Confessions of a Food Stamp Challenge Flunky

Mary Catherine Hinds | September 24, 2014

Planning for the Food Stamp Challenge Photo: Mary Catherine Hinds

Planning for the Food Stamp Challenge Photo: Mary Catherine Hinds

The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina issued the Food Stamp Challenge to be in solidarity with people who live on $4.06 worth of food each day. I accepted the challenge and then searched grocery websites for the cheapest prices and sought tips from friends before making a 5-day meal plan. I visited several different stores to get the best deals. My savvy shopping was facilitated by owning a car and having a computer, with internet access, in my home. Buying in bulk allowed for more food and easier math.

The meal plan: Instant oatmeal, tuna sandwiches on whole wheat bread, Greek yogurt, blueberries, lentils (cooked with onion and fresh ginger), rice, canned green beans and potatoes, hard boiled eggs and coffee. Half way through the week I lamented that I had bought coffee instead of cheese and diet coke!

First there was whining and complaining and then I cheated. You see, eating on a tight budget takes great effort, such as spending 25 minutes to boil bulk rice. I ran out of time, so I used microwave-rice which cooks in 90 seconds. It cost $2.49 per serving instead of the $.87 per bag. The working poor, living on food stamps, have to find the time to boil their rice.

On day three I almost broke the rules again. I overslept and didn’t have time to brew coffee, which is the only way to afford caffeine. I stopped at a gas station to buy a cup, and to my wonder and joy, I had enough “rewards” that my coffee was FREE! Halleluiah, angels singing. I have never been so happy to save $1.29.

$20.30 for one person for five days buys an assortment of cans and bags, and very little fresh vegetables. Photo: Mary Catherine Hinds

$20.30 for one person for five days buys an assortment of cans and bags, and very little fresh vegetables. Photo: Mary Catherine Hinds

Four cans of tuna fish ought to stretch to five sandwiches, right? Well, they didn’t. If I hadn’t accepted the free lunch at aCROP Hunger Walk kick-off, I would have had to skip a meal. CROP Hunger Walks support more than 2,200 food banks, soup kitchens and pantries across the U.S. With these funds, hunger-fighting groups help our struggling neighbors stretch that food stamp (SNAP) allotment of $4.06. Thankfully, more than 19,000 North Carolinians raise funds for their local CROP Hunger Walk each year.

Cutting back on a meal later “saved” enough to buy a $ .85 fountain drink. Diet soda never tasted so good. When you have a tight budget, there is no money for drinks other than water. Beverages such as milk, soda, juice and wine are a luxury.

I cheated a few other times. While preparing meals for my family, I gnawed on the pit of my kids’ plums, finished off the remaining bits of the apple core my son left on his plate, ate some of the broccoli stalk after I cut the tops off to steam for my family and pilfered the crust of my daughter’s pizza. Living on $4.06 is demoralizing, defeating and difficult and I couldn’t do it. I cheated because it is nearly impossible. That’s why all of us who have more than $4.06 each day need to share a little of our abundance.

If we wasted less food, spent a little less on dinners out or wine and soda, we could give the savings to places like our local food bank and the CROP Hunger Walk which help struggling families to eat today, but also learn ways to support themselves into the future. During Hunger Awareness month, let’s all match one of our grocery bills with a gift to help feed the hungry in our world.

Mary Catherine Hinds is the Senior Field Director in CWS’s Southeast Area.


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