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News Mon Sep 16 2013

Eating on $35 a Week: the SNAP Challenge

It should be no secret to anyone who lives in Chicago that people here are hungry. Nearly everyday, whether I'm downtown or on the Red Line or in my own neighborhood, someone is asking for change, is asking for help getting something to eat.

Food insecurity, defined as not knowing where your next meal is coming from, is a huge issue in this city that affects one in six people. It's worse in certain neighborhoods. A whopping one in three people is food insecure in the neighborhoods of West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin. One in three. For perspective, I thought of my near 30-strong department at work and if we lived in Austin, statistically, 10 of us wouldn't know if we were eating dinner that night, maybe a few of us would skip lunch.

SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program that aids low-income individuals and families afford food. The already small benefit is getting cut on Nov. 1 and will affect over 820,000 individuals in Cook County who receive a meager $35 per week on average.

The SNAP Challenge aims to raise awareness of this issue as part of September is Hunger Action Month. Starting today through the 22nd, Challenge participants will use only $35 to buy food. This mean no free drinks from work, no dinners out with friends who pay for you. Just $35 for the whole week.

I decided to take this challenge because I worry that I've become desensitized from the clear poverty in this city. I'm doing this because people deserve access to affordable, healthy food and donating cans of beans to food drives around the holidays isn't enough to ensure people have an adequate, nutritious, diverse diet all year. I'm doing this because I haven't had to wonder about how I'm paying for my food. Experiencing hunger is different from thinking about how hungry other people might be.

Fellow Drive-Thru writer Brandy Gonsoulin will also be joining me on the SNAP Challenge. She's more armed than I am with her self-designed $250 Monthly Budget Challenge, attempted last year which, made good use of pocket change and Stanley's.

We will follow-up after the Challenge about how we planned and budgeted meals, what we ate, and how far pocket change can really stretch.


Verena Burgun / September 16, 2013 11:09 AM

that's pretty challenging. Awesome idea!

Christina BrandonAuthor Profile Page / September 18, 2013 10:02 AM

Thanks! So far not too bad, though I'm pretty sure I'm going to get bored of pasta pretty soon.

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I was using Rick Bayless' restroom, I mused, staring up at the ceiling window that was projecting a heavenly beacon of light upon my less-than-angelic duties. I could barely distinguish Rick's faint murmurs through the orange walls, something about how...
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