Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Food Depository CEO Kate Maehr takes on the SNAP Challenge

Here is what my $35 dollar shopping budget could afford. This will be my only food for the entire week.
On Sunday, I went to my local supermarket with just $35 to spend on a week’s worth of meals. Several obstacles, which were quickly apparent, underscored my purpose for participating in the SNAP Challenge – to offer a glimpse into the life of a food insecure person. The rules of the SNAP Challenge are simple yet demanding: eat for seven days on only $35 – the average individual weekly benefit for a SNAP recipient, accept no free food, and eat nothing you already own.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly known as Food Stamps – is an essential component of our nation’s nutrition safety net and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every year, SNAP helps thousands of people in Chicago afford food.

Our nation’s Farm Bill, which guides funding for SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs, is currently under debate in Washington. This summer, the Senate has proposed cutting SNAP by $4.5 billion over 10 years. The House Agriculture Committee followed with a proposal to reduce SNAP funding by $16 billion during the same period. While development of a new Farm Bill stalled in September, Congress will continue pushing for these cuts after the November elections.

Any reduction in SNAP funding would be devastating as 1 in 6 U.S. households currently struggles with food insecurity. This is why food banks across the country are advocating for the future of the program while encouraging elected officials, media figures and citizens to take the SNAP Challenge.  I am taking the SNAP Challenge and would like to share some of my observations so far.

First, timing and planning are serious considerations for people who buy food with SNAP benefits. It took twice as much time to buy a small basket of food for myself as it does when I shop for my whole family. When you are on such a small budget, you need to consider each item very carefully. Also, even though larger packages of food tend to offer a better value per ounce, you find yourself limited to smaller packages because you cannot afford the big jar of peanut butter or the big bag of rice when you have only $35 for the week.

Shopping in a store where many customers rely on SNAP, certain sale items sell out very quickly. And convenience foods such as peeled vegetables, prepared meat and ready-to-eat sauces are far more expensive than their raw, individual ingredients. Finding the time to cook a whole chicken or a pot of pasta sauce is difficult for people who work one or more jobs while struggling to make ends meet.

It’s also very difficult to eat healthy when your options are limited. Fresh produce is quite expensive – I could only afford one bag of unpeeled carrots, two apples and an onion. When I was finished with my shopping trip, my basket had far more carbohydrates than fruit and vegetables. If it hadn’t been for specials, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the brown rice and whole wheat organic pasta. Milk is also a very precious commodity with a short shelf life at $3 per gallon.

After I filled a basket with my carefully budgeted shopping list, I headed to the self-checkout lane. Because of the unfortunate stigma around the SNAP program, self-checkout is important to people who shop with benefits. I had gone over my $35 limit, but I was able to discreetly return some tomatoes to the display, bringing my total to $33.30. I saved my final $1.70 for a cup of coffee I knew I would want on a long drive Monday night.

Throughout this week, I will continue to update you on my experiences in getting by on a $35 food budget. I also invite you to join me on Twitter this Thursday from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. as I will be hosting a live chat on @FoodDepository using the #SNAPChallenge tag.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bruce Springsteen inspired me to give

Joan Radovich, guest blogger and the winner of the Food Depository's VIP ticket drawing, with Bruce Springsteen.
I know exactly when I became a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music.  It was freshman year, new student week, at Northwestern University.  We listened to Bruce’s “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” albums over and over again.

I also know exactly when I became inspired to donate time and money to fight hunger in this country.  It was 1984.  I was listening to the radio in Dallas, and a DJ mentioned that Bruce had donated money to the local food bank after a concert there.  That gesture, and Bruce’s words and music, have inspired me and thousands of others to help the less fortunate.

Since moving back to Chicago, I’ve become a volunteer and donor for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  My husband and I bring our kids, who now are 10 and 8, down to the Food Depository to volunteer. As a family, we’ve put labels on cans of green beans, packaged cereal and pasta in family-size bags, and packed bags of food for school kids so they would have something to eat over the weekend.

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail that the Food Depository was holding a drawing for VIP tickets to Bruce’s September 7 concert at Wrigley Field.  I entered on a hope and dream – but mainly because it was time for us to begin making our annual donation.  Three days before the concert the Food Depository called to tell me I had won.  I couldn’t believe it.  Two days before the concert, they called to say there was the possibility for a “meet and greet.”  What?  One day before the concert, they asked if I would be willing to present Bruce with a t-shirt and framed photo on behalf of the Food Depository.  Willing?  I was over the moon!

Shortly before the Friday concert, one of Bruce’s assistants escorted my sister and me, and a couple who also had donated to the Food Depository, to the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field to meet Bruce.  We were waiting in a nondescript hallway when Bruce strolled in. When I mentioned 1984 in Dallas, he remembered that that was the year he and his band began to advocate for food banks, starting in Pittsburgh.  I also mentioned that my husband and I make a point to take our kids to the Food Depository to volunteer, and that their favorite CD was “The Rising.”  

Bruce couldn’t have been more gracious - both during our meeting and during the concerts - about his passion to fight hunger.  During both shows at Wrigley Field, he repeatedly championed the work of the Food Depository and food banks nationwide.  Not only did it make me proud to be a volunteer and donor of the Food Depository, it inspired me to help even more.  Bruce’s good deeds, generosity and music have inspired generations to “take care of our own.”

- Joan Radovich

The Greater Chicago Food Depository raised more than $96,000 thanks to the Springsteen Fund Drive. Special thanks to everyone who entered the drawing, made a cash donation and our generous VIP donors. And thanks to Bruce Springsteen for his longtime support of food banks nationwide.   

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hunger Action Month is here!

September is Hunger Action Month - a nationwide effort to motivate local action to end hunger.  The Greater Chicago Food Depository is issuing a call-to-action for everyone in Cook County to mobilize in the fight against hunger.

Find ways to get involved during Hunger Action Month here!

Hunger is a real problem with real faces.  In Cook County, more than 807,000 men, women and children - 1 in 6 people - are unaware of when or where their next meal will come from. More than 250,000 children are facing hunger in our community. Children like Oscar -  who was a regular at one of the Food Depository's Lunch Bus stops in South Lawndale this summer.
Oscar at a Food Depository's Lunch Bus stop in South Lawndale.
Help children like Oscar by taking action against hunger in our community. The Food Depository has put together tips and tools for you, your family and friends to become a part of Hunger Action Month.

Your voice counts. Your actions can make a difference. 'Do it for Chicago.'