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    Day 5: A family takes the Food Stamp Challenge

    Annie and Dan Wilson, co-chairs of the United Way of King County campaign, tackle feeding their family of six on food stamp allotments. On Day 5: Lessons learned.
    Dan Wilson shopping for rice during the Food Stamp Challenge.

    Dan Wilson shopping for rice during the Food Stamp Challenge.

    Annie Wilson

    Annie Wilson

    Dan Wilson shopping for rice.

    Dan Wilson shopping for rice.

    Friday, March 29th: It is our last day taking the Food Stamp Challenge. It’s amazing how much this experience has raised our awareness and changed perceptions about food on many levels. It’s been a difficult week and, while I know that the whole family is excited for me to go on our ‘normal’ grocery shopping trip tomorrow, there are several things we will all take from this going forward. 

    One thing that became very clear through our experience participating in Hunger Action Week was how much less food we've thrown away this week than usual. Today for example, the kids are all bringing leftovers to school for lunch and using up the last of everything. We will be paying attention in the coming weeks to how much food we are wasting. It’s shocking to look at how much food is wasted in this country, especially when we know that there are so many people who don’t have enough to eat.

    Last night, we talked again about what a relief it was to have the egg casserole from mom (I’ll put the recipe at the bottom of this post) and how important it was to us, both for the extra food and for the thought behind it. Quinn mentioned that he felt the same when his friend gave him that piece of pizza earlier in the week. We all decided that preparing a meal for a person or family we know who may be going through a hard time or struggling with illness could be a really powerful gesture and something that we will definitely do.

    We also decided that we are going to volunteer and donate as a family to a local food bank or community garden. The kids are very invested in this issue after this week. They think getting to know people who work in this field or talking with people who are struggling with food insecurity will bring more understanding and empathy towards the problem in our community.

    Although it was tight, we were able to feed our family and house guest on the $35 per day ($175 per week) allotment for the 7 of us. It makes us realize we need to be more intentional with our shopping lists and conscious of how much we are spending. Most of all, we are committed to using what we buy.

    We are grateful that United Way of King County is helping to raise awareness around the issue of hunger in our community. Not only is United Way passionate about helping struggling families put food on the table, they are also helping people and entire communities gain access to healthy food. These efforts and the work of thousands of volunteers, donors and staff will, over the long term, help our community become healthier, stronger and hopefully end hunger in King County. 

    Thanks to all of you for reading these posts and for helping to raise awareness about hunger in our communities. This has been a very rewarding experience.  – Dan and Annie

    Nancy’s Breakfast Soufflé  

    (Make the night before)

    Butter 8” X 13” baking pan.

    • 8 slices of bread – crust removed butter 1 side, cube and line bottom of pan
    • 8 oz.  shredded swiss cheese
    • 8 oz.  mild or sharp shredded cheddar cheese
    • 1-2 pkg. Oscar Mayer precooked bacon cut into bites (our kids love bacon)

    Mix bread cubes, cheese and bacon in baking pan.

    • 6 eggs
    • 3 cups of milk
    • 1 t. dried mustard
    • ½ t. pepper
    • 1 t. salt

    Combine eggs, milk, dried mustard, pepper and salt and beat in a bowl until foamy. Pour egg mixture over cheese, bread and bacon in baking pan very slowly. Cover with wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

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    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    Very cool. Good work Wilson family.


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Foodstamp Challenge is a great way to gain perspective on the struggles hungry families face. Great job on using your existing networks to make it through.


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    How about volunteering for six-eight stints at a food bank instead? That experience would be genuinely enlightening.

    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 3:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Do the kids get free breakfast and lunch at school?


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 3:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    Deli meat IS expensive! It's so great to hear that the Wilsons are doing the food stamp challenge as a family


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 3:36 p.m. Inappropriate

    Inspiring to see leaders stepping up to educate themselves and the community about the realities facing so many of our friends and neighbors. Kudos the Wilson's and to Crosscut for the feature!


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 3:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is AWESOME! It is great to see the Wilson's participating in a advocacy campaign activity. It is a great way for kids to learn about the hardships that other community members sometime experience as well as the importance of not wasting food. I love that they are going to end the week with a donation to their local food bank.


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 4:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    Nice publicity piece for United Way. Wilsons why don't you give this a true challenge and actually try this for a month -- with no casseroles from the grandparents. I take it that United Way is going to do a big push for food this year and now the Wilsons have a personal experience that they can shed some light on with the donors!


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    To make it work get 2 free meals per day for your kids at school, and hit the food banks.


    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 8:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    I think that this is a good challenge/exercise for anyone to take part in. For some people it will show them how "another half lives", and for other folks, it will show them how "another half thinks."

    This is the first part of the saga, but it's sorta interesting that the words "sale" and "seasonal" haven't popped up yet. But the concept of "buying-in-bulk" is mentioned here, so things like Spaghetti on Wednesday may not be far behind.

    Personally, I'd love to see a recipe ingredient list for that big egg casserole. If gramma would be willing to teach the kids how to make that dish, I bet that'd fall within the budget limit and it would be a totally cool family thing, too.

    Posted Mon, Mar 25, 11:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for your willingness to do this project in a public sphere. I'll be curious to read more about how you all manage!


    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    It is so great that Dan and Annie are taking the time to do this! Taking the Food Stamp Challenge is a sure way to make you thoughtfully go over your grocery list in the future, even after the challenge is finished. Way to go!


    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    I've seen a couple of comments about the free and reduced lunch program on this comment thread and I just wanted to share my story about it. I grew up in a family where all my brothers and sisters and I received free lunch at school. Both my parents worked full-time (often overtime) and my mother has a debilitating illness. I was often embarrassed to have to use this program when I was in school (and because the food wasn't the best) so I would skip lunch. This resulted in me falling asleep and falling behind in my classes. I remember multiple times all I could think about was food and how my stomach was rumbling when I was in class. My parents did ALL they could to supply me with what I needed, but sometimes the world isn't split very fairly and sometimes families need help. I think it is wonderful that there are programs out there to help people. I believe we live in a country with such wealth that there shouldn't be people (especially the elderly or children) who have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from.


    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 10:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm sorry but the Wilsons can live off their fat reserves for a week, plus they have a bright light at the end of a very short tunnel.

    I don't doubt the sincerity of the Wilson family or those who posted here in their support and those who are participating in the week long challenge, but the person who mentioned food bank is much closer to the reality of the situation. The impact of seeing the same families and faces at a food bank, in the same clothes, and with the same expressions each week is far more telling how desperate some situations are and you see it face to face.


    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    We wish the Wilson family much luck in this endeavor. It’s hard to feed a family on food stamps. Imagine how much worse it is right now for thousands of children in immigrant families. Their food stamp look-alike program, State Food Assistance, was cut in half last summer.

    One great opportunity to stand up for hungry kids is happening right now: tell your lawmaker to fully fund Washington’s anti-hunger response network: https://secure3.convio.net/voices/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page;=UserAction&id;=110883.

    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 2:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    Anyone interested in this should watch the recent documentary A Place at the Table. All these organizations are doing good work and deserve your money, but we're never going to take care of the hunger problem only going at it from one end. A lot of this is the result of misguided food and farming policy. See http://www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table.

    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 4:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Egg yolks have several times more cholesterol than meat. White rice is one of the worst high glycemic index foods for blood sugar stability. This is an example of how low income people get trapped into eating unhealthy food and how this eventually costs the health care system money. If they went to a foodbank the junk food would really be piled on - supermarket bakery department leftovers.


    Posted Wed, Mar 27, 8:12 a.m. Inappropriate


    A 5 pound bag of white rice costs $6.79.
    A 5 pound bag of brown rice costs $7.05.

    You can lead the poor to brown rice, but you can't make them eat it.


    Posted Tue, Mar 26, 7:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    Gazing at the local grocery store receipt dated 08:37am, 02/28/2012, I see a $1.25 balance paid toward Lays Chips. The EBT F/S balance is listed as $2,574.25. EBT cash balance is listed as $2.00. The store gave me the souvenir receipt last year as the regular shopper did not take it with his purchase. About a month ago, the same store employees showed me a receipt with an over $18,000 EBT F/S balance. A different shopper. I suggested that the store notify the SNAP hotline for advice. Yes, it would be difficult indeed for 'rookies' to live and eat off the program for a week, but some 'pros' can make it work for years. Look carefully around your local grocery store. There are no more paper food stamps; the device is now a Washington Quest Card. Some are discarded at the courtesy counter and the video/movie/coin change processing machines. The website address www.usdebtclock.org says close to 48,000,000 people are beneficiaries of food stamps. The program began as a bipartisan effort by Senators McGovern and Dole as a way to help alleviate hunger and assist farmers.


    Posted Wed, Mar 27, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    Re: the comment by "clarify"--The quality of the food has long range ramifications for all of us. Foods with high glycemic values such as white rice and anything with corn syrup (see the DVD "King Corn") drives the obesity/diabetes connection. The amount of obesity began rising just a few years after corn syrup was ok'd as a stabilizer/filler in the early to mid 1960s. Check the packages of PRODUCT you buy and see how much you eat has corn syrup in it. You will be amazed.

    Is wholesome food more expensive? short term. But long term, a diet of "foods" based on sugar and flour have helped create a monster that only benefits the Medical Industrial Complex. Instead of FOOD in our stores, we often find PRODUCT. And wealthy or poor a food supply based on PRODUCT is toxic.

    For general information and some eye-opening information go online and check out the term "Toxic Gut Syndrome". Our own "food" supply is killing us, rich or poor, young or old. In the end, the only people benefitting are the surgeons and pharmaceutical companies--but those people eat PRODUCT too so they are killing themselves as well.

    Posted Wed, Mar 27, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    I applause this family's experiment in raising their awareness of trying to live on $35 a day....its not easy. The parents are setting a good example for their kids. I am curious though if you have noticed a difference in the amount of time that is spent shopping and preparing food? I would bet this has gone up considerably since you have to prepare most things from scratch. I think time plus $$ makes it doubly hard on families.


    Posted Wed, Mar 27, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

    I would also like the recipe for the egg casserole and I'll add the protein bar recipe to my wishlist too.


    Posted Wed, Mar 27, 3 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm so glad you're trying to do this - although a month would be a better indicator of if you can succeed. I am one of the unfortunate (or fortunate, perhaps) users of food stamps here. Because I have been out of work for 3 years, and cannot find any job being over 50. NO income. No unemployment benefits left, no welfare, no SS, and since I am not truly disabled, I will not go fake a disability. I am so highly educated that it is a liability. NO one will hire me. Fake your resume, get asked what you have been doing for 3 years.....
    Don't be fooled, there is absolutely NO safety net for people in my situation.

    So, as others have stated, using the food bank and school lunches would be a truer indication - but of course since you have a real income, you can't legally apply for those. Having used the food bank for over a year now, I would bet if you asked and told them of your study, they would let you - alot of food goes wasted since it is all "off-prime" food already. You would gain much knowledge on what food you can get, how poor the nutrition, how rotten the "fresh vegetables", and how often (1 visit every two weeks, except for bread) you can obtain food. For example, a family of two will get either two or three packages of protein (meat) to last for 2 weeks. Only one will be some cut of meat. Enough for 1 person-meal. Typically, rendered chicken parts or sausage patties are included. You will never see hamburger for some reason. And you will _always_ get a big bag of french fries, haha. When I turn back in alot of what they give me due to being diabetic and overweight - they think I somehow don't need the help. Likewise when I roll out the door with less than 1/3 of what most users leave with - and yes - sooooo much of the food is high-fat, high-sugar bakery items.

