Taking the SNAP challenge

Submitted by Jennifer Ellis on March 9, 2012 – 3:02 pm2 Comments

You know what hunger looks like. You’ve seen the commercials. A half-naked child wearing shreds of clothing, ribs exposed, belly swollen and feet bare living somewhere halfway around the world. The child is so malnourished he doesn’t have the energy to shoo away the flies that are buzzing by his eyes.

The picture may do a lot to help inspire the charitable efforts in far-away lands, but the face of hunger here at home looks more like the kids playing down the street and all too often goes unnoticed. In Arkansas, more than 28 percent of children are food insecure, ranking the state fourth in childhood food insecurity, according to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

Helping to provide for basic dietary requirements, the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as Food Stamps gives eligible individuals and families $4.09 a day per person to fill those needs. But $4.09 boils down to $1.36 per meal and what can you get for that? That’s what the Arkansas Foodbank tried to show people when they issued the SNAP Challenge in September.

Accepting the challenge, UALR’s Student Government Association President Simone Lewis said, “I’m the type of person that likes challenges and I said ‘I think I can do it.’ It didn’t seem hard.”

She said the rules seemed easy enough to follow: for one week, don’t spend more than $4.09 a day on food, including beverages; don’t eat food you already have unless you subtract it from your total for the week; and don’t let family, friends or others buy food for you; also, try to make it healthful, including produce and protein each day.

But it didn’t take long for Lewis to realize it wouldn’t be as easy as she thought it would be. “When you get into it, it was hard, especially when you want to eat — It was weird because I don’t normally eat that much. But when you can’t eat something, I don’t know what it does to you, but it makes you want it more,” Lewis said.

“I don’t see how you can live off $4.09 a day,” she said. Drinking a lot of water and coffee and eating salads of lettuce and tomatoes with no dressing (because you have to deduct for condiments too) is how she managed to get by most of the week.

“I’m a really social person,” Lewis said, “all the people I hang out with, they like to eat. Your social interactions are based around food, so that was really difficult.”

She said her friends tried to buy her food when they went out, but that would have been cheating, so she refused. Using coupons did help out, but she said, “You can’t really eat healthy off $4.09, unless you do the salad of lettuce and tomatoes, but that gets boring.”

By the time Friday came she said she just couldn’t handle it anymore, so she quit. But she said through the experience she understands that if she was someone who relied on SNAP benefits she couldn’t quit and go get something to eat. “It doesn’t work like that,” she said.

Participating in the SNAP Challenge, she said, made her appreciate how blessed she is to have parents that taught her the values of saving and getting an education so she can one day get a job that will provide her with enough money to eat and be social.

“I encourage every person to try the SNAP Challenge at least once in their life, so it opens up your eyes to the poverty in Arkansas and in America, because people just tend to think about third world countries and other countries they don’t think about the poverty that exists in their own home,” Lewis said.