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Advocacy in Action is here to help you discover ways to take action in your community. Read about upcoming advocacy opportunities offered through the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. Bookmark this page, sign up for RSS feeds, or watch the homepage of Jewish Miami to find out what’s happening next.

New Greater Miami Jewish Federation Task Force Promoting Awareness About Human Trafficking in Miami-Dade County

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Women’s Philanthropy (WP) of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation have formed a new task force to increase public awareness and concern about the dangers and prevalence of human trafficking in Miami-Dade County and Florida.

Organized after discussions with Miami-Dade County and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Combat Human Trafficking Task Force will provide educational and advocacy services to combat domestic human trafficking, particularly related to sexual exploitation.

The new Task Force was formed following an April 2013 panel discussion presented by JCRC and WP. During the meeting, a panel of experts from law enforcement, government and religious organizations described the shocking realities of human trafficking in the United States, and detailed the frequency and causes of this modern form of slavery, as well as Judaism’s abhorrence of this inhumane crime.

One speaker – Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs – spoke to the Jewish soul by referencing some important concepts from history and biblical texts. He reminded participants that it is a Jewish person’s responsibility to act when he or she sees injustices in the world, and discussed the Jewish value of protecting the well-being of foreigners living in a Jewish community.

The U.S. Department of State and the International Labor Organization estimate that worldwide trafficking is a roughly $32 billion-a-year industry. Federal statistics also suggest that between 14,000 and 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. alone each year, and tens of thousands of youth born in America are at risk of sexual endangerment or exploitation.

The Jewish Community Relations Council was established in 1973 as the public affairs and advocacy arm of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. It is composed of members-at-large selected from the community, as well as representatives from constituent Jewish community-relations organizations, Federation partner agencies and various entities within Federation. For further information about JCRC, email CommunityRelations@JewishMiami.org or call 786.866.8486.

Women’s Philanthropy works to support the Mission of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation to enhance Jewish life and secure a Jewish future by motivating women to devote their time, efforts and financial resources to the local, national and international Jewish communities. WP encourages women to express and perpetuate Jewish ideals and values, to accept the responsibility of tikkun olam (repair of the world) and to maintain the Jewish tradition of tzedakah (social justice). For more information about Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy, email Women@JewishMiami.org or call 786.866.8440.

Food Stamp Challenge Experience

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.

Food Stamp Challenge: Continued

I am still attending a conference with an abundance of food, but I have managed to go without. Lunch was particularly difficult today. There was whitefish, lox and fantastic Jewish delicacies. I ate a sliced tomato and a banana. Although I cannot truly understand the feelings of an individual on food stamps or to have to choose medication over food, I have grown more sensitive or aware because of the Challenge.

When someone who is in need is allocated approximately $31.50 per week for food, grocery shopping becomes a delicate and well-thought-out procedure. Similar to my approach to the buffet, an individual experiencing economic hardship and on an extremely fixed income must approach the grocery aisles with forethought and perhaps longing. Just as I wanted the lox and whitefish but opted for the sliced tomato, an individual on food stamps may have to choose a can of tuna over fresh fish, canned goods over fresh produce or simple carbohydrates over lean proteins.

Of course, I am not the only one who is struggling with the Challenge, as income limits the choices that are available. One congressional representative shared that she had “peanut butter and crackers for breakfast.” Another representative tweeted, “this #foodstampchallenge is going to [be] really hard. [I] checked prices in [a local supermarket] and [it is] so easy to blow the whole week’s allotment.”

I understand that all people are not able to subscribe to the food stamp “diet.” However, there is an opportunity for others to take part in the Food Stamp Challenge. The next time you are in the grocery store, see the amount and type of food that $31.50 purchases. One point of this Challenge is to create a greater awareness of the struggles of those who are in need.

If you are able and inclined to do so, another way to participate is through a donation of $31.50 or more to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, as Federation supports many programs and services that feed the hungry and provide financial assistance to those in need. So, if someone is in the position to have to decide between necessities in life – like providing day care for their children versus proper nutrition – a scholarship for day care may make funds available for more healthy food items. Also, you can also donate $31.50 worth of kosher, non-perishable items to the JCS Kosher Food Bank, operated by Jewish Community Services of South Florida, a local partner agency of Federation.

Your participation is important, as we cannot have a Jewish community without the community.

Lori Dearman

The Food Stamp Challenge: Day 2

I am attending a conference, which serves food. Again, going hungry is an uncomfortable experience overall. A child experiencing poverty and hunger cannot explain away his or her situation by stating that he or she is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. At lunch, I ate rations of lettuce and items that I knew to be less expensive. However, there were delicious-looking sandwiches, salads and buffet delights that I avoided. Although I do not believe I normally eat much, I found it more difficult to concentrate at times. I tried to trick my stomach by chewing on ice during the snack breaks.