    I take an elderly retired Episcopalian priest in with me when I go - living on SS. He cannot get more than $22/mo. in food stamps due to his income. Which is something like $900/mo. He lives in virtually the worst slum in our city, and barely gets by. Still working as a paperboy at aged 73!

    I'm not really complaining, just saying that being poor has many more hardships than living on $200/mo. food stamps. Or $1050 in your case.

    Posted Thu, Mar 28, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    Try eating on less than $140.00 a month,for one; about $4.60 a day.
    Trader Joe's is OFF the menu. Rice, dry beans, eggs, spuds; some milk, a little cheese, darn little meat; bananas, onions, cabbage-what is in season.
    Bread from the bakery outlet store, or homemade bread. In fact, just about everything is homemade. Watch the sales like a hawk, and combine coupons to get items you really need. No chips, soft drinks etc..
    This goes on week after week. No goodies stashed away for when the Experiment/ Experience is done.
    Welcome to my World! Better try to plant a few tomatoes and such this Summer.

    Posted Thu, Mar 28, 4:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Here is a recipe that uses lots of eggs, and some cheese:

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees

    10 eggs
    1 lb. grated cheese
    1 16oz. container cottage cheese
    1/2 cup flour
    1 Tbsp. baking powder
    1/3 cup oil
    chopped peppers, about 1/2 cup (optional)

    Mix flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Add eggs and oil, stirring as you go. Add cheeses and peppers. Mix to combine.
    Grease up a 9x13 glass casserole dish, and pour/spoon in the egg mixture.
    Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, or until lightly starting to brown.

    Posted Fri, Mar 29, 2:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    I really appreciate the Wilsons noting how they realized the amount of food that is usually wasted. Over the past few months, I have been trying very consciously not to throw anything away and to eat leftovers for days after I cook, and it has helped me both extend my food budget, and not over buy what I might not eat (thus saving me more money)!

    I also think it is wonderful that they are going to donate to a food bank or community gardens. I think that between food banks, community gardens, cooking classes (so people can learn how to cook what they receive at the food bank, if they are unfamiliar with the item), school meals, and SNAP, we can end hunger in our community.


    Posted Fri, Mar 29, 6:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    Dan and Annie--congratulations on making this effort!

    Here are two places that your volunteering can really pay off:

    http://www.solid-ground.org/programs/nutrition/communityfarm/pages/default.aspx In Rainier Valley, off Martin Luther King Way and S. Andover

    http://www.rvfb.org/action.html#volunteer for the real, gritty thing, just north of Columbia City.

    Let us know if you'd like more info :-)

    Posted Fri, Mar 29, 11:04 p.m. Inappropriate


    "It makes us realize we need to be more intentional with our shopping lists and conscious of how much we are spending."

    When did the word intential gain such hyper-popularity that it now replaces normal words such as
    - prepared
    - organized
    - thoughtful

    Feeding 7 people on $35 per day can be done. Very nicely. Feeding 1 person on $5 per day is difficult. Economies of scale in action here.

    I hope this family considers doing the food stamp budget for an entire month. A week is paltry.

    Posted Wed, Apr 3, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    Its amazing white Liberals will do to "ease" their collective minds.
    Is this the same D. Wilson who had his neighbors old tree cut down because it blocked some of his families view?


    Posted Thu, Apr 4, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    I hate these friggin' experiments. Yea - let's do the food stamp thing for a week while living in the 3k sq ft house with the stainless steel appliances, drive the kids to school in the large SUV, and everyone has their own computer. Nice show.

    Having been on FS for a bit I can say poverty is a combined experience, not one component. It's wearing and there is no escape from the daily pressures. Really want to help - make a LONG TERM commitment to volunteer somewhere, anywhere in your community to help folks that are less fortunate. Please put it in perspective, a one-off and then blog post is not doing anything, other than perfecting some self constructed image.

    For a more thoughtful and comprehensive experiment - look at Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickel and Dimed" - from someone involved in working America issues for a long time.


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