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.