Monday, October 15, 2012

Why the Food Stamp Challenge Matters

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Today, Father John finishes up a week-long “diet.”

He pledged, through the DC Hunger Solutions’s Food Stamp Challenge, to spend no more than $30 on food for the entire week. No free food or drinks. No using food already in your pantry. That’s $4.30 a day. He did this to stand in solidarity with the poor, with families and individuals who depend on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help them put food on the table when they fall on hard times. 

For Father John's work, sharing meals with clients and donors
alike was a critical sacrifice he had to work around during the
Food Stamp Challenge.
Obviously, this is no diet. But the metaphor brings the message home. 

And that’s the point of the Food Stamp Challenge, to put perspective on hunger for those of us who don’t worry about our next meal. I work down the hall from Father John’s office, and I’ve been working with him on his daily video blogs as the Food Stamp Challenge went along. 

I love to stay active and exercise.  It helps me work off stress, sleep well at night and find balance in my life. Until last week, I never realized how much of a luxury it was. I love to eat fresh veggies and fruits every day. I love sweets. And, as I stay very active, I eat a lot of food. Even as I pride myself on saving money by packing a lunch most days and not wasting any food, a quick tally shows just how dramatically I’d have to scale back my activities. Thirty dollars doesn’t get you far. 

The SHARE Food Network is built around providing
affordable and nutritious meals to those on a limited budget.
The Food Stamp Challenge is about much more than food. Like most instances of poverty, it paints a stark picture that low-income families have fewer opportunities for happiness and success. How big can a parent dream when they lay awake worried about feeding their children? How much harder is it to succeed at work or in school for someone who is constantly hungry? There’s a huge opportunity cost for our community coming from hunger.  

The Food Stamp Challenge is hardly an accurate experience of what many families receiving SNAP benefits experience. After today, Father John can resume his normal eating habits, while many families will remain unsure of how they’ll put food on the table and pay the rent. 

Last year, the Southern Maryland Food Bank distributed more
than 800,000 pounds of food to pantries.
But it’s a valuable reminder that we always benefit from spending a little time seeing the world from a fresh perspective. In this case, the Food Stamp Challenge shows us just how challenging food stamps can be to feed a family or even a single adult.

They remain a critically important part of the safety net, but filling the gap between what is provided and what is needed is what organizations like Catholic Charities do – only with your help. 

If you’re feeling inspired by the Food Stamp Challenge, get involved with Catholic Charities. Here are a few of our programs working to help put food on the table for our hungry neighbors: