Monthly Archives: September 2013

SNAP Challenge

I recently learned of the SNAP Challenge to live for a week on the average amount of benefits a SNAP recipient receives; $4.50 per day!

I was excited at the prospect but as the week approached and then the first day, I had more than enough EXCUSES why that week would not work for me.  Jury duty popped up, out of town travel which means dining out, a birthday party for a friend.  It just wasn’t going to work THAT week.

What?  Can a SNAP recipient pick and choose when to eat on $4.50 or the amount they receive?  NO

It gave me a chance to reflect on how fortunate I am, that, although I do live on a pretty strict monthly budget, I definitely have much more flexibility than 35 years ago when I was a SNAP recipient, raising a future principal (Mom’s bragging rights).   I remember stretching my food budget by eating at my mother’s house a couple times a week, something not all can do. And I remember “government cheese” and the other commodities we received at the local CAP.  But the main thing I remember vividly which still affects me today, was that I was unable to purchase non-food items like Kleenex, toilet paper, aluminum foil, paper towels, etc.   I have been accused of hoarding those items and I guess I do stock up when they are on sale, probably because I went without them for a few years.

Getting back to the $4.50 a week.  I guess it isn’t nearly as important to actually experience the burden of worrying about each penny as long as we have a sincere understanding and appreciation that others really do live with this burden day in and day out, and that we devote ourselves and our cause to doing everything we can each day to alleviate the scourge of hunger.  Whether it is helping someone sign up for SNAP, donating food, money or time to your local pantry or food Bank, or organizing a community food drive, there is always something you can do if your heart is willing.

– Cindy Jones


$4.50 a day … truly is a (SNAP) challenge.

September is National Hunger Month. This month, hundreds of food banks and food pantries around the country are engaging members of the community, local businesses, and public officials in their work. It is an opportunity to encourage people to act on hunger – an issue that plagues our nation.

Here, in our state, the network of eight Feeding America food banks, more than 350 food pantries, and another 700 partner agencies have leveraged new corporate partnerships, enhanced awareness of hunger issues in Iowa, and increased their volunteer base.

Knowing the impact Hunger Action Month has had on the state, I thought I would step up and take part in the SNAP Challenge this week. I was looking forward to the challenge to see just what my body (and mind) could sustain. Now, four days into the challenge, I have to recall my “looking forward to the challenge” statement. I have to realize that there are more than 46 million Americans (408,000 Iowans) participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The average benefit (nationally) per person is $133.41 per month ($4.50 a day) and in Iowa the average benefit is just $121.20 per month. It was an inconsiderate mindset of mine to “look forward to the challenge”.  For millions of American, hunger is a reality every single day.Image

Earlier this week, I took my $31.50 (average weekly SNAP benefit) to Fareway Food Stores to purchase food for the week. I quickly learned the challenge presented to SNAP participants.

It’s great that fresh produce is situated near the front door of most stores; though the cost of fresh produce quickly adds up. I bypassed this section at first and gathered other items to make sure I could prepare meals for five days (with a few days of left-overs). After searching for the best deals, I went back to pick up a few fresh items. You may also notice a bag of cookies in the picture. Though some may frown on this, I wanted to show that cookies in moderation are ok; this was the very last item I picked up … and they were on sale.  A few of the more nutritious items I picked-up, include: frozen vegetables, fresh bananas, low-fat yogurt, skim milk (99-cent half gallons), oatmeal, eggs and potatoes. I also went with whole wheat when my budget allowed.

I learned a few things during my shopping trip:


Total food purchase was $31.06. I shopped Fareway so I could take advantage of their campaign to end hunger from September 16 – 21st. You’ll see, I completed the $5 pledge card for the Iowa Food Bank Association – it is listed as the last item on the receipt.

  1. In order to maximize SNAP dollars, budgeting and meal-planning is essential. I did not plan meals, nor did I carry a calculator. After keeping track of meals and tracking a running balance in my head, I was ready for a nap.
  2. The most nutritious food is the most expensive!  I understood this before but did not fully realize the impact until I worked with a definite budget.
  3. Prioritizing and cost-benefit analysis is present in every decision. Do I want to spend an extra $1.49 on whole wheat bread when I can get white for $1.27? Should I just get boxed macaroni and cheese for $0.88 or spend another $2.00 on noodles and sauce? Do I have room in my budget for fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables/fruit? I found myself running all over the store trying to decide on the best combination.
  4. Maybe the toughest challenge I encountered was seeing other parents/families with a cart full of food – much of the food did not seem to be a necessity. I shopped alone. I can’t imagine the feeling if my two young daughters were with me. It would be difficult to explain why we couldn’t get chocolate milk or ice cream.

It has been a difficult week eating what I purchased, but I am managing. I am managing to keep myself upright over the course of four days. Too many families have to sustain this real-life challenge for months at a time. These families – the children, adults, and seniors – that have to live with this every day deserve better! Hunger doesn’t have a face. Hunger lives in our community, in our schools, in our neighborhood. Individually, I can’t solve hunger, but together – as one united force – we can sure start a movement. Will you join me in the fight against hunger? It’s time we all have equal access to food.

Written by Cory Berkenes, State Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association.

New Mobile Pantry making a difference for one small town in SW Iowa

Hamburg Pantry 3

The Hamburg Interchurch Council, located in Hamburg, Iowa, kicked off its partnership with Food Bank for the Heartland with a mobile pantry distribution August 31. They had a better-than-expected turnout, with 64 households (171 people) being served. Approximately 14 volunteers assisted with the distribution, along with one SNAP outreach volunteer. The order was about 4500 pounds of food, including a pallet of melons, and most of it was distributed.

                Volunteers said the food was “a blessing” and were very appreciative of the Food Bank for the Heartland and AmeriCorps. When they saw my VISTA shirt with the AmeriCorps logo on the sleeve, they asked if I knew the AmeriCorps volunteers who had come to help during the flooding crisis in 2011. Clearly, AmeriCorps makes a difference in Hamburg!

                One client told me that she was very grateful for the food because her husband had been injured and couldn’t work, and she couldn’t either. She said that they were trying to make it on just Social Security and SNAP, and that it just wasn’t enough for all their needs. The food helped stretch their money just a bit more for the next month.

                Multiple volunteers mentioned to me that elderly people in the community were “too proud to come in here”, and one volunteer expressed her happiness and surprise that some of these people did end up coming to the distribution. The group also planned to deliver food to the senior housing areas eventually, as part of their distribution process.

                It was exciting for me to see the results of my work to help the Hamburg Interchurch Council get their pantry kick-started. I helped schedule the mobile, created the order, created fliers, and answered many questions as they got going. The Council did a fantastic job at the mobile, and I’m certain they will continue to do well. I am proud of their efforts and look forward to seeing the way they’ll care for Hamburg’s hungry.

                Hamburg is just one example of how a small town, devastated by its circumstances, can learn to work together to solve its problems. I have seen how small towns across Iowa and Nebraska have been able to better care for their hungry residents through partnering with each other and with the Food Bank for the Heartland. Together, we can solve hunger!

Written by Annaleah Moore, AmeriCorps VISTA Member serving at Food Bank for the Heartland.