SNAP Challenge writer Barbara Dunlap-Berg bought a week's worth of groceries for one person for $31.30 at a national chain supermarket. While the amount of food would likely be sufficient, there would be little variety as well as no fresh produce other than apples and potatoes and no beverages other than milk or water. Chicken is the lone fresh meat product. There are only two cans of vegetables, no canned fruit and no seasonings.
INTERPRETER PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/MIKE DUBOSE
Skyler E. Nimmons, a member of First United Methodist Church, Charlotte, N.C., is "a self-proclaimed foodie" and an impulse/social eater. "I don't often plan my meals," he said, "and I'm often out with friends."
Nimmons, who estimates he spends $25 a day for food, recently signed up to take the SNAP Challenge (http://rethinkchurch.org/article/SNAP)—to live on the weekly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allowance for an entire week. The purpose is to be in solidarity with those who rely on food stamps to feed their families. This amounts to about $4.50 per person per day.
Nimmons, the 29-year-old communications specialist for the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, admits the SNAP Challenge will be tough. But he's read the statistics.
According to Feeding America, food insecurity—a lack of dependable access to enough food to sustain a healthy life—is a reality for one in six Americans. The United States Department of Agriculture states that limited resources prevent more than 50 million Americans from getting enough food, and more than 17 million children live in food-insecure households. Hunger is not limited to those who struggle with poverty, homelessness, unemployment or lack of education. Hungry people are everywhere, in urban and rural settings.
The Rethink Church initiative of United Methodist Communications and the Ministry with the Poor focus led by the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society are encouraging United Methodists to take the SNAP Challenge. Starting points might be anytime in September—Hunger Action Month—or Oct. 16—World Food Day. If a month-long experience is not practical, consider the week or weekend challenge explained at www.rethinkchurch.org/article/weekend-snap.
Leaders are inviting the congregation to take part in a hunger-awareness event, which will feature a screening of the award-winning documentary "A Place at the Table," said Michelle LaBorde, First Church communications director. The film outlines the status of hunger in America and includes interviews with people who have taken the SNAP Challenge.
'People we see every day'
"The statistics of hunger and poverty are not simply numbers," notes the Rev. Pat Bruns, senior pastor at First Church. "They are people—living, breathing, struggling, suffering people. They are people we see every day ... in all our neighborhoods."
He hopes people in his congregation will "begin to look more closely at the faces of the hungry and work together with our community partners to make sure all of our neighbors have enough to eat."
How to participate in the weeklong SNAP Challenge
Commit to seven straight days.
Spend no more than $4.50 per day total.
Only buy and eat or drink items that SNAP allows people to purchase. Do not use food already on hand. Do not accept food from anyone.
Include fresh produce and a healthy protein each day.
Use coupons and store-discount programs.
Keep a log of what you buy and eat for each meal, as well as receipts.
Journal daily about your experiences.
With SNAP benefits, recipients may purchase produce and canned goods; meat and dairy products; dried goods, beans and rice; breads and cereals; baby food and infant formula; soda, chips and candy; coffee and tea; and seeds for eating or planting. Prohibited foods include hot food or any food you can eat in-store.
Here are more ideas from Rethink Church and First Church, Boulder.
Invite others to participate.
Share the experience in-person and via social media. Use the hashtag #UMCSNAP.
Learn about hunger and poverty.
Keep abreast of current legislation.
Share links to devotions and prayers around hunger and poverty from the General Board of Discipleship.
- Try easy-to-prepare, low-cost recipes from the USDA website.
"When I heard about the SNAP challenge," Nimmons said, "I immediately thought that it is impossible to eat on $4.50 a day. However, I thought of my neighbors who have no choice. I was intrigued about what it might mean for me to look at this differently.
"I'm not certain what changes I will experience, but I hope I will come out as a more enlightened and grateful individual with a greater focus on Micah 6:8 in my life."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
Ministry with the Poor (General Board of Global Ministries), www.ministrywith.org
General Board of Church and Society, www.umc-gbcs.org/issues/hunger-and-poverty
Rethink Church, www.rethinkchurch.org
Food and Nutrition Service, United States Department of Agriculture, www.fns.usda.gov
Feeding America, www.feedingamerica.org
Food Research & Action Center, www.frac.org
Stop Hunger Now, www.stophungernow.org
Society of St. Andrew, www.endhunger.org
Bread for the World, www.bread.org
Dining on $31.50 a week isn't easy
Buying a week's worth of groceries for $31.50 is difficult. With a list in hand, I went to a large grocery store, part of a national chain, to buy items for the photo accompanying this story. I realized the list likely would change, and, indeed, it did. My first total was $9.01 too much. I started eliminating and downsizing items. Out went the noodles, pasta sauce, bananas and jam. I removed one can each of tuna and vegetables and opted for a smaller package of cheese. My new total was $31.31!
I discovered I had to weigh each potential purchase carefully. Would I get more protein from peanut butter or jelly? Which stays fresh longer, apples or bananas? How many ways can I fix potatoes?
Had I been in the middle of a food desert, with limited choices and higher prices, the challenge would have been much greater.