I’ve been thinking on this for a while. Thinking, praying, debating, whatever you want to call it – I’ve been doing it for months (even years) now.
I don’t really know what to do with it or where I’m going with it, but I feel like I need to write about it.
I have become peripherally involved with an organization called Share our Strength, and they have a mission to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. That’s a pretty big goal, but I don’t think it’s unattainable. I’m trying to help where I can – I started by committing to donate a portion of the proceeds from this blog to them I also took their No Kid Hungry Pledge and am brown bagging it on November 10.
This Thursday, I’m attending Caketails for a Cause at Bloomingdales in Lenox Mall here in Atlanta, which benefits Share Our Strength’s Great American Bakesale initiative. I’m also signed up to participate in their holiday potluck-style blogathon called Share our Holiday Table this December. Additionally, I’ve signed up to take a volunteer training course with our local Operation Fronline (now known as Cooking Matters) affiliate.
All of that to say, I think this is an important problem. One that I want to do something about.
I don’t want this post to become political, as I tend to avoid volatile subjects on this blog. I mean, I write about food, not politics or social issues. However, when those things collide, sometimes you have to take a stand.
The reality of the situation is there are millions of children in this great country of ours who are hungry. Children who were brought into this world without a choice, but who deserve a chance at a happy and healthy life.
And the parents, guardians, caretakers of those children deserve an opportunity to learn how to provide an environment that will foster that happy and healthy life.
Last year, I took some time off from work so that I could spend time at home with my oldest child while he recovered from open heart surgery. During that time, my husband and I lived on his income alone. Just out of curiosity, I did some research (this was during the health-care debates that were at the forefront of American politics at the time) and discovered that we weren’t too far above the cutoff for being eligible to receive Medicaid benefits for our children.
Now, we’re fortunate to have health-care through my husband’s job (and through mine, now that I’m working full-time again) so this research was purely to satisfy my own curiosity. However, the research into Medicaid led to a similar inquiry regarding food stamps.
I’m going to take a moment here to insert a disclaimer. I am not going to advocate for or against government sponsored social programs on this blog. I am taking a purely observational point of view here. The reality is that there are millions of Americans receiving these benefits (35.5 million per month in 2009, according to the statistics on the Share our Strength website), and I believe the only way for the programs to be successful (and for people to eventually graduate from them, which I would hope would be the goal) is for someone to take the initiative to teach people how to survive, and even thrive, within the limitations of the system.
This means teaching people how to use the resources that they do have to purchase the most healthful foods that they can, and then showing them how to prepare those foods within the time limits that they face due to their work schedules, children’s activities, and transportation limitations.
I recognize that it also means making sure that those people have access to affordable fresh food options in their neighborhoods, which means working with grocers, food distributors, and local growers and farmers to ensure that access. This is not a problem that will be solved in one day.
The maximum food-stamp (or SNAP as it is called now) benefit available for a family of four is $680 in Georgia. Now, this gets quickly reduced depending on your actual income, how much you pay for rent, how much you pay for child care and so forth. I’ve looked at a number of different sources (from other blogs, to Share our Strength, to the state family services site), and from what I can find the average is about $4 per day per person. So, for a family of four, this would be about $480 per month.
I did find it interesting that the government expects that you will use 30% of your residual income (after taxes, rent, childcare) to supplement your food-related buying – they don’t expect you to be solely dependent on the program. Whether this ends up happening is another matter altogether.
I plan to do a series of posts focusing on healthy cooking and eating on a restricted budget. This will include sourcing inexpensive kitchen equipment to make the job easier, since I don’t expect that those people feeding their families on a food-stamp budget have access to a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a meat-grinder attachment or to a food processor. It occurs to me that many of these folks might not even have knives or pots and pans. It’s possible that some of them don’t even have access to a fully functioning kitchen, so that poses another challenge altogether.
Additionally, I’m issuing a challenge to other Georgia food bloggers to join me in January for a week of meal planning and execution on a food-stamp budget. This has been done in other parts of the country (I know that a number of bloggers in Austin, TX participated in a Hunger Awareness Blog Project back in April of this year), but I don’t believe we’ve done it here. If someone has already done something like this, well then let’s do it again. The goal here is to show how difficult it can be to feed a family healthfully on a restricted budget, but to also show that it can be done (because I believe it can).
What I’d eventually like to see happen through all of this (my dream, if you will) is for small communities of like-minded people to come together to help end hunger in their own neighborhoods. It used to be if your neighbor was hungry, you went down into your cellar and brought up a can of beans and some potatoes (or whatever you might have had extra) and you shared it with him. It’s time that we got back to those days – the days when we saw someone in need and did something about it. I live in one of the most affluent areas of metro-Atlanta, and yet our local food pantry is constantly putting out emergency calls for donations. Rather than relying on government programs to solve the problem (and again, I’m not advocating for or against, I’m just saying it can’t be the only answer), we have to start helping each other. I believe it takes individuals reaching out a helping hand to other individuals to truly make a difference.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. And, if you are an Atlanta-area or Georgia food blogger (or even in a neighboring state) and would like to join me in a Hunger Awareness Blog Challenge in January, let me know.