Monday, September 23, 2013

Taking the SNAP Challenge—Motivation

This week I'm taking the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge. I'll be attempting to eat on the amount allotted per person per day in the SNAP program: $4.50.  That's $1.50 per meal. Quite a challenge. 
The choice to take the SNAP Challenge was easy for me. I liked the idea of seeing what it would be like to eat on such a restricted budget, now that I have health issues and need a gluten-free, organic diet. Can it be done?
The challenge of figuring out what every meal costs is difficult for me. I had forgotten what it was like to watch every bite of food, make sure nothing is wasted. To stand in the grocery store counting—and stretching—my dollars. 
About 20 years ago I was food insecure. My family faced the challenge of hunger. The SNAP Challenge brings back visceral memories of rough days in 1991 when we had no income and eight of us to feed. No unemployment because my husband had been self-employed before he lost his cabinetmaking shop.  The tale of a livelihood going down the drain is always a painful, complex story. It's never cut and dry. There's no one to blame. No one to rage against.  You're there, empty hands that used to be filled with plenty, dumbfounded that your wits, your resourcefulness, your track record, your optimism are all powerless against this giant monster called CIRCUMSTANCE that you could not have predicted and cannot overcome.

I remember a few small tears rolling quietly down my cheek as I stood in the middle of the grocery store one day, surrounded by shopping carts that whisked by me filled with plenty, while I had barely a few scraps in my cart and $40.00 to feed 8 people for a week. I remember the night my daughter asked for more to eat before she went to bed, and I had to tell her the hunger pains would pass in a few minutes and gave her a glass of water.  
That was the only day my kids actually went to bed hungry. Help came to us in the angelic form of a neighbor I had never met before. She invited me into her house and told me she knew what was going on—though I don't know how she did. She was in charge of a food pantry for her church and would start bringing me a box every week until we were back on our feet. She asked what my kids liked to eat and dropped off a big box that Saturday. I heard the doorbell ring and excitedly ushered the box into the house to peak through our treasures. Tuna. Spaghetti sauce. Pasta. Macaroni and cheese. Cans of vegetables. Peanut butter. Bread. And the biggest relief: formula and diapers. 

The relief and joy we felt came only halfway from the bounty we desperately needed. The other half came from the love we felt through those precious gifts.  Between that generosity and WIC (Women Infants and Children) coupons for milk, cheese, cereal and a few other things, kids weren't going to bed hungry.  I finally got a job, but we were evicted anyway, lost our house and left the neighborhood.  But I'll never forget the privilege of learning these priceless lessons for me and my children:
  1. Misfortune can happen to anyone.
  2. Never judge the poor. They are very often not responsible for the condition they find themselves in.
  3. Always be generous and always be kind, the kindness is as important as the generosity.
Taking the SNAP Challenge this week reminds me of those rough times. Those times are behind me now, but they're very present for millions of our struggling neighbors who could really use some love and generosity.  
I'm going to post my experiences every day of this SNAP Challenge week, though I'm a few days into it already. I deeply appreciate your time reading these posts, sharing this journey with me, and considering your neighbors across the street or across the land, that need a little help for a while, so they can get back on their feet.
Feeding America first brought the Challenge to my attention, and provides an easy way to get involved and support hunger relief with a letter to Congress, if you're interested. Plus learn more about the Challenge here.

Stay tuned for daily updates this week as I share my food choices, my results at keeping costs down, and this difficult challenge of eating healthy food on an unhealthy budget.

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