Reporter meets challenge; dines on $4 per day
One woman, one week and a $4-per-day food budget.
While my friends and family were unsure of my motivation, this reporter just wanted to experience the reality for more than 40 million Americans who are in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program, is the largest federal nutrition program benefitting people and families with low income.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the average monthly benefit per person in Pennsylvania enrolled in SNAP was $128.40 for the 2011 fiscal year, which breaks down to about $4.14 per day for food.
So for seven days, I gave myself a $28 food budget and started my SNAP Challenge. I followed the rules as per the USDA guidelines and spent my budget on bread, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish poultry and dairy products. SNAP benefits cannot buy alcohol or tobacco products; nonfood items such as pet foods, toiletries, paper products or household supplies; vitamins and medicine; or even prepared food such as rotisserie chicken or a pre-made sandwich.
While the SNAP Challenge concept receives a lot of criticism for its flaws and inaccuracies of what true clients experience, the basic premise is based in reality: It's not easy.
This holiday season, Gateway Newspapers is highlighting local nonprofit groups supporting the needs in its local suburban communities and the difficulties they face.
According to Jennifer Kissel, director of communications at North Hills Community Outreach, in Hampton, the top two biggest challenges faced by people in need in northern Allegheny County over the past years is providing food for themselves and families and paying their utility bills.
“A lot of the … need expressed is (because of) unemployment or underemployment,” Kissel said. “They just don't have the money to grocery shop.”
Each month, the North Hills Community Outreach's two food pantries, located in Hampton and Bellevue, serve on average 500 families per month. About 60 percent of the families served by North Hills Community Outreach food pantries also are enrolled in the SNAP program.
“Food pantries exist when that (SNAP) is not enough,” Kissel said.
Local food pantries generally give clients a certain quantity of items depending on the family size including cereal, vegetables, beverages, soup, fruit and produce as well as pasta, sauce, peanut butter and jelly, among other miscellaneous items depending on the pantries' supplies.
The amount might seem meager until you try to create a grocery list to the penny.
The most time-consuming part of my SNAP challenge turned out to be creating that list. I labored over store sale flyers, prices and quantities trying to get the most out of $28.
I realized that with the money I could have saved by receiving just one jar of peanut butter from a food pantry, I could have purchased four cans of vegetables.
Through the week, I was often hungry and consumed with thinking about food. Do I have enough to make it through the week? How much can I eat today and still have enough to make it through the week?
I couldn't afford the variety in my diet that I had taken for granted.
In fact, I realized I had taken a lot for granted. I had the benefit of a reliable vehicle that enabled me to get to a discount grocery store instead of relying on the local dollar store or big box superstore, which were within walking distance or along a bus route.
During my weeklong challenge, I did not once worry about how I was going to pay my rent or utility bills.
And I didn't have to worry about how to feed a growing child, which accounts for almost 50 percent of the clients that SNAP benefits.
Was it possible for me? Yes. Is it preferable or easy? No.
But, this also is coming from someone who only had one problem to concentrate and one person to worry about and who knew she only had to do it for a week and had an “out” if she failed.
And while SNAP is not intended to cover a participant's full food budget, the reality for many Americans is that after other bills are paid, including rent, utilities or medical expenses, there is no money left over.
In the Pine Creek Journal coverage area, the North Hills Community Outreach programs, including the food pantries and utility assistance, served more than 1,600 families in the 2011-12 fiscal year, including 469 families from Shaler Township, 238 from Hampton Township, 122 from Richland Township and 29 from Pine Township.
With the growing number of people in need, local nonprofit organizations have a corresponding need for donations to continue to serve them.
“We need the support of the grass roots community because while we get some government funding and some foundation funding, we're not a national organization,” said Fay Morgan, executive director of the North Hills Community Outreach.
Of the organization's $1.8 million budget needed to serve more than 6,000 households in need each year, 39 percent came from individual or local business donations.
“We're a northern Allegheny County organization, so we need individuals and businesses to give what they can share,” Morgan said. “There are 108,000 homes in northern Allegheny County, and only 6,000 families who come for help, so if everyone shares some food and coats and funds, there would be enough to help the people who need help.”
At the end of my seven-day challenge, I felt a little guilty going and splurging on a gourmet hamburger that cost almost one-half of the past week's food budget knowing many people, including 165,000 neighbors in Allegheny County receiving SNAP, did not have that luxury.
So, I plan to donate the money I saved on groceries for the week to my local food pantry and hope readers will remember their neighbors this season and give what they can to those in need.
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Photo Gallery: Cookie-decorating class at the Northland Public Library
- Seniors find home at Mt. Nazareth Commons in Ross
- Depreciation Lands Museum in Hampton to offer spooky lantern-lit tours
- North Hills Community Outreach program helps those thrust into positions of need
- Northern Tier Regional Library in Richland to host authors
- Pine-Richland hires transporation director
- Shaler, surrounding communities remember Ava, support Campbell family
- Cost issues cause Ecycling Recycling in Pine to stop taking electronics
- Hampton HS blood drive to honor 4-year-old Hampton resident fighting cancer
- Local country-rock band to play at Shaler library
- Millvale’s recent hire aims to bring sustainability to job