I spent the weekend feeling unsettled about the wrap up of the MyPlate on My Budget Project. In the few days since my last post I have thought a lot about my own family's food spending. Each time my brain revisits the subject of food and affordability I find myself working through feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, and helplessness.
"Who am I to have so much when millions have so little? Who am I to be able to run into a store at any time during the month and grab whatever I am in the mood for rather than forcing myself to work creatively with the ingredients in my pantry? Who am I to be able to say I don't feel like cooking then grab the family and head to a local restaurant?"
For many years I was a sometimes volunteer for a weekly free hot meal service in Seattle. I spooned pounds of salad and corn onto the trays of hundreds of people who probably only ate a few full meals a week. During college I worked on an extended project that looked at homelessness, specifically homeless women, in Seattle. I have always considered myself an advocate for social justice but somewhere along the way my walk stopped matching my talk. It is time to plug back in to my community.
I started to do some research on hunger in America and the programs in place to help people make ends meet. What I found is a federal system in need of a lot of help and some wonderful organizations trying to fill in the gaps.
What is SNAP?
SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), formerly Food Stamps, provided assistance to 47,791,996 people during December of 2012, an increase of 1.3 million from the previous December (from Food Research and Action Center).
There are several ways to be eligible for SNAP one is a household income no higher than 130% above the poverty line (2013 Poverty Guidelines). For a household of four people the poverty line is a pretax annual income of $23,550 (numbers differ for AK and HI). A four-person household whose pretax income is at or below $30,615 per year or may be eligible for SNAP. (Am I Eligible?)
"The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work." - American Dream as defined by Wikipedia
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. A family of four with two people working full time at minimum wage could be earning $30,160 and very likely eligible for SNAP benefits. (assumes two people working a 40 hour week or 2080 hours each per year). A four member household that qualifies for SNAP could receive $668 of food assistance per month, but many households receive less. (How Much Could I Receive?).
This is where I get angry. Full time work, by any employee for any employer, should provide a family with enough money to put healthy food on their dinner table. What does it say about how we, as a society, value each other that millions of hardworking people are denied this ability? (SNAP Eligible Food Items)
Hunger Facts from Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry
- Food insecurity—the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food— exists in 17.2 million households in America, 3.9 million of them with children.
- Nearly one in five children in America lives in households that struggle to put food on the table.
- Hungry kids are more likely to experience serious short- and long-term health issues. They tend to have trouble learning and are more prone to behavioral and emotional problems.
- Nearly half (49.2 percent) of American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point in their lives, reports a study in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, November 2009.
- Food insecurity is most common in large cities but still exists in rural areas, suburbs and other outlying areas around large cities − 25 % of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure.
According to Feeding America's website - In 2011, 5.1 percent of all U.S. households (6.1 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.
Closer to home - My area is served by the Lynnwood Food Bank. They provide assistance to people in five local zip codes. According to their website the can offer, "an approximately three-day supply of food is given to each household every other week."
Though each location is different, many food pantries distribute food only one day a week and during limited daytime hours. People who work during the distribution times are generally unable to be served by the food pantry in their area. (Washington Food Banks)
What can we do?
As I work through my emotions I keep returning to a place of helplessness. "If I have so much, why don't I have enough to just fix the problem?" That is why I did not hesitate to participate in today's hunger awareness project. No one person has the tools to solve hunger in this country. Working together we can raise our voices and commit to actions that can, and will, make a difference.
This week my personal blog joined more than 200 other food blogs in asking readers to take a few minutes to contact their members of congress and ask them to protect federal nutrition assistance programs. If you would like more information about Food Bloggers Against Hunger, and the call to action, please click over to www.ourladyofsecondhelpings.com.
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