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Join Effort for a Glimpse of What Those in Need Endure

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is working to end hunger in our community.  As so often happens, a straightforward idea becomes incredibly complicated when we look at all we need to do to reach that goal.  We know that our main purpose is to provide food to people in need in our community.  We recently participated in a national hunger study with other food banks that are part of Feeding America, the national food bank network.  It’s no great surprise that the study confirms low-income people face an incredibly difficult time providing healthy food for their families.  The people we serve face more difficult circumstances because the Bay Area is an expensive place to live.  People do not have room to negotiate housing or fuel costs, so food is often the area where people scrimp to save money.

Our job at the Food Bank is to make as much healthy food as possible available to low-income people in our community.  We have been able to dramatically increase the amount of fresh produce we provide through our Community Produce Program.  Through this program and our other distribution efforts, half the 21 million pounds of food we distributed last year was fresh produce.  Because we make healthy food easily accessible in low-income neighborhoods, we are having a positive effect on the lives of our neighbors in need.

But hunger in our community cannot be solved solely by the Food Bank.  We have a responsibility to educate the community about the need around us.  In the suburbs, hunger is not as visible as in urban centers.  Those who live in nice housing developments only drive through low-income neighborhoods, and that is probably on a freeway.  So we are asking people during Hunger Action Month in September to slow down and consider what it is like to not have the money you need for food.  During the week of September 15, I ask people to join me living on the amount the average Cal Fresh (food stamp) recipient receives for their food each day, $4.50.  It’s not totally sharing the experience a Cal Fresh recipient lives because I can use my spices and cleaning supplies. I’m not living the life a low-income individual faces every day, but living on the Cal Fresh budget helps me understand the tough decisions low-income people make.

If you can only spend $4.50 a day you realize how expensive fresh fruits and vegetables are.  Processed foods are significantly cheaper, so you ignore the huge amounts of sodium you are consuming and the poor nutrition the packaged food provides.  High fructose corn syrup tastes good and is a cheap part of the packaged food we buy.  Low-income people are trying to make healthy food choices, but they are doing that on a budget of $4.50 each day.  Please join me the week of September 15 so we can better understand the lives our low-income neighbors live.

 

Challenging Myself to Experience Hunger

Next week, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is joining with Feeding America to encourage people to take the Hunger (SNAP) Challenge  part of  Hunger Action Month. For one week, particpants will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps and known as CalFresh in California).

It is not too late to sign up! If you would like to participate, please fill out the form on our Hunger Action Month page.

Below is an update that was posted to LinkedIn by Ron Shaich, founder, chairman, & CEO at Panera Bread.

Panera Bread founder, chairman, & CEO Ron Shaich shops for groceries in preparation for the SNAP Challenge. (source)

Last week, there was an article on the front page of The New York Times entitled, “On the Edge of Poverty, at the Center of a Debate on Food Stamps.” The article sheds light on the reality of food insecurity in America – millions of families that “look like we are fine,” according to one man, but in reality, “live on the edge of poverty, skipping meals and rationing food.”

The families featured represent only a handful of the nearly 49 million people in America who, very simply, are hungry. We live in the “land of plenty,” and yet nearly 48 million people receive food stamps and 16 million children go to bed hungry.

Whether or not we talk about it, acknowledge it or pay attention to it, hunger is a serious and real problem in the United States.

And yet, despite everything I have learned about hunger and the various efforts I’ve undertaken to try to make a dent in the problem, I have never actually experienced hunger firsthand. I’m not talking about the hunger that comes after skipping a meal. I’m talking about not knowing when or where my next meal will come from on a regular basis. I’m talking about having to decide between paying for an unforeseen medical or housing expense versus buying food to feed my family for the month.

That’s why, as part of Hunger Action Month, I decided to take the SNAP Challenge. For one week, beginning Saturday, September 14, 2013, I will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps). I am also extending the challenge to Panera’s Societal Impact Steering Committee, the group responsible for helping Panera leverage its core competencies to help create real change and lasting solutions against hunger. Another partner of mine in this challenge will be Bob Aiken, the CEO of Feeding America.

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m nervous. As the SNAP Challenge week approaches, I feel a sense of fear about my budget, what kinds of food I’ll be able to afford, the impact that the Challenge will have on my work and ability to concentrate. However, as the CEO of a company that is committed to making a difference in our communities, it is critical that I understand this problem in a deep and personal way.

I am aware that this challenge only lasts one week. And I understand that many millions of people, including some of Panera’s own employees, have encountered more prolonged and painful bouts of food insecurity. My week is merely a simulation of what so many millions deal with every day. To be clear, I don’t mean to trivialize anyone else’s experience or claim mine as an authentic representation of what food insecurity looks like. Rather, my hope is to inspire other leaders – in business, government and the nonprofit world – to take on the challenge of food insecurity as their own. In the process, I also hope to inspire myself to continue to innovate and find new solutions to the problem of hunger.

Throughout my Challenge, I will be posting updates on LinkedIn. I will walk you through my shopping experience on the $31.50 weekly budget, my meals, my feelings, my energy level. I also hope to share information about the different solutions out there – from federal assistance to food pantries. And I’ll share insights gained from Panera team members taking part in the challenge.

If you feel inspired to take part in the challenge yourself, visit www.hungeractionmonth.org for more information. As ever, please share your experiences on the SNAP Challenge or with other Hunger Action Month activities in the comments section.

I’ll be back on September 14 to start sharing about my Challenge. As my friends at Feeding America say, Together We Can Solve Hunger™.

Join Mr. Shaich and get a sense of what life is like for those struggling to put food on the table with the average benefit for people who receive SNAP/CalFresh. Sign me up for the Hunger Challenge!

The original content of this post can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130909205336-25745675-challenging-myself-to-experience-hunger.
 

USDA Releases New Food Insecurity Report During Hunger Action Month

hunger action month banner

Breaking News – The United States Department of Agriculture reported today that 14.5 percent of American households (15.6% in California) remain food insecure, meaning those households had difficulty at some time during the year in providing enough food for all their members.

When it comes to food insecurity rates, any number is too high. That’s why the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano — along with the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks — is asking you take action this September during Hunger Action Month.

Here are three easy actions you can take:

GO ORANGE! Orange is the official color of hunger awareness and makes a bold statement to start the conversation about hunger. Join us tomorrow, September 5, by wearing the color orange. Or show your support online by making your Facebook and Twitter profiles orange. Don’t have any orange? We’ve got you covered. Fill out this form to receive Go Orange materials to share with friends and family.

EXPERIENCE the Hunger Challenge happening September 16-20. Can you shop and eat for just $4.50 a day? Get a sense of what life is like for those struggling to put food on the table with the average benefit for people who receive SNAP (formerly Food Stamps). Sign me up for the Hunger Challenge!

SHARE a hunger fact with friends, share the action calendar or just share a great pic of your Go Orange activities with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram#HungerAction.

Ready to take action? Check out a list of actions you can take during Hunger Action Month and beyond!

Together, we can solve hunger.

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 3

Guest post by Mariko Yamada: Got home Tuesday about 8 p.m. after a fabulous event in honor of labor leader and civil rights icon, Dolores Huerta, recognizing her for 60 years of organizing workers and standing up for justice.  What an honor to be in her presence.

Food and drink were plentiful at this hosted event—one among multiple such receptions that occur morning, noon, and night around the Capitol.

Fortunately, I have had a “no eating, no drinking” rule in place for my entire tenure in the Legislature to avoid a gift reporting requirement, so am accustomed to passing up the usual delectable spreads that are always a part of such festivities.  However, because I had only eaten a small lunch, the pleasant food aromas were harder to ignore…

After downing a glass of orange juice, again to quell the low-blood sugar feeling I came home with, I made half a package of brown rice with the chicken stock I had saved from Monday night’s cooking.  Dinner was one of the chicken thighs (I now have one whole one left from the original four) over brown rice with a cut-up tomato.   Made a cup of French Vanilla coffee to top off the meal…and the sweet taste of an overripe banana was my dessert.

This morning, I made my thermos of coffee, a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, and tucked another overripe banana in for an afternoon snack.  Will likely have spaghetti and toast for dinner tonight after attending another reception—one where I will be receiving a recognition for work on helping the unemployed!—skipping the lovely spread I am sure will be there…

Day Four tomorrow!

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 1 and 2

Please join us as we follow Assemblymember Yamada on her fifth year participating in the Hunger Challenge as a Legislator.  Each day this week she will share her experiences on just how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy with very limited resources. She will be living on a food budget of under $5 a day – the average amount a Californian receives in CalFresh benefits.

Day 1: Skeptics have asked me, “Why are you doing this—AGAIN?”…

The reasons are simple:  hunger in America persists in the richest and most powerful nation on earth.  And the assault on feeding Americans—by cutting the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $20 Billion over the next ten years has been eloquently questioned by none other than Paul Krugman in the New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/opinion/from-the-mouths-of-babes.html?_r=0

Going into this, my fifth annual Hunger Challenge, I have learned “survival shopping”, looking for sales and engaging in couponing.  This year’s weekly budget of $24.90 is actually a relief over prior years when the daily amount was just a little over $3 per day.   For me, coffee is the foundation of my food pyramid, and in earlier challenges, I had to forewarn my co-workers that I would be “off the juice” for five days since coffee was unaffordable.  Fortunately, this year, the daily budget of $4.98 couple with a coffee sale and a $2.00 off coupon snagged me a 1-pound bag of storebrand French Vanilla ground coffee.

I am pleased to once again partner with Food Banks in my district, to call attention to hunger amidst plenty during June, Hunger Awareness Month.  Remember that many of the long-term unemployed, children, students, and seniors, regularly face food insecurity.  For me today, my thermos of home-brewed coffee, along with a grilled cheese sandwich on wheat bread and an overripe banana is food that will carry me through to dinnertime.

More tomorrow.

Day 2: With no Monday evening meetings, I was able to focus on cooking for the week.

Usually, dinner is a fast-grab from among two or three favorite restaurants, a luxury out-of-reach for most CalFresh recipients (although there IS a little-known restaurant program:  http://www.snaprmp.org/).

I boiled the package of chicken, prepared the whole box of angel hair pasta (which turned out to be a mistake—too much food!), and divided the noodles in half to prepare the week’s dinner of spaghetti with tomato-basil pasta sauce, and chicken chow mein with zucchini.  Had a glass of orange juice to quell the low-blood sugar feeling I had while cooking.  I had a good serving of vegetarian and a piece of American cheese spaghetti and a couple slices of wheat bread for dinner, and felt full.  The CalFresh budget did not allow for one of my other favorite foods—dessert.  I did miss my usual sweet ending of my evening meal.

Lunch today was a serving of the other pasta dish—chicken/zucchini chow mein.  Brought a blueberry yogurt for dessert. No breakfast today—my habit anyway.  Drank most of my thermos-full of home-brewed coffee.  Have had a full day of Senate committee bill presentation, water hearing and Caucus lunch (where those who knew me from previous sessions understood what I was up to by bringing my lunch) and will head to Veterans Affairs Committee this afternoon and a (non-eating, non-drinking) reception tonight hosted by the Latino Legislative Caucus.

Day 3 tomorrow—this year seems easier than all previous years.

A Challenging Week

Guest post by Kelsey Kobayashi: This summer our family participated in the Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. For five days we needed to budget for and live on $4 per day per person [the national average for an individual receiving SNAP benefits]. There were 3 of us (2 adults and 1 child) participating, so our starting budget was $60. We were allowed to use what was already in our kitchen so as not to waste food. (We did not stock up but we had a few leftovers, and some staples). Before shopping for the week we spent time planning what to buy. We thought about what foods would be the healthiest choices, and would yield the most meals. We focused on protein, fruits & veggies. A dozen eggs, a bag of dried beans, a bag of frozen chicken, a block of cheddar cheese, peanut butter, a big bag of oranges, a bunch of bananas, some frozen veggies and a loaf of whole grain bread actually got us pretty far!

We spent a total of $41 on groceries that week, but the experience was priceless. It was certainly not easy. We felt the growling tummies, weakness and low energy from consuming fewer calories. We noticed that eating the same thing over and over, no matter how delicious, gets boring. As a mother I felt what it would be like not to be able to give my child a variety of fresh and healthy foods, and worse – the worry of not being able to feed them anything at all at times. We learned to appreciate not only our access to basic nutrition, but also the luxuries that make life interesting and enjoyable, like having friends over for dinner, baking cookies with the kids, a cup of coffee in the morning, or a bowl of ice cream for dessert. But most importantly we were alerted to what a huge problem hunger is right here in our own community, and found out how easy it is to help.

For ways to help, visit www.foodbankccs.org/givehelp.

Hunger Pangs

On Monday I found that I drank a lot of water. Not because I was hot but because I was hungry. I hadn’t had time to go to the store so all I had most of the day was water. The water did fill me up and stop the hunger pangs but I kept thinking I am doing this for 5 days. But think about the people who have to drink water many days of the month because there isn’t enough food to last for the month. Especially the children in school. How do they focus, how do they learn? Of course on day one I still had lots of energy. But not so sure how the week will last. And when I did go shopping on Monday I found that I could hardly wait to get in the car and start eating – ANYTHING! Not a good practice but I am sure it mirrors others. I just hope my food lasts the 5 days. I feel a hunger pang – on to some water…

Hunger Challenge: Final Thoughts

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank took the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They tried to live on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits.

Read the final thoughts about the Hunger Challenge and experiences of the participants:

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: Since my budget for Day 5 was $2.60.  I had to be creative. For breakfast, I decided to load up on good carbs. I mixed 1.5 cups of uncooked oatmeal, 6 pieces of walnuts, 1/3 scoop of protein powder and 4 oz of soy milk. That kept me full in the morning. For lunch, I made 2 cups of penne pasta, chopped up 1 slice of turkey, some green onion and toss them in ranch dressing.

For dinner, I made an omelette with 2 eggs and 1 slice of turkey and 6 oz of broccoli. The total cost of food was $2.60. Yes, I made it.  At 6:30pm. I declared that the challenge was over. At 7:30pm, I was spotted at Melo’s picking up a large combo.
That was what Jason wanted for dinner before heading back to college on Saturday. Since the challenge was over, I helped myself to 2 slices. Pizza never tasted this good!

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator: Five days of eating less than I normally would is over and I am glad I participated this year. I definitely plan to do it again next year as it does increase my awareness of those in need in our community. I was also very fortunate that the day after finishing the challenge, I participated in our Vallejo food distribution. We handed out bags of groceries to over 340 people! The potatoes, plums, and cabbage were beautiful. My job was to add the 2 bread products and then place the ready bags on the tables for distribution to the recipients. They also received a bag of canned foods. The recipients all said thank you and were very happy to have us handing out food.

Here are my thoughts concluding the 5 days: I wish we didn’t have to eat on $4.72 per day. I wish we didn’t have to hand out food to people in need. I wish people were not hungry. BUT, I am thankful for my job at the Food Bank and that I can help people in need and be more aware of what it is like (even though I can’t imagine what it must be like for more than 5 days). I am thankful that those that receive food have recognized that it is okay to ask people for help. I am thankful that the people of Contra Costa and Solano counties believe in helping our community through food and monetary donations and through volunteering. I am thankful that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano exists and thrives. Together we are working to end hunger – I will be truly thankful when that day arrives!

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager: Well… somehow I came across pizza yesterday (free of course) and it made its way into my belly, so I failed this challenge. But today’s lunch was a little more plentiful with the macaroni noodles that were supposed to be last night’s dinner. I’m pretty much out of food, tonight’s dinner will be and egg salad sandwich with the rest of my cheese (I still can’t believe that I ate a whole pound of cheese in 5 days) an apple and the rest of my granola ( about ¼ C)
I definitely did a much better job at obtaining a variety of foods than I did last year, thanks to harvest house where I was able to buy exactly what I need from the bulk bins. This year I didn’t have to buy too much cheap food because I decided to just eat less.

I’ll most likely repeat this menu again for next year’s challenge. $4.72 is doable for me (a small female) but I’m not sure it would be enough for most people, I had a little more variety than last year but I totally failed this challenge because I ate more than my allowance with the free pizza I came across Thursday night. This challenged opened my eyes to a few new culinary surprises, tuna with wheat berries, pintos cooked in vegetable broth, water and onions and macaroni with just butter (isn’t so bad). Also, bulk tea lasts a lot longer than prepackaged, it’s freshness and potency allowed me to reuse.

Rachel Braver, Visual Communications Coordinator: Empathy has never been a problem for me, but taking the Hunger Challenge gave me a much higher level of understanding what it would be like as a member of the working poor trying to get through a week (let alone months or years) on a CalFresh food budget.

We came in under budget, because there are still portions of our food left from the shop we did last week, but the initial shop had us right at the budget. Since you can’t buy half a container of almond milk to ensure money is left over, items had to be very carefully selected.

There were some “cheats” like leftovers in the fridge and sparkling water we already had on hand (those would add $0.89 each to the budget) and a little flax meal on the oatmeal ($2.99/bag).

Some lessons learned:
The amount of planning required to make sure you have enough until your benefits refresh is not always doable. If you forgot to soak and cook your beans, you can’t eat them raw. If I didn’t have a flexible work schedule, I would have been fired for being late twice for prepping my meals. I spent so much time thinking about food, grocery prices, meal prep, ingredients that combine well and have enough fiber and protein, hunger, my next meal or snack, how much was left for the week it didn’t leave room for much else.
A restriction most of us are familiar with is dieting. You may restrict portion size or snacking because you choose to, but it’s a whole different feeling to be measuring out portions to make sure there is enough food to get through the week.
Variety is out. You want a snack? We have what’s on the list. Oatmeal again? Better than going hungry.
Being put into survival mode around food takes a mental toll that severely limits abundant thinking.
Have sympathy on cranky, distracted people. They maybe be working hard and still going hungry.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: So – today is the last day of the challenge. I added up expenses this morning and barring any unforeseen cheats today, we came in under budget at $43.96 (we were allowed $47.20 for two of us). I figure we would have still been within the budget even if I had purchased tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and radishes – which all came out of our garden. Besides the Grocery Outlet, Larry’s Produce usually has in- season veggies really cheap. I was confident in the beginning that I could feed us on the budgeted amount because I have done so in the past. I’ve been unemployed four times over the last 10 years,  on medical disability for four months, and Steve was on disability for eight; when those things occur, you usually buy food with whatever is leftover after paying everything else. The challenge for me this week was making sure we ate a healthy diet and that our meals were varied and interesting.  Having a garden and a variety of produce stands close by helped. Having transportation and the option of shopping several different stores including someplace like the Grocery Outlet, also contributed to making it easier to stay within budget and eat well. Most certainly, everyone doesn’t have these options.

We definitely did not go hungry this week. We had plenty of fresh produce and I felt we ate a healthy diet. I did miss my “Bob’s Red Mill 8 Grain Cereal.” I probably could have budgeted for it, but felt it wasn’t really fair to devote our food dollars to something only I would eat; granted Steve had Fritos, but they were available for both us. I also missed my Cascade yogurt and having nuts for a snack (I try to eat a small handful every day), but didn’t have time to shop for the best bargain on raw almonds as well as take the time to roast them.  I definitely had to plan more carefully and felt somewhat limited in terms of choices because I was committed to the planned menu. I also normally try and use a wider variety of grains like quinoa and barley, but felt it was easier to just use brown rice this week; it was cheap and available at the location I did most of my shopping.

As for our final meals -the spinach-chicken wraps we had for dinner last night were pretty tasty, the cabbage slaw was excellent and should be even better tonight because the cilantro and jalapeno will have imparted more flavor. This morning before work I cooked the brown rice I need for making the stuffing for zucchini for dinner tonight (I could have cooked it last night, but was feeling lazy) – 1 cup rice, 15oz. can of diced tomatoes, vegetable bouillon, little cumin, dry oregano and a dash of Cajun seasoning (and water of course).  To this I’ll add diced carrot, yellow onion, celery, green chiles, cilantro, sliced green onion, and a can of black beans. After it bakes we’ll top with a little co-jack cheese.  Besides the veggies from the garden and lemons from our tree, there are, of course, things not figured into the budget that I used in small amounts this week: olive oil, canola oil, mayo, mustard, spices, salt & pepper, couple bouillon cubes, Ranch dressing we had on hand (which I bought on sale in the refrigerated part of the produce section at Raleys with a $1 off coupon. I like it because it contains fewer unrecognizable ingredients and no high fructose corn syrup).  It has been an interesting week and quite frankly – I am ready for a night out!

Learn more about the challenge and Hunger Action month: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Hunger Challenge: Sticking to the Plan

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are living for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants:

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer:I blew my budget on Day 3. In order to redeem myself, my budget on Day 4 is $2.70. My strategy is to hit the pantry for inexpensive food. For breakfast, I ate 1/2 cup of granola and drank 2 glasses of water.  Water is free, right? I was full at first. At about 9:00am, I was starved. I kept myself busy to ignore the hunger For lunch, I made a sandwich with 2 slices of turkey, 1/5 of a loaf of baguette and mayo. I decided to go without tomatoes and lettuce due to budgetary reasons By 3:30pm, I was absolutely starved. I drank more water. For Dinner, I opened a can of New England Clam Chowder that we bought from Winco awhile back. I remember it was on sale for $1.38.  I added some corn starch and water  to thicken the chowder and made 3 cups out of it. It is gonna be a long night since I ate dinner at 6pm. I sort of made it. The cost of food on Day 4 came to $2.74. That means I have $2.65 left for Day 5. I am gonna have to be creative tomorrow.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator: Well it is almost the end of day four and as I was driving and thinking, I realized that last year I was hungrier than I am this year but this year I am definitely grumpier. I still have the same amount of work to do as I would any day but with less food to keep me energized, I am responding in grumpy ways to my poor co-workers. Health wise, I made better food choices and they are filling me up at night but I guess the satisfaction isn’t all there especially by day 4. This morning when I looked at the banana I planned on taking for lunch, I said no way, and left it at home. I still had my yogurt and string cheese (next year I would love to spend all of my money on string cheese – not healthy but I don’t think I would be as grumpy).  For dinner it is a  big glass of milk, two slices of wheat bread , a large salad and tomatoes and licking the bowl from the tasty salad dressing. Dessert is a glass of OJ – that to me is a treat. (And perhaps another cheese stick)…

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: The biggest challenge for me this week has been sticking to the planned menu. My weekly menus are not usually a plan set in stone; my mood changes and I often wind up cooking something else. I also like variety. Wednesday night I really wanted to try out a new recipe for salmon cakes. I have a nice fillet in the freezer, but it was $7.99 a pound when I purchased it. While I may have been able to fit this into the budget it would have required adjusting the menu for today and Friday. The tuna casserole I made was good, but this is a dish I usually only make once or twice a year and during the winter; it also required  taking time to cook the pasta in the morning before work to speed up prep time in the evening, so it took more planning. (Thankfully, Steve is also very good about helping with prep work, cooking, and cleanup, so I have not had to do everything myself) Then there’s the chicken I roasted on Monday; it was over 5lbs. I decided for simplicities sake in working with the budget to try and utilize most of it this week rather than freezing a portion of it to use it at a later date. I also recognize the average CalFresh recipient may not have a freezer and would therefore have to use an entire chicken or larger cut of meat over a week’s time. The challenge then becomes finding ways to create a “new,” dish so meals stay interesting. To that end, tonight we will have spinach-chicken wraps for dinner with a cabbage slaw. I got a good buy on the tortilla wraps at Grocery Outlet and can use other ingredients I purchased for meals this week (co-jack cheese, black olives, New Mexican chile peppers, romaine lettuce) as well as tomatoes from the garden. The cabbage slaw (shredded cabbage mix, jalapeno, cilantro, canned pineapple & home-made lime juice based dressing) will also be served Friday night when I make a vegetarian stuffed zucchini using the remainder of the 16oz. package of brown rice I purchased. (I ate the remainder of leftover brown rice pilaf from Monday dinner for breakfast this morning).  We will still have leftover chicken, however, which provides options for lunch (and breakfast) on Friday: chicken salad sandwiches or wraps, potato frittata, or tuna casserole?

Heidi Kleiner, AmeriCorps VISTA: I’m definitely learning things through this week of being more strict on my spending habits that I will use when the challenge is over.  My own CalFresh (food stamp) allotment is actually lower than what we’ve been using for the challenge so I could benefit from some of these practices anyway, even though I already do a lot to make sure I don’t go (too) over budget.  Luckily, I already try to be healthy anyway and it’s not such a change to eat and shop for things that work more efficiently for my body.  Even though the less expensive, packaged foods are usually cheaper for more food (cost per calorie), it does seem to be possible to eat pretty healthy foods if I am willing to cut out the unhealthy, packaged foods and snacks almost completely.

It would be a much different challenge if I had kids and a family.  Living on a limited food budget would be much more difficult with people with different tastes and desires for some of the food that I am more easily able to discipline myself into not eating, not to mention more mouths to feed and likely less money to do so.

I have learned, by charting out online the nutritional value of what I’ve been eating, that I bought and have been eating too much rice.  With my stir fry, I ended up feeling tired afterwards because I added a lot of rice in an attempt to fill me up…but when looking at the carbs I’ve been eating, I actually get enough carbs just from the fruits and vegetables and maybe a small amount of grains a day.  For my particular dietary needs and habits, I could greatly reduce the amount of grains I buy and use that money to buy some more protein, which I also need more of.  Something I did do well for my plan this week however, was to make sure I got the right amount of fiber.  When I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, I don’t need to buy expensive, fiber-added foods that seem to be popular at the moment.  The problem with buying a lot of produce, however, is that it can go bad quickly, and that’s wasted money (one of my peppers for this week went bad before I could eat it).

I was REALLY hungry when I got home from work today and it was farmers’ market day so I went down with my extra ten dollars to see what I could get.  I ended up just getting 2 heirloom tomatoes for 4 dollars.  If I had spent less money on grains and beans initially (I bought way too many beans), I would have had enough money to buy some more produce at the market.  I then went to Safeway and bought the milk and cereal I was craving.  While I went with the cereal that was the cheapest, it wasn’t the best deal, as the quantity was less for the price.  It definitely saves money in the long run to buy things in bulk, but sometimes people don’t have that much money to spend at once, especially when living paycheck to paycheck or when they are getting close to the end of their CalFresh benefits for the month before the next allotment is added.

There was free pizza in the conference room today.  That was rough.  As someone who really doesn’t have much money to spend on food, I normally take advantage of all free food options I encounter- but I wanted to be true to the goals of the challenge, since many people struggling to feed themselves, even when employed, likely don’t have much access to free food where they work.

Hunger Challenge: No room for take out

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are living for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants thus far.

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: Here’s day 3. I blew my budget.  I spent $9.14 today. I now have $5.39 left for the next 2 days. My son Jason is going back to college on Saturday.  He wanted to do dim sum lunch today. How could I possibly say no to that? For as hard as I tried to just admire those shrimp dumplings from afar, I totally blew my budget today. By my own fair calculation, my share was about $7.  Usually, it would have been more like $20. I now have $5.39 left for the next 2 days. I bought a sack of potatoes and some fish scraps from 99 Ranch today. I will eat like the best candidate for a Jenny Craig commercial for the next 2 days to stay on budget…If I manage to stay within budget. On Saturday, I swear I will eat everything in sight.  Thursday and Friday will be the true test of my will. I will prevail………….
I didn’t account for the cost of the sack of potato and fish scraps yet. I will prorate the cost as I consume the food. If $4.72 is all I had for each day, I might not have the luxury to buy extra and prorate as I go along.  Surviving on $4.72 a day is doable as a challenge. Sustaining in the long run on such a budget is a different story.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: Dinner Tuesday night was easy and tasty: a salad of romaine lettuce ($.58 a head at FoodMaxx), heirloom tomatoes, radishes, and lemon cucumbers from our garden and avocado (4 tiny ones for $1 from Larry’s Produce) with Ranch dressing we already had on hand; and a potato frittata made from frozen country style hash-browns ($2.49 for 32 oz. pkg., Safeway), eggs ($1.69 a dozen, Grocery Outlet), green onions (3 bunches for $1 at Larry’s)and approximately 6oz. of grated co-jack cheese ($5.99 for 2lbs, Grocery Outlet). I like to douse mine with a little hot sauce, which we always have in the fridge. There were eight servings in the frittata so there were leftovers for lunch today, as well as enough for breakfast Thursday or Friday.

Dinner tonight will be tuna casserole accompanied by steamed broccoli crowns ($.99lb, Raleys) and sliced tomatoes (from the garden). I like to throw a bit of steamed carrot ($1 for 1lb, Grocery Outlet)into the casserole as well as celery ($.99 a bunch, Grocery Outlet), onion (3 yellow for $1, Grocery Outlet), peas (frozen 16 oz., Grocery Outlet for $.88), and sometimes sliced black olives (15 oz. can at Grocery Outlet for $.79). No potato chips for the top, however, but I might make bread crumbs since I do have bread or I could use some of the co-jack cheese I have. The tuna ($.99 for 6 oz. can); rottelle pasta ($.79 for 16oz. pkg.); and cream of mushroom soup ($.79 per can) were all from Grocery Outlet. We will be having some company joining us for dinner tonight, but I still expect enough left overs to cover lunch on Thursday. Mid-week and so far so good; we are not going hungry and I am actually enjoying this challenge! (Except it does mean preparing dinner EVERY night – no take out.)

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager (second year taking the challenge): Thank goodness for tea, it really helps keep hunger at bay. I don’t think I have ever eaten a whole pound of cheese in a week before in my life but this week this is my new reality. Here is my menu for Wednesday nothing too exciting , same ole stuff but still love the pressure cooker. I cooked barley in 8 minutes last night !!! I’ve been rationing my portions conservatively so I think that tomorrow is going to be a FEAST! I still have macaroni, pintos, some barley, eggplant and an apple. Tonight I’ll finish off my granola 2 eggs, bread and cheese.

Breakfast
Mocha Surprise Tea with
¼ C Rice milk
½ C granola
Lunch
3 oz tuna
2 slices of bread
2 oz cheese
Dinner
1 sm eggplant
1 C cooked Barley
1 piece of toast
2 tbs PB
½ banana
Snacks
PM -1 med fuji apple
2 tbs PB