One-week 'challenge' is justa a taste of hunger reality
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink..."
- Matthew 25:35
No matter what one's faith may be, Thanksgiving weekend is the time to count one's blessings and reflect on the many things for which we can be thankful.
Near the top of my list is the fact that I don't have to stretch $23 into a week's worth of groceries again.
I participated last week in the Food Stamp Challenge, a project aimed at raising awareness of, and empathy for, people who live on the government's average allotment to food stamp recipients.
I can tell you this: It doesn't go very far.
With a budget of $1.09 per meal, or $3.28 per day, you can buy the essentials and not much more.
In my one very brief trip to the grocery store, I counted the pennies for each item. With careful planning and some hard decisions, I managed to buy 21 meals for $23.
It turned out to be a week of doing without.
No juice. No Diet Coke. No coffee. No English muffins. No dessert. No bottled water.
When your week's grocery bill is about equal to the price of a single meal at a good restaurant, you've got to skip many things you take for granted.
My only "indulgences" were four bananas (I prefer apples, but they were too expensive), a few bowls of popcorn (cooked on the stove, not the prepackaged microwave stuff), off-brand pretzels, and two packets of cherry Kool-Aid.
I'm not even going to analyze the nutrition - or lack of - in such a diet.
As the Rev. Steve Anthony of Toledo Area Ministries said, it's not hard to buy food that will fill you up, but it's a challenge to eat healthfully at $1.09 per meal.
Meanwhile, the statistics on hunger continue to be alarmingly high.
Bread for the World, a faith-based organization, reported last week that 11.1 percent of all Americans are "food insecure," or uncertain where their next meal is coming from.
In Ohio, 540,411 households are on food stamps - 7.6 percent more than last year, and in Lucas County, 72,000 families receive food stamps.
Feed Your Neighbor, a local outreach of Toledo Area Ministries, distributed emergency supplies of groceries to 7,500 people in October.
After experiencing the Food Stamp Challenge, I look at these numbers differently today. They seem to leap off the page and hit me right in the gut.
As Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the Episcopal Church, said so eloquently, "We cannot speak much in the way of good news to people who are starving or dying of preventable diseases. We must begin by doing good news with those who are most vulnerable."
The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace recently said that 30,000 children die of starvation every day around the globe.
I realize the Food Stamp Challenge is a misnomer in one respect: Recipients don't use stamps anymore, they use cards that looks like credit or debit cards. But the word "challenge" is painfully accurate
While I was struggling through the week, however, I knew I was only going to do it for seven days. For too many people, living on a $23 grocery budget isn't a seven-day test, it's a way of life.
The challenge, organized locally by Toledo Area Ministries and the Lucas County Hunger Task Force, can be undertaken any time by any individual, group, or organization.
If local churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and faith-based organizations gave it a try, it would greatly raise awareness of this urgent problem. On a pragmatic level, the money participants save on groceries could be donated to food banks or hunger-relief agencies.
More information is available from Toledo Area Ministries at TamOhio.org or 419-242-7401.
The more that people realize the extent and impact of hunger, the better the chance that fewer individuals and families in our community will have to go to bed with empty stomachs.