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    Hunger Action Week: A time for learning, too

    What we learned as a local family trying for a week to live on a Food Stamp budget.
    Two of the Wilson children, Abe (left) and Eli, at dinner.

    Two of the Wilson children, Abe (left) and Eli, at dinner.

    Dan Wilson during a recent meal with other members of the Mariners' organization.

    Dan Wilson during a recent meal with other members of the Mariners' organization.

    Annie Wilson

    Annie Wilson

    Today marks the beginning of United Way of King County’s Hunger Action Week. A year ago, our family took part in the Food Stamp Challenge, which meant that, for one week, we had a daily food budget equal to the maximum food stamp allotment for a family of our size. Dan and I have four wonderful children, and we also had one of our son’s friends living with us during that time. We had a daily food budget of $35 to feed the seven of us. 

    I remember making a quick trip to Trader Joe's to get just a few things to hold us over the weekend before the challenge started. My one bag of bread, strawberries, peanut butter, salad mix and trail mix cost far more than our daily budget. That was when it really set in what we were up against.

    While it was a very difficult week, it was also powerful. My husband, Dan, and I enjoyed blogging about our experience with Crosscut readers (you can read those posts here.) I was a little concerned about people’s reaction when we started blogging about our experience taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Dan and I knew that living on a food stamp budget for one week couldn’t compare to the sustained pressure and stress faced by families who struggle with hunger every day. Throughout the week I was reminded of that as I jumped in our comfortable car (not public transportation), or when my mom brought over a breakfast casserole that gave us a ton of leftovers. We ended up being grateful for all of the support from the readers and encouraged by the dialogue that emerged around the issue of hunger. Looking back a year later, what continues to surprise me is how much of an impact that one week still has on our family.

    Perhaps the most signifcant part of the Food Stamp Challenge, for us, was learning about how much food we waste. After carefully documenting every bit of food we served and ate for one week (and still not having enough by the end of the week), it was clear how little attention we were paying before. Some reports estimate that up to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted, yet we have more than 50 million people experiencing hunger. We talk about this regularly in our family, and now make every effort to use what we have.  

    The Food Stamp Challenge affected our family more than I ever could have imagined that it would. This year, we will be taking the Facebook ‘Hunger Quiz’, not the Food Stamp Challenge, but Dan and I encourage anyone who is interested to learn more about hunger in our communities. 

    Because of our experience, we also learned that there are a number of other organzations that are dedicated to raising awareness about these issues. Programs like Rainier Valley Eats (RaVE) not only provide farm fresh ingredients, they help families learn how to prepare them into quick and healthy meals. Even simpler in concept are the many community gardens that, throughout King County, feed people who can't access or afford fresh vegetables. We were so inspired by these community gardens that my youngest son, Abe, and I started our very own garden; we’re looking forward to planting our spring crop soon! Hunger Action Week is a great way to start on any adventure in learning about supplying food all of our communities.

    Annie Wilson is co-chair of the United Way of King County's 2012-13 campaign with her husband, Dan, a former Seattle Mariner star. They’ve worked closely with Seattle’s First Place School — a private nonprofit K–6 school for children facing homelessness or other trauma — as well as the adoption agency All God’s Children International and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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    Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Nice that you did, and documented your experiment.

    Please all understand that food stamps is not supposed to FEED you, but to SUPPLEMENT your food budget, so the premise is a bit faulty.


    Posted Mon, Mar 17, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    Live in a VERY cozy suburb, have a fine house, cars, no worries economically. Don't give up any of the finery, use food stamps to buy food one week, then predictably blog about and feel you did your part by "advocating".

    Sorry, not buying the self-congratulations. Again.

    IF - I heard that her family was somehow inspired to then spend the last year putting in some substantial time volunteering at some shelter or food bank I'd be the first to congratulate them. But that takes some commitment, effort, and long term vision.

    Maybe it's because my family was (because of some illness) on food stamps for a bit that I find these rich folks forays into short-term semi-reality quite trite and self serving.

    Nice dishes and cutlery.


    Posted Mon, Mar 17, 6:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    Does this family believe that folks on food stamps are regular followers of Crosscut? It's just another liberal "I feel your pain moment." Wonder if they sprained their arms patting themselves on the back.


    Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ahem. What kind of moron thinks shopping at Trader Joe's is affordable for people using food stamps? They are expensive! I realize that the lead in paragraph said she shopped at the too-expensive-to-shop-at-store the week before the family 'test', it's a ridiculous lead-in for this story of a family who really did not make a true sacrifice.

    On the positive side, $35 per day for a family of 7 can be done. It's really difficult, but not if you know how to cook, to portion, and to plan what your family will eat every day. Plan and freeze when possible.

    -Learn to cook from scratch.
    -Learn to grow a garden with veggies and salad stuff, even if you have to go to a city owned pea patch because you don't have outdoor space.
    - Do like my family did in the 1960's with 6 kids and very little income: we drank powdered milk, we ate lots of casseroles, including the ever-popular hot dog casserole, and tuna casserole. We took dried beans, and soaked them in water overnight for soup. We made muffins and corn bread from scratch, never from a mix (did mixes even exist back then?). We picked berries all summer long, and enjoyed berry pie and berry crisp all winter long, with our berries from the freezer. We bought older packaged meats that were marked 1/2 price. We stockpiled when things were on sale. We never had pop, candy or snacks that were not home made. We never, ever went out to dinner, and we never, ever got to eat fast food.

    In short, the old fashioned ways worked very well to feed a large family on a very limited budget.

    Let's hear from a family of non-yuppies about the ways they save money every day on foods and eating.

    And, a return to home cooking classes in junior and high school would go a long way to making this county re-learn how to manage with little money for food.

    Posted Tue, Mar 18, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for the reality check CS.

    My suggestion for next year's installment. Volunteer at a food bank, make friends with some clients, then LIVE with them for a couple of weeks to see the cumulative effect of living on food stamps and what it really means. Report back and then continue to volunteer at the food bank with a new perspective.


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