WWG SNAP Challenge

by Landon Bubb, AFM Public Outreach Intern

I hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving, ate delicious food, and got plenty of quality time with family, friends, pets, and Netflix. In this time of bounty, I’ve been questioning a lot about how I get food and how I finance it. A few weeks ago I took part in the Wholesome Wave SNAP Challenge where for a week I tried to live off a budget of a weekly SNAP benefit of $36. The Supplementary Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program that provides benefits for food for one out of seven Americans. It’s basically the same thing as Food Stamps, renamed and modernized.

After a week of the Wholesome Wave SNAP Challenge I noticed two themes of hunger and compassion. I’m not gonna lie--this challenge was hard for me. I work decent hours with good wages and have a family that supports me financially so the threat of hunger isn’t something I regularly experience. I’m a busy guy juggling classes, work, extracurriculars, and a social life, so getting and preparing food throughout the week was tricky. I also don’t have a car so my access to a grocery store is severely limited.

I forget why (I think I had to work early) but the Saturday before the challenge I didn’t make it out to the market so throughout the week I kept fantasizing about what I could have done with the equivalent of $72 of greens, vegetables, bread, coffee, honey, potatoes, and more. I did however have some rations of coffee, bread, pesto, and jam from the previous week that I illegally budgeted for; we were only supposed to use food we purchased that week but I was hungry and need my 1000 Faces coffee to function.

Throughout the week I was so grateful to be a college student. UGA has a food pantry that is stocked by donations from sororities where financially strapped students can get confidential access food. I was pleasantly surprised by the healthy and USDA Organic options the pantry had. I stocked up on Odwalla bars, two boxes of organic soup, rice, oatmeal, and cans of beans, corn, peas, and carrots. I was grateful but nothing was fresh and everything was high in sodium.

Breakfast was usually oatmeal or toast with jam. Some nights I wouldn’t come home until late and all I had energy to make was a combination of canned beans and vegetables. Most of the week I was hungry and I don’t think I had a truly satisfying lunch more than twice. Facing this week of hunger, when two of my meals were paid for by a friend’s mom, I almost cried. Another friend bought me a cup of coffee while I was writing a paper. During my challenge, these acts of compassion meant so much. Without food donations and support, I don’t see how I would have stayed under budget. Yet so many people are forced to make nutritional decisions

In 2012, the average monthly SNAP benefit for a Georgia resident was $135.90 with a maximum allotment of $189 (USDA). If I were forced to reduce my $36 budget to the average it would have equaled almost a full day’s worth of food. Even worse, a temporary boost to the program ran out last month and with no congressional plans to include it in the budget. This is forcing people to live with potentially missed meals. People receiving the maximum monthly benefit will see a reduction of $11 for one recipient and up to $36 for a family of four. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, recent cuts will affect nearly “22 million children and 9 million people who are elderly or have a serious disability.” The USDA has food costs plans that estimates four tiers for weekly and monthly food budgets. The least expensive “thrifty plan” is what sets the standard for SNAP benefits and recent cuts to family budgets have caused the amounts received by SNAP to dip below in some cases (Food Plans).

This challenge was hard for me and caused me to greatly examine my privileges. I scraped by off SNAP benefits for a week but once the week was over I could stop. Yet, there are people who experience daily hunger in our community who struggle with providing food for their family and who are forced to cut meals. And programs like the UGA Food Pantry, similar food banks, and church can drives are immensely supportive but unfortunately are most often stocked with canned or processed foods. The sodium levels alone in canned food further the health disparity caused by economic inequality in America. However, Wholesome Wave Georgia offers an innovative way to address both economic and nutritional inequality.  

Wholesome Wave Georgia’s Double Value Coupon Program at the Athens Farmers Market helps alleviate the financial stress for eating nutritious food. For every dollar spent at participating markets using SNAP benefits, Wholesome Wave Georgia matches that amount. In 2012 that resulted in 6,000 transactions statewide of people getting access to vegetables that are otherwise difficult to budget. The doubling program is an incredible testament to the compassion of donors that is the difference between individuals scrounging by on $36 of processed foods and canned donations or having access to up to $72 of weekly vegetables from local farmers.

I in no way know how it feels to be chronically hungry but for a week, my difficulty in funding my food was enlightening. Hunger is a real issue that affects people on every level from overall health to personal identity. In times of economic downturn it is even more crucial for programs like the doubling program to remain strong. The Athens Farmers Market means many things to many people but its capacity to supply affordable, safe, and meaningful food is paramount. I challenge you to question how you get food and see how your week would be different on 10, 20, or 30 fewer dollars a month. Also consider donating to Wholesome Wave Georgia so that the program can continue to aid people throughout Athens and Georgia. Have a lovely week and hope to see you at the last three markets!