Posts Tagged ‘food stamp challenge’

Our Call to Feed the Hungry — Not Only at Thanksgiving

Monday, November 21st, 2011

By Tom Dobbins, Jr.

November 21, 2011 — One of my favorite spots in the city is on the banks of the Hudson River — approximately 5 blocks west of where Wall Street has been being occupied. There, you’ll find New York City’s memorial to the Irish famine that lasted from 1845 to 1852 – a tragedy that began with a blighted potato crop and was exacerbated by political inaction.

One-third of the people living in Ireland at that time – one half million – died of starvation, and another third – of whom I am a living descendent – emigrated in a great diaspora to any ports that would welcome them all over the world. The memorial is beautiful: a rugged half-acre of cantilevered landscape thickly planted with native Irish flora and plants growing in fallow fields, along with the remains of an authentic, famine-era Irish cottage. Accounts of historical and contemporary sentiments about worldwide hunger are etched in the base of glass and broadcast from an audio installation. While raising awareness about an event that happened long ago, the space also encourages visitors to address the causes of hunger world-wide.

Catholic Charities Thanksgiving Meal Distribution

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities New York, giving food to a Catholic Charities client at our annual Thanksgiving Meal Distribution

Hunger has been in my thoughts a lot lately, primarily because for the past week I have been participating in the “Food Stamp Challenge,” a campaign sponsored by “Fighting Poverty with Faith” – and of which Catholic Charities is a partnering organization. The goal for participants in the Challenge is to live for one week on the benefit given to those on Food Stamps – approximately $31.50 per week, or $4.50 a day. Here in New York City, that money doesn’t go very far.

My meals for the week consisted mostly of oatmeal, brown rice, frozen vegetables and on-sale chunk light tuna. Except for a Saturday night treat of a 10-piece McNugget, I pretty much stuck to the challenge, winding up with just under $5 left over week’s end.

The experience reminded me of when I visited Tanzania with Catholic Relief Services last September, and lived off a diet of white rice and sauerkraut. It would have been obscene to complain about the food I was given after witnessing the food assistance work done by Catholic Relief Services in the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa.

The Food Stamp Challenge comes at a time of great challenge to our nation and its moral commitment to feed the hungry. The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is working on a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars; the day that this deficit reduction plan is due is – ironically – the day before Thanksgiving. Many are concerned that food stamp assistance might be a target for massive funding cuts.

The U.S. Bishops and Catholic Relief Services are both now advocating with Congress and the Administration to ensure that hunger-related assistance is not compromised in the deficit-reduction debate.

For Christians, feeding the hungry is not some peripheral “nice thing” that we should do if we’ve got the time – it’s literally part of our “final exam” that Jesus told us about on the Sermon on the Mount, along with clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and caring for the ill. In fact, Pope

Benedict XVI went so far as to say: “liberation from the yoke of hunger is the first concrete manifestation of the right to life, which – despite its having been solemnly proclaimed – is often very far from being fulfilled effectively.”

It’s up to us to ensure that what has been solemnly proclaimed is effectively fulfilled. While the rest of the world’s attention is focused on the 99% fighting the alleged evils of the top 1%, with the 53% somewhere in the middle, let’s be sure that our attention is focused on the 15% of Americans who live below the poverty level (and the much larger percentage of our impoverished brothers and sisters in the rest of the world).

Day 5 of the Food Stamp Challenge: How Obesity is Connected to Poverty

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011


This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge. Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

November 2, 2011 — Five days into the Food Stamp Challenge and I feel like a beaten man.

– I’m much more tired than usual.
– My mind keeps wandering off.
– I’m grumpier.
– Also, I can’t stand the sight of another peanut butter sandwich.

It only took a few days of painfully bland but carefully rationed canned soup dinners to (1) realize that I was depriving myself of energy and (2) understand why obesity is more prevalent among the poorer American population.

Yesterday, after my banana-and-yogurt breakfast, I went to the gym – and approximately 20 minutes into my workout, I flat out ran out of gas.

I was getting used to subduing my hunger, but there was no trick to get around the fact that my body was not ingesting enough calories to sustain myself. With barely $2 left for “emergency” food, I darted into the nearest Burger King.

Over the past few days, my caloric intake was barely getting past 1000. And yes, that is partly my fault for not properly strategizing my grocery list. Looking at the calorie counts on the menu board, it was easy to find single items with two times the calories I was now used to ingesting. I dove into a whopper and fries and threw up my white flag for the day.

Then I looked around, and saw a number of families with children also feasting on their meals. I saw a number of elderly folks as well.  The place was packed and it wasn’t even noon. This can’t be right, I thought.

When you are hungry, the last thing on your mind is nutrition. And when you are poor, fast food is a cheap remedy for an empty stomach. It’s largely by design that so many fast food chains are in poor urban areas.  I know how bad fast food is nutritionally, but when I was hungry, with little more than spare change in my pocket, there was no way I could pass up a whopper.

