Group puts 'food stamp budget' to the test

Laura Engelman, center, talks about taking part in the Food Stamp Challenge on Monday afternoon during a meeting of fellow participants and other interested people. Listening are, from left, David Hampson, Susan Kralman and Dorothy Knudsen.

Laura Engelman, center, talks about taking part in the Food Stamp Challenge on Monday afternoon during a meeting of fellow participants and other interested people. Listening are, from left, David Hampson, Susan Kralman and Dorothy Knudsen. Photo by Andy Porter.

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WALLA WALLA — It is possible to eat for a week on a budget of $31.50, but it isn’t easy.

It can also be fairly monotonous and not particularly healthy.

Those were some of the observations participants in a local Food Stamp Challenge shared Monday as they gathered to talk about living for a week on the average amount a low-income person on food stamps receives.

The challenge was posed by the Interfaith Coalition on Poverty, a local group concerned about homelessness, hunger and other issues. About eight coalition members took part, along with students from a local church.

While one person tried to get by on $4.50 per day, most participants chose to buy what food they could with $31.50 and try to stretch that out over seven days. Participants agreed to only eat what they bought and not use food they had on hand when the challenge started, except for condiments such as salt, pepper or ketchup.

“Last night I was down to a small dish of beans and rice,” said David Hampson. “The first day my plan was just to get basic staples, and when I went to get that it was $29. And the next day I bought a bag of rice and a banana and that was it.”

Kevin Gates, youth director of the First Presbyterian Church, said the week of the food stamp challenge led up to a “30 Hour Famine” involving 22 students who agreed to go completely without food for that period to get a ideas of what millions of people experience every day.

“Twenty-two students went to Grocery Outlet and said, ‘OK, what can we get for that ($31.50)?’” he said. “And then they went 30 hours without eating at all.”

Laura Engelman, who helps coordinate the Blue Mountain Action Council’s gleaning program to bring fresh produce to local food banks, said she was specifically interested in how a person could live on $31,50 a week as well as trying to eat as healthily as possible.

While that was possible with planning, Engelman said living on that strict a budget took another toll. “I also found the hardest part was the social part,” she said. “No coffee shops, no beer with friends,” or other casual activities.

Participants also said mealtimes could get downright boring when restricted to low-cost staples. “I’m so sick of pasta and potatoes,” Gates said. “It was tough for me and it was tough for the kids.”

Hampson said he lost about four pounds during the challenge.

“The main thing I wanted to learn from this is can you eat healthy? And the answer is ‘no,’” he said.

Later in the meeting, the conversation turned to what could be done to sustain the effort to raise awareness of hunger in the community and help people in need.

“We all made a choice to participate, and when that time is up we can go back to our lives,” said Tim Meliah, the interfaith coalition member who proposed the challenge. “Where does the conversation continue?”


A snapshot of thoughts of Food Stamp Challenge participants gleaned from emails sent out on Feb. 20:

“I’m out of money while living on beans, rice, cereal and milk, and PB&J sandwiches, with some frozen spinach and a bag of oranges to try to make it healthy. I think despite my best efforts this budget does not allow for enough variety of fruits and vegetables to call it a long term healthy diet. My daughter says if I run out of food before my time is up I can fast! Easy for her to say. I’ve already lost weight and it’s only been 2 1/2 days.

Hope others are doing better than I.”

“The hardest part for me is to not be eating a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I think if I ran the food stamp program I would increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables allowed.” — Dave Hampson

“Since I’m trying to eat like a homeless person with no storage or cooking facilities, I’m trying to buy discounted ready made items at the store each day. For $2.44 I’ve gotten ready made meals in the deli section the 18th and 19th. Orange chicken and rice and chicken cordon bleu (sp). I’ve supplemented that each day with a can of green beans (.33 each), 2 tangelos each day (.25 ea), and 2 bananas (.15 ea). They had a pack of thin banana cookies for .53 that should have lasted me all week, but I got munching and ate about a third of them Mon and Tues, will clean them up tonight I’m sure. Have to be careful, because today I’m eating a huge sub sandwich for $3.96, so the cookies and a couple of banana’s tonight should do it. for my $ today. A lot more bread, rice and potatoes than I usually eat. Wanted to make a big pot of soup, but ‘my friends’ can’t do that in their circumstances. Hope to hear more stories...” — Penny S.

“I made a pot of tomato soup and went through it way quicker than planned. On rice, beans and sweet potatoes now and moving on to lentil soup to finish out the week soon. The hardest part for me so far has not been staying full but rather eating the same thing day after day without getting bored, saying ‘no’ to coffee or meals out with friends and refusing free food when it has been offered.” — Laura Engelman.

Comments

Jo99362 1 year, 5 months ago

Again, the food stamp program is to supplement the household, not be the sole means of getting food. These challenges are unrealistic. People need to learn how to cook.

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PeggyJoy 1 year, 5 months ago

You need to get a life! Why don't you try it for a week, maybe even a month would be better. Do you have any idea, how many people in this country survive on just Food Stamps; or are you one of those that really don't give a damn.

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leonsky 1 year, 5 months ago

Maybe you should get a life! Years past in this valley, a lot of us worked throgh the summer and saved for Winter months when work was hard to find. This past year , fruit rotted on the trees for lack of people willing to stoop to such a menial job. There is always work to be had in Summer time. A lot of you won't work because you can live on the ones that do.

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PeggyJoy 1 year, 5 months ago

LOL " A lot of you won't work....." I'm retired, and have never collected unemployment, food stamps, etc. And I certainly, unlike a lot of people, don't resent the fact, that some of my taxes goes towards helping the less fortunate in our society.

