Tomorrow, Monday, begins my 7-day SNAP Challenge. SNAP, short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a.k.a. food stamps, is a reality for millions of individuals and families in the United States of America every day. Taking a page from Newark Mayor Cory Booker who has been documenting his life living on SNAP, I’ve decided to see what it’s like to have $30.00 in government assistance for food for the week. As a self-proclaimed “foodie” and someone who loves to find bargains on Living Social or Groupon for dinners (enjoying places like Sofrito and Fishtail by celeb chef David Burke), the activity of dining out will be brought to a screeching halt. These are frivolous expenses.
What if I only had the equivalent of just over $4.00/day to feed myself, how would I fare? Bottom line: I’d have to make it work. There are millions who have to do just that every day.
Many years ago, I heard someone on television say, “Children cannot concentrate and learn in class on an empty stomach.” This obviously stuck with me. You know how I feel about education. An education is one of those things that cannot be taken away from you. You have it, you own it. But if your stomach is growling, or worse, you are sick from hunger, how can you even think? How can you pay attention during your lessons?
Many will have lots to say about food stamps being a “supplement”. Um, well, if that’s all you have, it ain’t no supplement. Ever been to a soup kitchen? No? Yes? Would you like having to go to a soup kitchen for a meal because your family has no money to buy groceries? How do you think a child feels? There are many whose meals, besides those that may come from their family’s SNAP benefits, come from the schools they attend through breakfast programs (if a program exists) and school lunches. Once they leave, that may be it — until the next day, if it isn’t the weekend. And no, soup kitchens aren’t always available in their immediate neighborhood or close to their neighborhood. Very few are open every day. (My own church operates a soup kitchen and it is only open a couple of days per week. Houses of worship often operate kitchens but they can only do so much.) There are so many children who go to bed hungry. How could that be in a country such as this?
I’ve never been on food stamps or had to stand in line at a soup kitchen. However, The West Indian Mother had to struggle having several jobs to keep things going. We lived on an extremely tight budget, and yes, I worked. We were immigrants. As long as you could breathe, you were expected to work. Before I was eligible legally, I was grabbing any off-the-books job, including babysitting, and my working papers couldn’t be issued fast enough. I worked for a department for the city where I lived at the time (I can jokingly say, I worked for the government in my teens). My first office job was at Sears & Roebuck doing data entry from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. I worked retail at Bonwit Teller (remember that store?). In short, I had to hustle to ensure I had money in my pocket. Although it was as clear as day that we were not middle class, we were obviously living a lot better than some.
You always think things are bad until you turn to your right or left only to see someone else who is worst off.
So, sure, this is one week for me. Don’t waste your smart or cynical remarks on this space. Take that mess to your own pulpit elsewhere. It’s easy to run off with verbal diarrhea and throw rocks after you’ve eaten three square meals, have a steady job, have a roof over your head with heat and hot water and a refrigerator that isn’t exactly empty. I expect that this experience, no matter how bad it may be, could never, ever match that of someone who has to survive like this in the real world 365 days a year. But my point is to see how it would be to live on limited funds for food with my diet. I’m a vegetarian. However, unlike the Mayor, I do eat seafood occasionally. Now, I can always sacrifice seafood — that isn’t a problem, but will I have enough for fresh fruits and vegetables? This worry is real. I don’t mind frozen veggies, but I appreciate places like farmers’ markets, and right now when you’re on food stamps this is not always an option. New York City, however, does have a program, but I do not know how well it is working. I also wonder: What if I had Celiac Disease and required gluten-free products? My cousin requires a gluten-free diet. Her bread, for example, is ridiculously expensive.
I’ll report back with how things are progressing while on my own SNAP Challenge. I’ve been watching Cory Booker’s via his tweets, LinkedIn posts and interviews on various broadcasts. So far, former New York Giants football player and co-host of “Live with Kelly and Michael”, Michael Strahan, and hundreds of “regular” citizens are seeing what it’s like to live on SNAP. This has been done many times before by other politicians, so Mr. Booker’s Challenge is not “new”. However, in these very tough economic times, $30.00 doesn’t stretch very far.
By all indications, it has not been easy. I guess I’ll see, won’t I?
Have you done your own SNAP Challenge? If so, share your story. How was it? Any pointers? If you’re starting your own Challenge, let me know how you’re doing as you go along.