For those of you unfamiliar with SNAP, it is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that used to be called food stamps. SNAP helps millions of food insecure low-income Americans put food on the table by providing benefits that are temporary. According to Feeding America, nearly half of all SNAP participants are children. Additionally, 82 percent of all SNAP benefits go to vulnerable households that include a child, senior, or disabled person. For every $1 invested in SNAP, it generates $1.73 in economic activity. SNAP not only helps low-income people buy groceries at local stores and farmers’ markets, but it also frees up cash for other expenses, such as medical care, utilities, transportation and child care.
Although I have never received SNAP, I can think back to many times when budgets were tight. Food is that one thing you can cut. Could you imagine what my apartment complex would say if I didn’t pay the amount I’m contracted to pay for rent? Or would I still have heat if I couldn’t pay my utility bill? You can buy cheaper, less nutritious food to get you by. I remember things my mother did when I was a kid to stretch our budget like buying bags of apples and oranges because they were cheaper. We ate things like Kool-aid, “cheap ham”(store brand very thinly sliced lunch meat), and three packs generic potato chips featuring green and brown spots. I also remember a time in college when I didn’t have credit cards and I couldn’t spend more than $10 on food. I bought things like Bisquick because breakfast for dinner is a cheap and filling. And at a time in my life when I lost my full-time job, I remember worrying about how I was going to pay all my bills – including groceries.
In December, I had an opportunity to volunteer at a community center. The director gave $10 Wal-Mart gift cards to several volunteers. He asked us to go shopping for food and see what we could get. We also had just one hour to complete the task. I can’t tell you how many times, I went back and forth between the aisles recalculating my total. I bought things like uncooked black beans, apples, oatmeal, and pasta. It was so interesting to see what the others purchased. We had everything from eggs to frozen veggies. The volunteers even had a debate if we could pool our money together to get more bang for our buck. In the end, I returned with $.06 on the gift card and a bag full of healthy ingredients that could be combined to cook meals.
When Harvesters Nutrition Services Manager suggested we do a SNAP Challenge for National Nutrition Month in March, I knew I wanted to do it. Could I live on $4.50 per day for a week? Not only could I do it, but would I be able to make healthy choices?
I’m a stockpiler of food. I like to buy stuff I know I’ll use when it is on sale. Then, I just supplement on a weekly/bi-weekly basis with the fresh stuff. But this week, I can’t use any of it. That includes my seasonings.
For one week, I have $22.50 to spend. I asked Jeremiah to do the challenge with me for a number of reasons. 1) We have $45 to spend. I feel like we can eat healthier with more money. We are also hoping to get some meat. That probably wouldn’t have been possible with my smaller budget. 2) We eat together every night. Could you imagine how hard it would be watch him eating something different? 3) We are trying to eat healthier and budget our money better. This helps us achieve both. 4) We were both Harvesters financial donors long before I worked at Harvesters. Although we hope to will never be in a position where we need SNAP, we do in honor of the 1 in 7 food insecure people in our community receiving food through Harvesters’ network of over 620 agency partners.
What will we be giving up? No Starbucks for one week. My grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte is more than I have to spend on food for the entire day. We won’t be able to eat out either. This is something Jeremiah does twice a week with his coworkers and at least once a week with me.
What are we most worried about doing the SNAP Challenge? I’m worried about not being able to buy all the ingredients for the menu we are planning. I’m also worried about buying coffee and meat on our budget. I’m worried about getting hungry between meals. I work in a warehouse full of food. Trust me, not a place you want to walk out into when you are hungry. That’s when you spot donated items you are craving like Oreos and Girl Scout Cookies.
How are we planning for the SNAP Challenge? We have come up with a nutritious menu that we think will fill us up. We’ve also been scouting stores, reviewing all the grocery ads, and clipping coupons to find the absolute best prices on the items we need. Our plan is to cook some of the items on the Sunday before we start to make the whole process a little easier.
What are we excited about? Jeremiah and I both love to cook. I’m excited to be doing this challenge with someone who will be my equal partner in it.
If you are interested in learning more about the Harvesters’ SNAP Challenge (March 2-6), please click here for details or to register as a participant. If you have children who need service hours for school and want to participate, please contact Volunteer Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-929-3090 to learn more.