$4.50 a day

It’s Thanksgiving Week, and I’ve been thinking a lot about food. But not in the way you might guess.

Just say the word “Thanksgiving” and, for many of us, it probably conjures instant sensory responses linked to food – the sights, smells, and flavors of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie . . . (anyone salivating yet?) In line at the grocery store this week, I glanced over the November issue of magazines at the checkout, with their photos of lavishly prepared foods, with words like “feast”, “spread”, “bountiful”, “banquet” in the article titles . . . all signifying an expectation of having more than enough to eat.

But I’ve been learning a little about hunger and food insecurity in America and it’s got me thinking about one of the things I take most for granted: having more than enough good quality, nutritious food for myself and my family, not just at Thanksgiving, but every single day.

A recent article in the Central PA foodbank newsletter said, “one in six adults and one in four children know what it is like to go to bed hungry or have to decide between buying food and paying for other necessities such as utility or medical bills.” (1)

One in six adults. One in four children. In the United States.

Feeding America is the leading hunger relief organization in the US. They coordinate a nationwide network of food banks, including the Central PA Foodbank.

Feeding America addresses some of the myths about hunger in America, saying,

Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different.

Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger. These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days.

And the economic crisis is pushing more and more families in the US into this position.

Hunger is one of those huge, complex issues that feels overwhelming at times. And the issue of hunger in the US is only the tip of the iceberg, as there are millions of people around the world facing, not just hunger, but malnutrition and starvation.

But I know when I feel overwhelmed about a problem, I’m likely to feel stymied about how to help, where to begin. So I’ve been trying to just learn a little about the issue, to look at a few basic aspects of it. I thought I’d try to share a little of what I’m learning about hunger through a few blog posts this week – not to dampen spirits or leave us feeling guilty about Thanksgiving, but to just raise awareness and offer a few ideas about ways to make a difference.

Feeding America has a short 10-question quiz that really addresses some of the common misperceptions about hunger in America. That was a good starting point for me as I truly didn’t know much about it and it really tested some of my assumptions.

I was also reading about something called the “Food Stamp Challenge” that took place a couple of weeks ago. About 600 clergy, legislators and community activists across the US participated. They had $31.50 to spend on food for the entire week, or $4.50 per day. This is the average amount an adult who receives food stamps would get for a week’s worth of food. (the food stamp program is now called SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)

As I read about their experiences in an article in the Washington Post, I thought about how I’d get along on $4.50 per day for food.

The closest thing I’ve experienced is when I help with Brethren Volunteer Service orientations, where we eat on an allotment of $1 per person per meal. However, basic staple items are provided, and the teams of BVSers who prepare each meal have the advantage of buying and cooking food in large quantities, to feed the entire unit. And I’ve only had to get through a few days at a time of eating that way. Even for the BVSers, it’s only for three weeks. And of course, it’s all voluntary. We all have the security of knowing that if we were REALLY hungry, there are ways we could get something else to eat. (sometimes going no further than back to the little stash of goodies tucked away in our suitcases!)

Taking the Food Stamp Challenge is obviously voluntary, too.

But as a summary of the Challenge says, “While living on a food stamp budget for just a week cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month, it does provide those who take the Challenge with a new perspective and greater understanding.”

New perspective and greater understanding of what it’s like to live with hunger. Those seem like pretty good places to start.

Food for a day, for one hungry family in your own community: Set aside $4.50 for each person in your household today, then donate the total amount of money to your local food bank/food pantry.
(tip: you can find local foodbanks by entering your zipcode here

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa

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