Archive for June, 2012

The Stigma of SNAP

The myths that often stigmatize SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) are being used to justify funding cuts that would make it harder for struggling families to get by. Last month the house approved a budget that proposes to cut SNAP by nearly 20 percent. Working as it was designed, SNAP responded quickly and effectively to the recession. Participation in this vital program increased by 53 percent from 2007 to 2010, while unemployed people increased by 110 percent over the same period.

SNAP targets the most vulnerable households; 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. Despite the rumors to the contrary, benefits are not overly generous. In California the average benefit is just over $4 a day. For every dollar spent on the program, $1.73 in economic activity is generated. Correspondingly, a $1 billion cut from the program results in more than 13,700 jobs lost.

For every one allegation of fraud, there are hundreds of stories of heartbreaking need. You rarely hear the stories of the dad struggling to feed his kids after his hours were cut, the mom who is trying to make it on her own after leaving an abusive husband or the grandparents trying to raise their grandchildren on a fixed income.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano we know those stories because they are the people we serve every day. We saw a 46% increase in people receiving food between 2006 and 2010. The increase in demand on nonprofits like ours would be crippling without SNAP. Our programs work with SNAP to help those struggling in our community put food on the table.

We strongly urge our nation’s leaders to protect anti-hunger programs like SNAP and make needed investments in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (another Farm Bill program that the Food Bank relies on) to protect families from hunger and help charities like ours keep up with the need ion our community.


Hunger As a Way of Life

Guest post by Food Bank Office Assistant, Lauren Strouse: While the Hunger Challenge is over for some, for many it is a way of life.  I participated, successfully, last year, but opted out this year since I have “been there and done that,” having actually lived the challenge at several different times in my life. I grew up in a small Midwestern rural community. The closest town was five miles away, possessed one tiny grocery store where my mother shopped in a pinch, and a butcher shop she frequented on special occasions or when she needed to buy some meat from someone “on credit.”  The closest bon-a-fide supermarket was 10 miles from our farm and we only had one car. My dad was a printer and made enough money that we probably qualified as lower middle class, but he was also a functioning alcoholic with a penchant for playing dice and cards so my mother often had to make due with a pretty limited food budget. There were no Food Stamps and although there was a commodities program, it was not available where we lived. There were also no free or reduced lunches in rural America during the 60’s. It is amazing that I still like peanut butter given how much of it I ate as a child. I hated my thermos, but I appreciated the hot soup it carried during the winter time.

I learned how to cook and shop from my mother. By the time I was 16 I could make gravy with just about anything – butter, flour, and milk with dried chipped beef for chipped beef on toast; ground beef and milk gravy over potatoes; sausage and gravy over biscuits; and when times were really tough, gravy made with crisply fried salt pork. We always had evaporated milk and powdered milk on hand, always had staples like flour. I could feed 8 people with a pound of hamburger. We made a dish called “goulash.” The more people, the more ingredients – one pound of ground beef, elbow macaroni, canned diced tomatoes, onion, celery, peas, corn, kidney beans, and sometimes even carrots to really stretch things. I learned how to cook and bake everything from scratch “just in case.” Since we only had one supermarket, I learned how to shop sales, stock up when something was really a bargain, and eat seasonally. We always had a summer garden, raised chickens for eggs, and picked wild berries to eat fresh and for jam. There were a few rather ancient apple, and plum trees on the property when we moved there as well as an overgrown asparagus patch – we used all of these things. We had a farmer friend that grew strawberries and he would let us pick our own for less money. My mother did some canning, mostly fruit, froze vegetables, and made pickles. She also made gooseberry wine and one spring we tapped our sugar maples and cooked our own maple syrup. (It was a fun experience, but a lot of work) We didn’t eat fancy, but we never went hungry, even the time my dad lost most of his paycheck shaking dice. We weren’t totally deprived; we had popcorn and a glass of RC Cola when we watched the Saturday night movie on TV and my mother made the best homemade hot fudge sauce ever; when the money was there we did get treats – real popsicles, potato chips, Twinkies instead of homemade cookies, but I grew up learning how to make do without those things. I also learned that to eat well with limited funds took planning and it was work.  I learned that to eat healthy and not go hungry meant making smart choices; we didn’t get the latest fancy sweetened cereal to hit the shelves, we got Cheerios or Wheaties or my mother cooked Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat. Snacks at our house usually consisted of fruit or graham crackers, saltines or celery with peanut butter.

My first job after college was working for the Ramsey County Welfare Department as a Food Stamp eligibility worker. I learned quickly which clients managed well using Food Stamps and which ones were always challenged: clients that were from  Asian or Hispanic families who ate a traditional diet did fine; older people, especially those who had lived through the depression or the World War II did fine; but younger people often did not because they were the ones who did not know how to cook from scratch or how to comparison shop or even how to plan well.

I got divorced in 1998 after 29 years of marriage. I went from an income of $100,000 plus per year to living off of $8 an hour working for a small nonprofit. My spousal support covered my mortgage payment. Because of my spousal support I did not qualify for Food Stamps. I was confident about my ability to survive, however, because I grew up learning how to successfully meet the Hunger Challenge and most importantly – I never forgot.


The Hunger Challenge: Life in Full Flavor

Guest post by Associate Local Patch Editor, Emily Henry: It’s amazing how different the world looks after a week of vigilance. The constant awareness of food has expanded into a corporeal experience of everything else, and this increased sensitivity is both pleasurable, and painful.

Take a strawberry, for example.

Usually, I would eat a strawberry without thinking much about the experience. It is simply there, I eat it, and there are more if I want them — or even if I don’t. It doesn’t matter.

But this week, eating a strawberry has been a decision, an experience, and an afterthought. Firstly, I pay attention to my desire to eat a strawberry. How strong is it? Where does it come from? What is it about a strawberry that is particularly attractive to me at that moment? Then, I have to contemplate the consequences, which in this case would be a depletion of resources — one less strawberry — and also of funds. I then must measure my level of desire against those foreseeable outcomes.

I decide that, yes, I want a strawberry more than I want anything else, and I want it now, rather than later.

I take one from the fridge and feel the compactness of its weight in my hand. I dig the stem out with my thumb, careful only to target the hard, white base. Upon first bite, the sweetness makes my mouth water. The coldness sends sharp pangs through my front teeth. I look at the half-bitten strawberry held between my fingers and notice the texture of its pink-and-white interior, the subtle hairs, the void within. I notice that the small dots on its surface come in an array of greens and browns. I realize later that I am having an experience. I am experiencing a strawberry, probably for the first time since my initial experience of one, when the flavor was new, the texture a mystery.

And as I write this, I suddenly feel the need to stipulate that no, I was not — and am not — high on any drugs.

Looking back at The Hunger Challenge, it makes sense to me now that this is what I would take away from it: a heightened sense of taste for the “moment,” the experience of consuming.

In a consumer culture, consumption is so continual and instrinsic that the act itself is rendered meaningless. This week, however, everything I have consumed has been a conscious and poignant act. I have been in touch with the value of things, and have seen them in focus before my eyes rather than just a blur in my peripheral vision.

And the truth is, even though The Hunger Challenge is over — I don’t want to stop seeing the beautiful simplicity of life, or lose my sense of taste for all its bittersweet moments.

To follow along with my experience of The Hunger Challenge, read:

Monday: The Hunger Challenge: Fueling Up Without Breaking Down
Tuesday: The Hunger Challenge: Convenience Costs, Plan Ahead
Wednesday: The Hunger Challenge: How Powerful is a Rumbling Stomach?
Thursday: The Hunger Challenge: Turning into a Ghost

A Week on the Hunger Challenge

Guest Post by Dawn LeBar:

Sunday, June 10th

Well, I truly did sign up for this, and now it’s Game On.  I went to the grocery store tonight to get ready for the week. Went to WinnCo, knowing it’s cheaper than my usual Nugget shop stop. When you only have $22 to spend it doesn’t go far no matter where you shop.  I bought a dozen eggs ($3.29), 2 loaves of store brand wheat bread (2 loaves for $5), box of store brand raisin bran type cereal ($3.29), package of thin sliced ham ($2.79), bag of apples ($2.00), and a gallon of milk ($3.89).

I am nervous already.  No pasta, no ice cream, no granola bars, no Skinny Cows, no cherries ($4.99!!!) and most certainly no meat.

It reminded me of when my mom would take us to the grocery store, the clerk would ring it all up, my mom would gasp at the total and proclaim, “..and we didn’t even buy meat!!”

Monday June 11th

Today was a pretty easy day. Had cereal for my breakfast, where I would usually have a granola bar (it’s much easier).  I boiled eggs last night and made egg salad, so I had a yummy egg salad sandwich for lunch. Dinner wasn’t so easy.  I thought about breakfast and lunch but didn’t really buy anything for dinner.  Cereal for dinner! Yummmm!

Here is my cheat:  I must confess, or I will feel like I am lying about this whole deal.  And I’m admitting it because it’s rather humbling and sort of proves a point:  Every morning (ok, most) I stop at Starbucks on my way to work and get a venti black coffee for the low, low cost of $2.25. I have a gold starbucks card, which I re-load every 2-3 weeks at $25 a pop.  I literally was in the drive-thru this morning when I realized this is not covered under the “Hunger Challenge”. And I could’ve escaped, but I didn’t.  My rationale is that I have a balance on my card, so I’m not actually spending any money. See?  So there is my cheat.  And also shows that I spend an average of $10 a week just on black coffee, and $2.25 a day! That is half my daily allotment!!

Tuesday June 12

Hard boiled egg for breakfast. Have I mentioned how much I don’t like to cook, and am on the go most of the time? How I eat on the run, eat what is convenient, eat what is already prepared.  What I eat that is healthy is fruits and vegetables, however they are ridiculously expensive when again, you only have $22 to work with.  Let’s start paying extra attention to the obesity rate for the working poor, shall we??

Ham sandwich for lunch and – wait for it, Cereal for dinner!

Wednesday June 13

Today I had a bit of a cheater as well, though it’s technically not my fault. But I DID forego my morning “free” Starbucks.  I had a work luncheon today, which afforded me a de-lish chicken and mandarin orange salad.  Tasted like Heaven.  I couldn’t  very well break out my ham sandwich in a baggie, now could i??

Here’s a bit of catharsis:  When I was a kid, my mom was a single parent – my brother and I would go to the grocery store with her, and when it came time for her to pay for the groceries, we knew what was coming – she was going to break out the sheet of stamps. (back then, they didn’t have EBT cards). My brother and I would slink down and pray no one saw us, because we were so embarrassed. How could I even begin to know how my mother felt? I feel ashamed for feeling that way.

One stigma I detest to this day is that people on public assistance are lazy and won’t get a job, and live off “the system”.  I can tell you, my mom worked HARD. Sometimes 2 jobs, to take care of my brother and I.  It’s what we call “the working poor”.  I give my mom credit for my strong work ethic, integrity and appreciation for all I have. I’ve worked for everything, and I made a point to teach my sons the same thing.    It is an offensive, derogatory stigma that I wish our society would erase.  The few  bad apples should not represent ALL.

Did I mention that I am eating an apple with almost every meal?

Thursday June 14

So glad this is almost over. I am jones’ing for an Its’it.  I went out with a friend this evening and let him buy me a beer. It tasted fantastic. I wonder if food tastes better when you’re not supposed to have it.

Back to my catharses:  I had a saying I’ve carried throughout my life about my mom’s cooking:  She could make boxed macaroni and cheese 365 ways.  Again, I feel a bit ashamed for saying this, oh, probably a million times.  I know it was because you could buy that box of macaroni and cheese for sometimes 3 for a dollar, 2 for a dollar, and it was cheap.  She would throw tuna in it, peas, leftover stuff from the fridge; she always tried to change it up.  Oh, and egg noodles and butter. If I ever see another plate of egg noodles again, it will be too soon.

Here’s a non-food flash back:  we would be out of money sometimes and run out of toilet paper. I got used to stashing some just for those times. I had a stash under the sink, in my room, in the closet with the towels, so I never had to go without.  Simple things we take for granted – but to this day, I still have a “thing” about making sure I have an abundance of toilet paper in the house.

I think it’s important that I write this down – because these are memories I had from being a child.  Memories that have in some way, shaped me into who I am today.  Memories of stashing toilet paper, hiding food in my closet, (afraid I wasn’t going to have enough to eat), feeling embarrassed at the grocery store because my mom whipped out food stamps. I know my mom is reaching down from the Heavens right now wanting to smack me.. “Dawn Michelle!”

I cannot emphasize enough how much we as a society need to remember that someone – in some way, somehow, we need to take care of our children. It is our moral and humane obligation. It is our spiritual obligation.  Children cannot take care of themselves.  It is our duty – have we lost our human compassion?? (Ok, off the soapbox now)

Friday June 15, 2012

My last day of cereal and egg salad! Woo hoo!  I’m so glad this is over.  It has been much more difficult than I thought.   I want to celebrate tomorrow by having a fat cheese burger and ice cream.  The problem is that those who really are on CalFresh aren’t able to do that, so why should I? Seems a slap in their face, frankly.

My goal – continue to work on bringing attention to food deserts; volunteer my spare time to the Leaven, who works wonders with low income children and in providing them healthy food choices; be more conscientious about how I spend my money on groceries – lessen the impulse buying; support the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano more, as they are such a fantastic organization – so much more than a “Food bank”!!!

More than Feeling Hungry

Guest post by the Monument Crisis Center Staff: With more than 10,000 households registered for service, the staff members of the Monument Crisis Center are more familiar than most with the challenges and problems facing families and individuals without enough food. When we signed up for the Hunger Challenge, we anticipated feeling tired, hungry and irritated. But outside of our growling stomachs we came across a series of other challenges and realizations that can only come about by experiencing an extremely limited food budget firsthand.

Food is more than a way to fuel our bodies. Eating is often a social affair, a time to bond with our friends and family. Restricting our meal budgets to only $22.30 for five days has meant turning down engagements for dinner dates, going to a family potluck with only miniscule contributions, and skipping out on happy hour with coworkers. While these sacrifices are trivial to those of us participating in the Hunger Challenge for less than a week, individuals and families living on limited food budgets on a regular basis may face isolation, lost opportunities for networking, and depression due to these affects.

“Luxury of thought” sounds like a pretty ridiculous concept. How can formulating a thought be a luxury when so many of us are capable of thinking freely? What we found out by participating in the Hunger Challenge was that a huge portion of our time was spent planning, anticipating and craving meals. We would wake up hungry, eat breakfast. Around 10am we would feel hungry again and think about lunch. After lunch our minds were set on planning dinner. Constant thoughts surrounding food distracted us from responsibilities at work, home, and even from recreational activities. Being faced with the challenge of feeding ourselves on a shoe string budget year round could easily change our ambitions, hopes, and thought processes.

The frightening part of this experience was that only one aspect of our lives had changed, while many people in poverty lack stability in multiple arenas such as housing, childcare, and healthcare. The way we ate affected our waistlines, relationship with society and ourselves. Even for individuals who work every day to fight poverty, participating in the Hunger Challenge was a valuable and educational experience.


Take Action Now!

Take Action! The California legislature has until midnight today to approve the budget Governor Brown continues to push for cuts to CalWORKs, the state’s cash-aid program. If enacted, the proposed cuts would further weaken California’s safety-net. While the cuts do not directly impact CalFresh or Food Bank funding, they do negatively impact the very families that depend on CalWORKs, in conjunction with CalFresh, to make ends meet.

As less funding is made available for safety-net programs and households lose essential cash-aid and other benefits, resources available for food purchases are diminished. For every three dollars lost in income only one dollar is gained in CalFresh benefits – this is simply not enough to help support the many California families that continue to struggle to put food on the table. We cannot continue to reduce funding for California’s critical safety-net programs.

California Democrats ready to send Gov. Jerry Brown a budget that reject $1 billion in cuts, Sacramento Bee, link

Take Action!

Call Your Senator Today!

Tell your senator to hold the line and continue efforts to preserve CalWORKs funding; these benefits are essential to the well-being of California families. They must stand firm for vital health and human services in the budget.

Call the Governor Today!

Tell the Governor that cuts are not the solution to the state’s fiscal problem. We need revenue solutions! Over the past three years, California has chosen cuts-only budgets that have shredded programs critical to the health and well-being of California families.


Sticker Shock

Guest post by Food Bank Grants Coordinator, Don McCall: I started the Hunger Challenge a couple of weeks after my doctor had put me on a new low-calorie, low-fat, low-salt diet due to some changes in my health. I had already become used to eating less, having fewer choices and not having all of the easy eating options I used to have, so I figured this would be ‘a piece of cake’ (not on my diet). I planned on not having to make very much of a change, maybe just drinking discount tea instead of Earl Grey and stopping the Diet Cokes. I did my shopping at Safeway as usual, got home and tallied up the damage. What a shock. I was lucky, as Shredded Wheat ‘n Bran was on sale for almost half price, but I was still over budget and hadn’t even added in the chicken, low-fat cheese and unsalted peanut butter I usually buy. I went to go to Trader Joe’s to do some repurchasing and was able to save several dollars on their apples and bananas, but this just brought me down to my spending limit – no chicken, cheese or peanut butter this week. Normally when I get hunger pangs I can snack on extra cereal, cheese and peanut butter. This week I have to suffer through it and just imagine having to live like this and realize that many children and their families aren’t able to say “I can’t wait until Saturday when I can start eating again”.

Arthur Drops Out and People Ate My Food

Guest post by Jess Bart-Williams: Well, this was a challenging day.  Arthur chose to discontinue his participation, which through me into the individual plan instead of the family plan.  So instead of the two of us living on $9.44 a day, now I am living on $4.46 a day.  Not too different, but an adjustment nonetheless.  My previous post explained my accounting error regarding toast, so there is an adjustment for $0.86.  Today I exceeded my daily allowance, but I’m being judged on the week, and I saved some money on Tuesday, so I still have a chance to make it to the end of the week with that beef with broccoli stir fry.
I had the opportunity to visit Joey’s pot luck Thursday get together.  We’re trying to start something similar here, so I really wanted to see how the kids got along and what the experience was like as a parent.  I can’t wait to start ours here in Hercules.  Hopefully I will have a healthier relationship to sharing food when I attend ours as well.  Socializing without money stinks.  Everybody knows that.  Now try going to a pot luck with your $2.00 dinner and a promise to not accept food from others and see if you can do better than I did.  I was chuckling at myself for all of the petty stuff going through my head. As people were eating my chips, I just kept thinking about Elmo and Telly on Sesame Street teaching my kids how balls are better when you share them.  Someone brought the best looking coconut almond fudge brownies that I could smell for four feet.  People did ask what was up, and I was able to share about the food challenge which made me happy.  They were surprised about the amount allotted and asked questions about eating organic.  I told them about trying to food shop today.
I was too hungry to figure out how to get enough vegetables to fill me up, so I opted to eat some meat to fend off the hunger.  I found cabbage for $0.72 a pound, so I decided to pair it with some sausage.  Unfortunately I can’t tolerate nitrates or nitrites, so I generally buy organic, preservative free sausage.  I’ve seen blogs about how organic isn’t any more expensive, but at the store I was at, I couldn’t afford it.  By that I mean, I could not afford to eat a single serving of sausage without blowing the day’s allowance.  I did buy a sausage without casing or preservatives, but it did contain lactose which can irritate me, but I made a choice.
Today I honor all the mothers and fathers out there working in the food industry feeding their children with SNAP.  To the people that are feeding their families, thank you for demonstrating the true grit most of us have never had to muster over the long haul.

Treasures Await You in the Silent Auction

Guest post by Board Member Judy Bradford: In between sips of fine wine, craft beer and bites of delicious food in the Tasting Tents, make sure to enter your bids for some of these exciting Silent Auction prizes. Here is a preview of just some of the items you could win at An Afternoon in the Admiral’s Garden:

You could be a guest judge in the Cupcake Wars competition if you are the winning bidder of this auspicious prize. The top two bidders will be pulled from the audience to judge the contestant’s cupcakes along with the 3 professional chefs. These lucky winners also get to take home a box of cupcakes.

Pick a beautiful day to spend an hour and a half admiring the skyline, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge with a catamaran ride for 2 on San Francisco Bay.

Play a round of golf for four people at three of the best private clubs in the East Bay – Round Hill, The Bridges or Discovery Bay. You can even take a lesson at Nor Cal Golf Academy.

Maybe you’ll catch a fly ball with 2 tickets for 17 Giants games, Field Level, First Base Side, with a great view of McCoy Cove. Or, if you prefer – Four field level seats with batting practice access for the Oakland A’s.

The Play’s The Thing for theater lovers, we have tickets to an A.C.T. preview and a Cal Shakespeare performance.

Enjoy a four-star meal with gift cards for Esin, Piatti and Guiseppe’s.

Getaway to Palm Desert for a weekend or stay in town at the Renaissance Club Sport.

Unwind with a great selection of wine from Cakebread, Rombauer, Arrowood, Freestone, Domaine Carneros, Cline, Viansa, Hess, and more. Or, if you prefer, there are wine tasting experiences for large and small groups.

Add to all that, our bountiful baskets of household goods, toys, garden, holiday and entertaining items, and you have a Silent Auction to get excited about!

Find out more and reserve your spot today at

Budget Update and Lesson Learned

Guest post by Jess Bart Williams: I didn’t realize all the people that would be affected by the challenge as I took it.  I have received lots of calls and emails from people truly concerned and in a bit of shock at times.  It has been a wonderful experience to talk to people about our food system and the challenges that our community seems to be silently suffering (silently from my perspective anyway).

I went through my logs again, since a lot of people had questions about the amounts, and though I was sure, I thought I’d better double-check.  The amount, $5.40 for formula for the baby is correct.  And no, I didn’t stop breastfeeding.  Though I eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids, I don’t produce enough to satisfy my child’s hunger, so we have always supplemented her diet with formula (and now baby food as well).  Her formula, Similac Advance Infant Formula, sells at $1.35/ounce.  She drinks 4 oz per day (sometimes more, but lately she’s drinking 4 and eating more food) so that’s $5.40.
The baby food fluctuates, but I got a whole bunch on sale recently for $1.11 for 2, and she eats twice a day so it should have been $2.22 a day but I forgot to double it the first and second day.  I played catch up on the third day and didn’t tell y’all, and some of you caught it.  Her appetite varies, but generally she eats 4 containers a day which would equal $2.22 a day.
Toast has been confusing.  Toast is priced out at $0.23 a slice, which I may have rounded up on the first day.  I need to correct these errors, because they got compounded:
Monday said $0.50, it should have been $0.92
Tuesday said $1.00, it should have been $0.92
Wednesday said $0.40, it should have been $0.92.
There will be an adjustment for -$0.86 for toast.  This is why I no longer work in a grocery store.   And heads up, my toast today will only be $0.46, because I skipped breakfast today.
Ok, so I just have to say that this really sucks.  It isn’t that I made public mistakes or that I mismanaged my money, which is terrifying and embarrassing. It’s that it’s Thursday.  i was really looking forward to having stir fry broccoli with beef on Japanese white rice tomorrow, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to pull it off.  I’ll know better tonight, but I better start thinking of some alternatives.
I encourage everyone to become an advocate for SNAP funding.  This week it is being discussed in the FARM bill before Congress, and we need more, not less.  Call your legislators today and tell them you want SNAP protected.
You can also sign up for requests for advocacy from your food bank. You can sign up to receive Advocacy Alerts from the Food Bank Contra Costa and Solano here.
Or find your local food bank here.