What I have found out over my 68 years, those that complain the most about people "taking their money," are usually the first in line to collect from any government fund programs.

So instead of complaining about "people taking your money," you should be thankful, that we have a government, that provides help for unemployed, elderly, and poor. Who knows! You and others just may need the help someday.

I hope Karma doesn't come back and bite you someday.

By the way, give some of your free time volunteering for the less fortunate in our society before you judge them. .

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PeggyJoy 1 year, 5 months ago

LOL " A lot of you won't work....." I'm retired, and have never collected unemployment, food stamps, etc. And I certainly, unlike a lot of people, don't resent the fact, that some of my taxes goes towards helping the less fortunate in our society.

What I have found out over my 68 years, those that complain the most about people "taking their money," are usually the first in line to collect from any government fund programs.

So instead of complaining about "people taking your money," you should be thankful, that we have a government, that provides help for unemployed, elderly, and poor. Who knows! You and others just may need the help someday.

By the way, give some of your free time volunteering for the less fortunate in our society before you judge them.

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namvet60 1 year, 5 months ago

Most generally people on food stamps are on additional entitlement income. A lot of those people eat better than the working stiffs. Buying food in bulk is very simple to live on - you may get tired of what is fixed but your not starving to death. I imagine it would be devastating for some not to be able to eat fast food and eat prepared foods rather than use the good ole stove at home?

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Jo99362 1 year, 5 months ago

PeggyJoy: I do live modestly, I actually budget myself $200/month and I do not live on food stamps. I grew up eating beans for a week and my parents made $20 too much per month for us to qualify for free/reduced lunches at school. We even grew up living on COMMODITIES! I like to see these people live on commodities, then they really know what it's like to not have choices in food.

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leonsky 1 year, 5 months ago

Many people on food stamps, WIC and welfare take advantage of the system and do not really need it. Years past, we all found work in this valley sufficient to take us through the Winter months. Now we have fruit and vegetables rotting in the fields for lack of workers. A great number of these recipients find it too menial of a task to do this type of work. They don't have to. They are in the system and those who work pay for them to sit on their backsides. Our Social programs are a travesty. Many recipients abuse the system, therefore making in more difficult for those who really need it and what it was initiated for.

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CindyM 1 year, 5 months ago

The whole panel test thing to me was totally unrealistic. Made it sound like only homeless people with no way to cook or store food are on food stamps. I know hard working people with full time jobs who qualify for food stamp assistance. They are the ones I do not mind helping. Unfortunately there are too many people who abuse and take advantage of the system. Also, where did the panel get the idea you could not have a Starbucks latte or go out for beer with friends if you were using food stamps? People on welfare don't do without much. They seem to have no problem affording cell phones, lap tops, cigarettes, alcohol, and drive nicer cars than me!

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namvet60 1 year, 5 months ago

FYI - I conversed with a gentleman the other day and he stated he was on food stamps with his wife working but he was laid off for the winter. He also stated if you were collecting certain entitlements you qualified to apply for an Obama cellphone with 250 minutes along with 250 texts per month - Free! I guess there are other benefits but at that point (the gentleman being dressed better than I) I curtailed the conversation before I got myself in trouble.

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kurtfr 1 year, 5 months ago

I didn't know Obama was president in 1984 when the Lifeline program was implemented. I also didn't know he was president in 2008 when it was expanded to cover cellular phones. I mistakenly thought he became president in 2009.

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namvet60 1 year, 5 months ago

Sorry - I guess I never delved into what the government would furnish along with welfare & food stamps seeings how I have never been on either . I apologize!

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kurtfr 1 year, 5 months ago

Actually it is not funded by the taxpayers, but paid for by telecommunication company contributions.

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namvet60 1 year, 5 months ago

Now kurtfr - I'm not that naive to believe that the telecommunication companies are kicking this out because they love everybody. The funds if that is true are derived from the consumers which 99% are taxpayers. That's just like the utilities that we pay all have state and local taxes attached to them. The taxpayers are the bottom line contributors.

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namvet60 1 year, 5 months ago

Before committing myself and after a little research the program is entitled Lifeline and is government sponsored funded by the taxpayers. In the last 3 yrs it has grown by the millions through this administration!

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PeggyJoy 1 year, 4 months ago

Film everyone should watch: "A Place At The Table"

About The Film

50 million people in the U.S.-one in four children-don’t know where their next meal is coming from, despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine this issue through the lens of three people who are struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two kids; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford.

Their stories are interwoven with insights from experts including sociologist Janet Poppendieck, author Raj Patel and nutrition policy leader Marion Nestle; ordinary citizens like Pastor Bob Wilson and teachers Leslie Nichols and Odessa Cherry; and activists such as Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Oscar®-winning actor Jeff Bridges.

Ultimately, A Place at the Table shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides-as they have in the past-that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.

http://www.magpictures.com/aplaceatthetable/

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Jo99362 1 year, 4 months ago

I was listening to NPR, it was interesting that food stamps does not require someone to have a job/work to attain the service. Essentially, its free stuff that some people feel they are entitled to but no accountability of how its used. I know that people have some crappy lives and/or mental health issues that make it hard for them to have a job (being jobless for over 5 years) but how do we help the ones who NEED it versus the ones who abuse the system?

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mytwocents 1 year, 4 months ago

Idk, but when I was going to college, and had to have some help from the state,I ate really well,as long as I could claim my kids.. Once they went to stay with their dad, it was pretty slim pickings, and if it hadn't been for the kindness of my landlord who gave me fresh melons,and veggies from his garden,I would have been in trouble.. It's unfortunate that food stamps can't purchase seeds for planting ...

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