"Hunger Challenge" encourages food stamp diet
September 7, 2010 9:11 PM
The organization that distributes food to non-profit pantries is launching a program called "Hunger Challenge" next week which dares participants to spend $4 per day on meals for a week. Stacy Newman, Media Manager for the Food Bank, said it intends to raise awareness about the increased number of people relying on safety net programs in the midst of the recession.
"This is a good way to get insight on this struggle," she said.
According to the Department of Agriculture, there are currently 40 million people on food stamps - a 17 percent increase since 2008. The growth in food stamp enrollment is correlated to the spike in unemployment.
However, last year the budget for food stamps was shaved by $4 billion at the national level, leaving many without food. Mandatory interviews, fingerprinting, and quarterly income reports in California barricaded populations including undocumented immigrants, seniors, and orphans from accessing the program. The Food Bank currently serves 147,000 people in San Francisco and Marin County - a 19 percent increase from last year.
"If you're here and you need the food, we won't turn you away," said Newman.
Originally, the "Hunger Challenge" only permitted a $3 per day diet to match the standard amount a California participant would receive. In 2009, the economic stimulus package boosted the average to $4 per day so the Food Bank extended the budget for the Challenge.
"Living on that budget would be difficult, but not impossible," said SF State dietitian Teresa Leu. "To be healthy, it would take a vegetarian diet and awareness of resources locally. "
The Food Bank warehouse packages nutritious food donated by individuals, supermarkets and farms. Workers make a weekly menu of up to 11 items for each non-profit to purchase at a discounted price and distribute to their clients. A loaf of bread is sold for 60 cents and the $1.50 it would've cost at the market can be put toward other resources.
However, the extra money is not pocket change. Since the Food Bank dictates the weekly menu for each pantry, organizations must compensate for the high demand for free food at their pantries.
Francis Ruiz, Food Pantry coordinator for the Women's Building, said she saw a $20 drop this year in her weekly grant money to shop at the Food Bank. Now, her organization must pay out-of-pocket to feed the 115 families that come into the food pantry each week.
"We're trying to be autonomous while helping the best way we can," said Ruiz. "But every non-profit is struggling right now."
The Food Bank urged people to write Congress a letter opposing the budget cuts in welfare programs that feed Americans.
"Food is a way of connecting people," said Newman. "Nothing else matters when you're hungry."
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