Saturday, September 8, 2007

Food Stamp Challenge Rules

An exercise many anti-poverty groups suggest to raise awareness for the needs of the hungry is a "Food Stamp Challenge." That's what 4 members of Congress (including Rep. Schakowsky) did last spring. The idea is eating for a specified amt of time on a food stamp budget to gain empathy for people living that reality every day.

Here are typical rules with some "cheater's rules" that help answer questions that come up. You can do this solo, but I think great value comes in discussing the process with others and reflecting on feelings it brings out. Good luck if anyone takes this on! (As fair warning to anyone in my spring book discussion, I'm going to propose we do this during Lent!)

As a dear friend sagely observed when forced to grocery shop for his wife and 3 small kids with $17 after forgetting his wallet, "Being poor sucks!!" Precisely.

Food Stamp Challenge Rules

You can only spend $21 on food and beverages during the Challenge week.
All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
Do not eat food that you already own.
Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work.

A couple other suggestions:
Keep track of receipts on food spending.
Take note of your experience throughout the week and feel free to share your experiences with others
Consider how your experience is different than that of someone who depends on food stamps every week.

Every time I talk about the Food Stamp Challenge, somebody asks me for the exceptions. What about their garden? What about their spice rack? What about coffee hour at their congregation?

These “what ifs” are a great chance to consider what it’s like for people on food stamps. So, rather than lay down a strict law about what is allowed and what is not, I’d rather you consider for yourself what’s appropriate and what isn’t and how that impacts your decision.

Here are some ways people are adapting the Challenge:

-Put a value on the food you already have in the house. If you have a few bananas around on Sept. 4, you don’t have to let them go bad. You can figure out what they would cost and put that into your budget.
-Find Free Food. I know the rules say you shouldn’t do this, but in truth many people on food stamps depend on finding ways to get some free food, whether that’s refreshments after church or samples at the super market.
-Use your garden. If you have a garden, that can be a source of some goodies, and some people on food stamps have access to a garden.
-Consider what it means when you bend the rules. If you have to bend the rules, take a moment to consider what that means. If it’s too hard for you for one week, what does that mean for people who face this every day? What ways do you have access to resources that people on food stamps don’t?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007