After the conference, my husband wanted to go out for dinner (as I refused to make him anything valued at more than $1.50). So, we went to a local chain restaurant that is known to be a good value. I told my husband that I was trying not to contribute toward any restaurant bills during the Food Stamp Challenge, but I went with him to keep him company. In his own way, he tried to oblige me during the Challenge. He only ordered soup, and he was very proud of himself. I informed him that with tax, one item equals the amount that an individual on food stamps is allocated for his or her food budget for the entire day. “Are you planning on leaving a tip?” I asked. Needless to say, I do not believe my spouse will be requesting I accompany him to another restaurant for the duration of the Food Stamp Challenge, and we have agreed to eat out less frequently.

I find that I have grown weary from the process of constantly contemplating the fact that it not everyone’s choice to budget $1.50 per meal and participate in this “diet” as well as my continuous self-examination. Also, being at a wonderful conference that requires I stay focused and alert without proper nutrition has added to my exhaustion. So, it is about 9:00PM on Friday night, and I am going to sleep. I hope to dream of a solution to ending poverty by 2020!

Lori Dearman

The Food Stamp Challenge: Day 1

I am very excited that the Food Stamp Challenge has begun, which is a part of Fighting Poverty with Faith. Through this experience I hope to better understand poverty on a personal level, as 15% of Americans live below the poverty line. According to the most recent data, including census statistics, Miami-Dade County poverty levels are above the national average. More than 26% of the City of Miami lives below the poverty line, which is nearly twice the national average. Given the amount of need in our community, working to end poverty by 2020, securing feeding programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Food Stamps, are of particular importance. 1 out of 8 people in Miami’s Jewish community receives some form of financial assistance from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and our local partner agencies.

I am inspired by the community leaders and members of our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) who have decided to take this challenge and live on the average food stamp financial allotment of $4.50 per day, which is about $31.50 per week. We had 12 members of our JCRC who signed up to take the Challenge.

We launched the Food Stamp Challenge at our JCRC meeting with an informative introduction by Helen Chaset. Helen sits on our JCRC as a representative of Federation's local partner agency, Jewish Community Services of South Florida. JCS assists those who are food insufficient through meal sites, the JCS Kosher Food Bank, meal delivery and other services. These programs are in high demand, and shrinking budgets as well as a bad economy threatens their funding and future capacity. Debbie Hurwitz spoke from JCS. She is the Director of Access Services. During her presentation, Debbie detailed the programs and their significance to our Greater Miami Jewish Federation and JCS.

Laurie Flink, also a member of our JCRC, discussed her first day participating in the Challenge. Laurie depicted her experience attempting to live on a $1.50 per meal. She discovered that a local supermarket provided free coffee. While drinking her coffee, Laurie noticed two senior adults sitting next to her who had brought their food to the market. The two were sitting together sharing a peanut butter sandwich.

At our JCRC meetings, we typically serve an abundance of goodies. At this meeting, I abstained from eating any of the food in the spirit of the Challenge. I did not realize that one must budget time as well as money throughout this process. The result of this initiative, even after one day, is that I have really been put in more of the mindset of someone who is poor or hungry. You need to be organized and plan meals. Laurie seemed to approach the Food Stamp Challenge from the mindset of someone truly on a budget and experiencing the challenge of poverty. Like the senior adults that she had seen earlier in the day, Laurie brought a peanut butter sandwich to our meeting. Moreover, she shared her sandwich with Helen Chaset, paralleling the experience further.

Again, I did not approach the Food Stamp Challenge with as much foresight and planning as Laurie. So, I watched as others satiated their hunger and thirst. I imagined what it would be like to be a child in which the lunch program had been cut. I felt uncomfortable and sad – besides a hunger for food, I felt left out. As we identify, food sustains us physically and emotionally, and being food insecure is unhealthy for the body and soul.

As a component of our JCRC meeting, we viewed the trailer of the documentary film Food Stamped. This film chronicles a couple as they participate in the Food Stamp Challenge and attempt to maintain a healthy diet. I must confess, I consider myself relatively health-conscious. However, it is difficult to follow a healthy diet on a very strict budget. For my version of the Food Stamp Challenge, I am going to try to budget each meal under $1.50. Today, I had an apple, some lettuce and a can of soup with beans for dinner. If I plan better, then maybe I will eat better.

Lori Dearman

Women’s Philanthropy Annual Meeting and Installation

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