, and the JCRC has used a grant from the JCPA to address hunger and poverty issues in the Miami-Dade community. The purpose of the Challenge is to raise awareness of hunger and the continued importance of The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Food Stamps, and other feeding programs. SNAP helps nearly 45 million low-income people to purchase food – 1 out of 7 Americans annually.

I hope that by chronicling my experiences throughout the Challenge, individuals will gain a deeper understanding of food insecurity and the importance of feeding programs. However, I was not the only one participating in the challenge in our JCRC. I am very proud that 12 individuals representing the JCRC of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and community leaders pledged to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge. I would like to share some of their experiences with you. As I stated in my very first blog post, our volunteer leadership inspires action.

Tobi Ash, JCRC Member

The entire concept of rationing my food and watching what I eat is not foreign to me. As the child of Holocaust survivors, the importance of food was impressed upon me at an early age. Bread crumbs were not permitted to fall to the floor. If a piece of bread was inedible due to mold or some other accident of fate, weather or bad luck, and could not be fed to the hapless birds or ducks in the neighborhood, it was wrapped reverently in a napkin before being thrown in the garbage. Thankfully, other than keeping kosher, I have never been completely very restricted with my food choices.

I began the food stamp challenge on Thursday October 27, 2011 at 2:00 PM. I note the time because I had to attend a luncheon meeting discussing this very topic and the lunch cost $15. Because of that meeting, I had to start the challenge afterward. I am now eating on $31.50 for the week. This means no more coffees at Starbucks and no more bottled water. Normally, I eat organic food and try to avoid processed foods. I like to eat things that only one ingredient, but I see that might not be possible on this sum. I watch my sugar intake and have not had soda since the mid 1980s. I have been filling my plastic water bottle with tap water, although I worry because the latest research shows that BPA in plastic bottles is bad for you, especially with repeated use and sun or heat exposure (I live in Florida where the weather is either hot, or hotter). On my food stamp budget, I cannot purchase a stainless steel water bottle, so I chug from my old, dented water bottle.

I have tried to reign in my own food budget prior to starting the Food Stamp Challenge by subscribing to CouponMom, Living Social, Groupon and other coupon websites. I regularly type in coupon before making any sort of purchase. I realize that if I were really dependent on food stamps, I might not have access to Internet, or own a computer, so I go to the library. Library hours have changed and now my city library is open on Mondays and Tuesdays from 1 to 9 and the rest of the week from 10 to 6. It is now closed on Sundays. The line for the functioning computers is long and I have to wait my turn. In order to print the coupons, I must pay for the paper I use. I might end up paying 25 cents for a 30 cent coupon, really just saving 5 paltry cents for an enormous amount of effort.

I normally get the Sunday papers, which include coupon inserts. However the Sunday paper costs $2 – which is hefty considering that my overall food budget is $31.50. The coupons that they usually have are for toiletries, cleaning items and diapers. I do find for barbeque sauce, chicken poppers (not Kosher) and cookies.

Shabbat will also be a problem. Orthodox Jews prepare a multi-course meal for both Friday night and Saturday morning with something small to eat Saturday early evening. Everything has to be prepared in advance. Traditionally, the meal includes ceremonial bread (delicious challah), some sort of soup, fish dish, and chicken or beef dish along with a side dish or two and a dessert. To start, there is a prayer over wine or grape juice. I realize that I cannot afford to make Shabbat dinner on food stamps. The cheapest kosher grape juice starts at $3.00 and that is almost 10% of my food budget for the week. Fish is exorbitantly expensive, so I can use a can of tuna. Soup is easy and can be inexpensive if I don’t add chicken to it. Kosher chicken is extraordinarily pricey – almost $4 a pound. Beef and lamb are unaffordable. There is no way I can make my usual Friday night dinner on food stamps alone.

I am lucky because on Saturday mornings, if I go to the synagogue, there is food available. If I time it perfectly, I can go to a variety of synagogues and gorge myself. There is almost always a Bar Mitzvah and in the crush of people, I can be mistaken for a long forgotten relative. I can help myself to bread, gefilte fish, a variety of salads and a cholent (a meat and bean stew) served hot. I found out there is also a website www.shabbat.com where I can be vetted and then placed into people’s homes where they will feed me a Friday night dinner for free, just because Jews like feeding other Jews on Shabbat.

Helen Chaset, JCRC Member

The first day of the Food Stamp Challenge was my best. A friend shared her peanut butter sandwich at lunchtime and dinner was leftover ratatouille. I came in at under $4.50. The second day was more difficult. Home brewed coffee which costs approximately 35 cents a cup, a can of tuna for lunch for $1.60 and two slices of pizza, which cost me $2.50 for dinner met the challenge, but left me feeling blue. The third day I traveled out of town to meet a friend. Knowing we would eat dinner out together, I was able to get through the day on just coffee. I splurged at dinner and failed the challenge, coming in $11.00 over the food stamp allotment. My privileged and affluent lifestyle was going to make sticking to the challenge difficult.

As I drove back home through Alligator Alley, I had plenty of time to think about the differences in my life from the lives of women who are on food stamps. They would not be driving across the state to meet a friend. They would not have a restaurant meal. They would not get the ample servings of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and breads that are available to me daily. I thought about how much of my social interaction takes place with and around food, sharing a dinner with friends, either home-cooked or at a restaurant.

On Monday, I went to Publix to shop for groceries and try to stay at the $31.50 per week allotment. My shopping cart held milk, eggs, pita bread, honeydew melon, 3 bell peppers, Muenster cheese, tuna, a small wedge of brie, and two cucumbers. The total was $31.32. I came in under the allotment, but the amount of food I had bought wouldn’t get me through the week.

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