Local rabbi takes food stamp challengeref: JewishAZ.com/Local rabbi takes food stamp challenge
Rabbis and cantors across the country are committing to live for one week on a food budget of $31.50, as part of the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge. Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman of Congregation Kehillah in Scottsdale has taken the challenge.
The $31.50 - or $1.50 per meal - represents the average allotment for individuals on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps.
The program is "meant to supplement a family's food budget, but to some it's their entire food budget," Sharfman said.
The national challenge - organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in partnership with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and several other national Jewish organizations across the religious spectrum - is an effort to spread awareness of the national crisis of hunger and poverty.
"Hunger and food insecurity touch every one of our communities, but it is rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood," said Rabbi Leonard Gordon, co-chair of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, in a release. The challenge "is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real, while demonstrating the Jewish community's deep commitment to help those in need."
Sharfman took her challenge Aug. 31-Sept. 7; and in addition to the financial restriction, her personal requirements included keeping kosher and eating healthy, which meant no fast food and avoiding "carb overload," she said.
As she prepared for the challenge, she was struck by how much planning it takes to live on such a strict budget. She also learned that "there are no shortcuts. You can't go out to eat, you can't just go out and grab something if you're trying to be healthy."
Here's a sample of her menu for the week:
For breakfast, she bought oatmeal in bulk - not instant. "We were allowed to use seasonings that were in our cabinet so I put a little honey in it - it was filling, but it wasn't particularly tasty."
She also ate eggs with a little cheese in them and half a banana or apple. Berries weren't on sale that week, so they were out of her price range. She chose to not purchase yogurt because it wasn't filling enough.
For lunch, she had macaroni and cheese or a peanut butter and honey sandwich and half an apple.
During the week, she avoided breakfast or lunch meetings because eating out wasn't an option. "It was very not social," she said. On that budget, "you can't have any meals out. Maybe if I ate fast food, but I don't."
For dinner, she cooked two kosher chicken legs and thighs in soup, adding pasta and any vegetables she could afford: carrots, celery, turnips, onions. "That lasted for a couple of meals." Then, she recooked the chicken "and that became my Shabbat meal."
She also bought a big bag of lettuce from Costco and shaved some carrots into it - "cucumber put me over my budget" - and made her own salad dressing.
Sharfman said she gained an appreciation for being able to purchase food with a higher convenience level, and although living within the budget may be doable, "I realized how complicated it makes an already complicated life."
The Food Stamp Challenge isn't new. The first one was organized by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in 2006 and gained national attention in 2007 when four members of Congress took the challenge and blogged about their experiences. According to the FRAC website, frac.org, hundreds, if not thousands, have taken the challenge.
As Congress' Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction works on producing a plan by Nov. 23 to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, anti-hunger advocates are concerned that SNAP will be a target for funding cuts or structural changes that "could result in enrollment being capped and many struggling with hunger being kicked off the program," according to JCPA. The organization encourages individuals to contact their members of Congress about opposing any proposals that would hurt SNAP.
Locally, the Association of Arizona Food Banks, which received a $27,000 grant from MAZON in June for advocacy and education, provides information on its website (azfoodbanks.org) about advocacy and public policy news regarding hunger, as well as sample letters one could write to their members of Congress.
In 2011, more than 1 million people in Arizona - in 465,375 households - participated in SNAP, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
In June of this year, the most recent data available on the USDA site, there were 1.1 million Arizonans in 481,901 households participating.
On a national level, 44.7 million people - in 21 million households - received SNAP benefits in 2011, according to USDA.
In addition to taking the challenge, clergy are invited to host pages to raise funds to support JCPA's anti-hunger effort. As of Sept. 18, Sharfman had raised 77 percent of her $1,000 goal (visit tinyurl.com/Sharfmanchallenge).
Participating in the challenge made Sharfman see things differently. For instance, when she saw a couple going grocery shopping with their two young children who, as children tend to do, asked for certain foods that they wanted their parents to purchase, she wondered, "What does it feel like to not have that leeway, to always have to tell the children, 'no'?" It also made her think back to when she taught young children and asked them to bring in food for class projects, "not even thinking about what it meant to the family who might not have been able to afford it."
The point of taking the challenge is to "express gratitude toward the blessings in my life and to share those blessings," she said. Also, Judaism mandates social justice. If there are "people right down the street from me who are in pain and are suffering, then it's my suffering, too."
The experience gave her a different level of empathy, she said, and great appreciation for never having been in that position.
"I can't tell you that I know what it's like because I don't," she said. "I knew going into this that I had seven days and I'm done. I was very well aware that my pantry is full. If I couldn't handle something from this experiment, I could go grab something from my pantry. I didn't, but psychologically, I knew it was there.
"What does it mean when the cupboard really is bare?"
Anyone is welcome to take the Food Stamp Challenge. For more information, visit foodstampchallenge.com.
Friday, September 21, 2012
SNAP! Take the Food Stamp Challenge.
I am just relaying the information. Here, read this copy and paste job from Jewish News of Greater Phoenix: