Let me tell you a story about a young girl who had a piggy bank filled with change that her father gave her every day. She loved her piggy bank so much and often shook it to hear the coins jingle. One afternoon her mother came into her room and announced that they would have to break the piggy bank because money was needed for food. The girl will never forget the look on her mother’s face when she broke the bank and counted the change. The sadness and shame on her mother’s face broke the little girl’s heart. As you may have guessed I was the child in the story and I will never forget that memory. In fact, that memory was the driving force behind my signing up for the SNAP Challenge.
I grew up in a home that experienced “food insecurity” on a regular basis — lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs. It has literally been over two decades since those days and I needed to be reminded what it means to “not take food for granted”. I needed to feel what it’s like for the millions of families who, like my mother, have hard choices to make. I’ve spent the last two days looking at my journal, trying to decide what thoughts to share with friends and complete strangers alike. I discovered that with each entry what started as a technical report repeatedly turned emotional. I’ve noticed that we as a society tend to connect with facts when they are coupled with emotions. So please bear with my post and me.
From the planning process through the last day of the challenge, I dealt with such guilt that at times felt unbearable. My moods swung between being agitated when planning what I was going to eat to being angry that I couldn’t stop to buy some coffee. I did become angry and it made me feel selfish. I had to keep reminding myself of the bigger picture. I don’t have children so I’m accustomed to purchasing whatever I want, whenever I want it. The abrupt change of having to watch EVERY dollar spent and analyzing what I was going to eat, and overanalyzing when I was going to eat it was mind numbing. The guilt would eat at me whenever I reminded myself that I was only doing this for one week.
This experience was not what I originally expected it to be. I expected to have moments where I wished I could have a coffee or grab a sandwich from my favorite restaurant. I didn’t expect to have what some people would call “a religious experience” but I had something close involving a true moment of clarity. I could see on a microscopic level why we as a society have so many issues like poverty and hunger. We spend our lives in a country so abundant and wonderful but one that also breaks hearts. We wake up every day living our lives often taking for granted the surplus, and blinded to the very real pain and struggle that goes on in our communities. The fact that millions are not afforded the same luxuries as me in such a wealthy nation; who wake up fearful and stressed about feeding themselves and their families, weighed heavy on me. I felt the weight with each meal and each passing day. I felt intense guilt as I thought of the times I’ve stood in line at the grocery store watching someone use their Lonestar Card (State of TX SNAP benefit) and evaluated their clothing and judging what was in their cart. For those that know me, admitting this is extremely difficult. As a Liberal Democrat I support assistance programs. However, I too became prejudiced against those using the very benefits I support. My eyes have been fully opened and I am so glad that I took this challenge.
What I have gained from this experience is simple — perspective. I gained perspective about a life that I didn’t even realize I was part of while growing up. I was able to see, even for a short time, what so many experience on the daily. I learned that week in and week out I am extremely wasteful with food. I spend carelessly on food only to throw much of it away because I let the expiration date pass. This and so many things that I do regularly have to change as I face the fact that I am wasteful.
What would I like the reader to take away from my experience? Originally my goal was simply to bring awareness to Hunger in America. That goal was too simple. I would like to not only bring awareness but also inspiration to become involved in the fight against hunger. If you decide to take the #SNAP4aWeek challenge I will consider that an accomplishment. However, if you decide to reach out to your local food bank and donate food, money, or more importantly volunteer hours, that’s a double bonus. If you walk away from reading my journey and you have more empathy for the millions that struggle with hunger I am humbled.
The most important thing I learned was that programs like SNAP can lead to positive generational changes in families. My mother’s family grew up participating in welfare on every level that was provided in the 60’s. By many stereotypes I should be on welfare living off the cycle of the system, but the fact is, it only took one generation for our family to live the “American Dream.” My mother grew up with a deeper sense of poverty than I can fathom. So as I was growing up she never felt we were at the point financially where she needed to ask for help, because she had known worse and she knew others who had it worse. Who am I to say families that need financial help should not receive it, when my family is where it is now because of the help my grandmother received. I want the social stigma that many face to go away. I know this is pie in the sky thinking but if more of us worked together to change these prejudices about SNAP, and assistance in general, we could make a huge difference.
So moving forward I plan to incorporate many of the things I used during the challenge in my everyday life. I will live on a food budget, I will eat more home cooked meals, and I will donate monthly to my local food bank. I plan to become more involved with my local community as a way to say thank you for my community helping my family over the years. I hope that you chose to do some of these things and I hope you will share your experiences with me.
Spread Hunger Awareness