photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

The Growl in the Belly, Multiplied

What does hunger feel like?

That’s what Catholic Charities and other faith communities set out to do today – to find out what it’s really like to be a family that depends on food stamps (now called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) – when we began our fourth annual Food Stamp Challenge this morning.  We went shopping at a Safeway supermarket in Washington, D.C., just steps from Capitol Hill; this market serves a mixed-income community, so was a good place to put to the test the food stamp allocation of $31.50 per week per person.

This is some of what I was able to buy:

  • A bag of apples for $4.99 (Thank God they are in season!)
  • A bag of rice and a bag of lentils for $1.99 each
  • A loaf of bread (wheat) for $.99 and a dozen eggs for $2.40
  • Two boxes of pasta for $3.00 and 2 jars of tomato sauce for $2.50

My diet will be restricted to meals created from the above ingredients only for the next week. I will report back on my success (or failure); I expect I’ll get that growl in my belly that would normally signal “time for a snack.” But this week will be different.  How would you create a week’s worth of healthy meals from my ingredient list? I’m open to all suggestions.

But while I might experience some discomfort over the next 7 days, I know that it will end. Not so for millions of Americans.  In 2000, as we turned the calendar ahead to a new millennium, there were 17 million people dependent on food stamps.  Today there are more than 45 million; about half of them are children. Most of the adults work, but if they qualify for the SNAP program it means they make less than $1,174 a month, or $14,088 a year.  There are real lives behind these numbers.  As the economy continues to struggle and jobs are lost or scarce, more and more people who need help come from our communities.

With Congress considering cutting the budget for SNAP, we must redouble our efforts to focus the country’s attention on the realities of hunger and poverty.  I invite you to join us in the Food Stamp Challenge.  Here are some ideas about what you can do:

  • Shop at your local supermarket for a week’s worth of groceries spending only the current food stamp allocation – $31.50 for each person in your household.  Share your experience and your meal plan with others on this blog.
  • Contact your member of Congress; tell him or her that the budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor, and ask specifically that SNAP be saved.
  • Write a letter or op-ed for your local newspaper. Use this link to find news outlets in your community.
  • Organize a group in your community or parish to take the Food Stamp Challenge together. Report back to your parish, and share your findings with us.

Feeding the hungry is mandated by Scripture and is one of the core tenets of Catholic social justice.  As we experience the tough choices families make to stretch their food budgets and publicly share our journey we will make their needs more visible and our commitment to change even stronger.  I hope you will share your thoughts and your ideas here. Let’s learn from each other.