Folks, my neighbors have made it to Day 4 of the #HungerChallenge. They've definitely faced some dilemmas and made some tough choices. Remember that for each day they complete the Challenge, I'm donating to the SF-Marin Food Bank, up to $10K.
For Day Four, we had another classic and easy dinner: pasta with chickpeas and olives, with sautéed spinach on the side. The food supplies are dwindling, and although we will have enough to eat, everyone in my family is feeling the stress of constraint. We've had pretty limited protein all week -- we eat a lot of nuts and cheese typically, and we're just about out of eggs. Fruit and yogurt smoothies are a staple for breakfast, but we couldn't afford the fixings. We bought one container of cinnamon animal crackers, but they're only OK, and again, they don't have much in them nutrition-wise, and I guess I'll have to admit here that I consider ice cream an essential food group and borderline nutritious (and also flavorful)...but we've had none. Also no chocolate. I keep pushing the kids to tell me exactly how this is different for them, and "restricted" is what they keep coming back to: it just feels limiting not to be able to eat what they want, or to vary our plans, or to be spontaneous.
The purpose of the Challenge is to appreciate how hard it is to eat on a food stamp budget, but also that these benefits are critical; without the CalFresh food budget this week, I'd be writing a very different post right now. Still, mine is a self-imposed and very temporary hardship. So to get the perspective of someone who has actually lived it, I asked a friend of mine, who received CalFresh (which is what California calls SNAP) for a time, if she would share her story.
Here it is:
"A couple of years ago, during the worst of the recession, my family and I suddenly found ourselves on food stamps. My husband had been laid off and my income wasn't enough to fully compensate, so for about a year the extra assistance from SNAP and free school lunches was an important part of the safety net for our family. Both my husband and I were raised in middle class families, are well-educated, living in a nice apartment in a nice part of town. We don't fit the mental picture most people have of a typical food stamp recipient.
It was interesting, and a little humbling, to accept the help. I didn't tell my friends or family we were on assistance. Filling out the annual free lunch form was an interesting experience -- as SNAP recipients my daughters were automatically eligible for free school lunches. But we're well known at our school, so I felt a little funny about 'outing' them by checking the 'food stamp' box. Luckily, our school district has taken steps to avoid making it known which students receive free meals. Every family is encouraged to fill out the meals form and turn it in, whether or not they qualify. This avoids the embarrassment of having to raise your hand when the teacher asks the class, 'Does anyone have a free lunch form to turn in?' If everyone turns one in -- and at our school you can't get your class schedule if you don't -- then there's no embarrassment if you really, really need that free meal. When kids go through the lunch line, no one knows who is receiving free meals and who isn't because the choices and the procedure for checking out -- entering a PIN tied to an account -- are the same for everyone.
Now, my kids would not have gone hungry if we hadn't had SNAP, and we used our food stamps to supplement our weekly food budget. We weren't entirely dependent on it to eat as some families are. Still, it helped get us through a difficult and scary time."
Folks, please check back in to see how the last day of the Challenge goes, and to cheer 'em on. And, maybe do one better and join Roxy and Natalie's family to show your support for the people in our community who struggle to get enough to eat.