Even when I’m not living on $31/week, I am exhausted after getting home late from a work and school, plus an hour and half train and bus ride. The last thing I have energy for is cooking a nutritious meal.

So what about the more physical lives of poorer people? Many work more than one job. Many are on their feet longer than the typical office lackey, and many have to carve time out of the day to attend to children.  Fast food is an easy solution for hectic lives.

But relying on fast food can quickly lead to an overconsumption of calories.  Add that to the poor nutritional value of fast food, and it’s not hard to see why obesity is a common mark of a poor urban area.

So don’t be so quick to point to the obesity epidemic as evidence that hunger is not a serious problem in America. Because hunger and obesity are both components of a larger issue: poverty.

Why I’m Living on a Food Stamp Budget

Friday, October 28th, 2011


This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge.Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge. And I think you should too. That’s right — for the next week, I will be subsisting on the food budget of someone on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP), more commonly known as “Food Stamps.” We are so used to hearing about starving populations in underdeveloped countries that we can be fooled into thinking that this doesn’t happen in our own backyard. Well it does. Nearly 50 million American families are food-insecure.

I hope that by taking this “Food Stamp Challenge,” I’ll be able to gain an emotional and physical perspective on our nation’s hunger crisis. It’s easy to talk about stats and figures, but it’s another thing to actually experience what poverty means, and feels like.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, but when I first moved out of my parents house I was used to relying on dollar menus and ramen noodles to get me through the week, so I feel that I’m prepared.

If you’ve been following the challenge, you know the rules. I have $31.50 to spend on food for the entire week – the average weekly allotment for an individual on food stamps. That means no more office coffee and donuts for me, no other free food – including those chocolates my boss gives out every now and then – and definitely no restaurants.

Participants can use coupons to shop, but can’t eat any items already in the fridge or pantry as part of the food supply for a total of 7 days.

My Shopping List

Since I’ve been asked so many times, I’m sharing my shopping list for the challenge. Just for fun, I also kept track of the expenses of my “last meal” that I had before I went shopping – ironically, I spent $31.25 on a meal for two of burgers and fries at a popular burger shop near my school, New York Burger Co.

Then, I went to my neighborhood Pathmark in the Coop City area of the Bronx and ended up with the following:

  • (5) cups of Yoplait Yogurt (5 for $4)
  • Bananas
  • Florida’s Natural Orange Juice (no pulp!)
  • Organic peanut butter by some brand I never heard of
  • Loaf of bread that was packaged in a design strangely similar to Wonder Bread.
  • (2) bowls of Annie Chun’s Ramen Noodles (Say what you about ramen noodles, but Annie Chun is in a totally different class!)
  • (2) Cans of soup (vegetable barley was .99 cents each)
  • Box of “Pathmark” branded granola bars
  • 5-pack of Chiquita apple slices & dip

The total of all this was $24.77, which leaves me with $6.73 for “emergency funds.” My strategy was to only spend close to $25 so that I can have at least some cash left over so I can treat myself to a quick NY hotdog or slice of pizza.

Throughout the next week, I’ll be answering your questions about the challenge here and on Facebook — just leave a note on the wall, or a comment below, and I’ll answer you as best as I can.

Please leave your words of advice or encouragement below – I’ll need it!

Take the Food Stamp Challenge

Monday, October 24th, 2011


By Marianna Reilly

Could you survive on $1.50 per meal – for an entire week?

October 27 to November 6, we challenge you do just this. Join us in taking the Food Stamp Challenge, and learn what it is like to subsist on a food budget of only $31.50 per week – the average weekly allotment for an individual who receives food stamps. Participants are challenged to only consume food purchased for the challenge (that means no free office coffee, no stocked-up pantry items).

It will be hard, but you will be in good company.

Joining in you in taking on this challenge will be Catholic Charities Executive Director, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Justice and Peace Coordinator Tom Dobbins, and Richard Bertin, associate producer of the Sirius Radio show JustLove will all be subsisting on a food stamp budget and blogging about their experiences right here.

We want to hear from you too: Tell us about your victories, your struggles… and your best low-cost meal ideas, to support the rest of us who are trying to make it through a week with no restaurants.

Accept the challenge on Facebook today!

Here are the Challenge Guidelines:

1. Each person can only spend a total of $31.50 on food and beverages during the Challenge week – this translates to $4.50 per day, or $1.50 per meal.

2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out must be included in the total spending.

3. During the Challenge, eat only food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).

4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including food at receptions or coffee in the office

5. Please keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.

6. Share your Food Stamp Challenge by writing an op-ed for your local newspaper, blogging, sharing a reflection on the Fighting Poverty with Faith website, advocating for feeding programs, and more.

7. Donate the additional money you would have spent on food during this week to a local food bank or anti-hunger advocacy organization (optional).

Will you join us? Accept the Challenge now.