SNAP challenges P.L.A.C.E. Fellows

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SNAP challenges P.L.A.C.E. Fellows

Photo Credit: paulsplaceoutreach.org

Photo Credit: paulsplaceoutreach.org

Photo Credit: paulsplaceoutreach.org

Photo Credit: paulsplaceoutreach.org

Lauren Fleming, Staff Writer

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Eight P.L.A.C.E. Fellows, myself included, participated in the nation-wide SNAP Challenge the week of Nov. 14.

SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), previously known as food stamps, is the government program that aids those eligible with a voucher to purchase food. The program is designed to help low-income families afford groceries.

The SNAP challenge is a week-long effort for participants to eat using the same amount given to those on SNAP benefits, in order to realize just how little low-income families must live on. Oftentimes, we forget about and take for granted how easy accessing food is for us, when for some individuals and families, planning a meal is the biggest hassle of the day because they have few to no resources. Reflecting the average assistance a SNAP beneficiary receives, participants can spend only $4.25 a day on food. This includes all meals, drinks and snacks. The goal is not only to spend no more than $4.25, but to try your best to make healthy, nutritious meals.

Throughout the week, some of us had more trouble than others, and some of us didn’t make it all the way through. I spent Monday through Wednesday adhering to the challenge; then, I spent Thursday and Friday seeing, on average, how much I normally spend on food a day.

I came to the conclusion that while $4.25 on food is definitely doable, achieving a healthy, well-balanced diet is certainly not. I ate mostly canned pasta and sugary snacks found at the dollar store. And what I think was most shocking is that for Thursday and Friday, I spent about $20 a day on food. This is counting how much is costs to eat in the dining hall. On days I eat out or buy snacks, I spend more.

I wasn’t the only one who had trouble; Tamara Burk, Ph.D., director of the P.L.A.C.E. Fellows Program, participated with the students and was equally challenged throughout the week. “I found it near impossible to plan for it, and then found myself very distracted by how I was going to do it without the ability to plan ahead,” Burk said about her experience–a similar thought many on SNAP might have every week. “I spent a lot of time bargaining with myself, justifying what I could have because of others’ generosity, and I even went into a colleagues’ office when she was teaching and raided her candy stash. I believe that is the first time I ever stole food, and it was not a satisfying experience, physically or emotionally.”

Throughout just the few days I took this challenge, I had flashbacks to this summer when I did some work in the community. The daily struggle was providing a nutritious lunch and snack for kids in the neighborhood. It was such an eye-opening experience to see how much poor food access plagues our community, and this week really highlighted that experience.

I find this challenge to be particularly important for people who haven’t had to live uncomfortably–for those of us who really didn’t know what $4.25 a day means. The other day, I was asked what issue I would choose if I could impact any in the world. My answer was hunger. I feel like this week wouldn’t change that answer. Until we meet the most basic human needs of those around us, we can’t possibly progress much farther. I hope to soon be a change-agent in my community and never forget that the SNAP Challenge is not meant to be forgotten, but to spark empathy and compassion and motivation to be a force for good to those around me.

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