As part of Hunger Education Week Alamosa Mayor, Ty Coleman & several other AmeriCorps Members took part in the Food Stamp Challenge. A food stamp or SNAP challenge is a experiential learning opportunity popularized by politicians, religious groups, community activists and food pantries, in which a family of means chooses to purchase food using only the monetary equivalent of what a family that size would receive in the US federal government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially called food stamps.
Mayor + Hunger = Challenge
I have a new appreciation for those facing hunger issues. I did make through the hunger week challenge but it was a struggle. I stuck to the Hunger Week’s Food Stamp Challenge budget of eating on $4.30 per day; however, I had many challenges during the week managing my daily meals on a very limited budget.
Most days I had to eat small portions of the food I purchased for the week. Many days my stomach was growling a lot because I was hungry. During my office meetings I found it challenging to concentrate because I was hungry. A few nights I found it hard to fall asleep on an empty stomach. The days that I exercises or played pickleball made me want to eat bigger portions of my food. During this time I drank lots of tap water to fill my stomach. By midweek, I noticed a difference in my temperament and energy levels.
That week made me think about how hard it is for children to function and concentrate on an empty stomach. I feel sorry for the kids that have to rely on the school’s lunch program for their only meals of the day. I often wonder if the kids are getting nutritional meals over the weekend.
My intent was to eat healthy, balanced meals, but I found it increasingly difficult to maintain a balanced diet with a very limited budget.
I purchased mainly proteins like fish, eggs, nuts and chicken, but that means I was not getting enough fruits and vegetables and dairy. Another factor I faced was running out of food before the Food Stamp Challenge was over; however, I was glad to know that I could go to the food bank if I ran out of food.
I believe the cost of transportation can be an additional burden. I remember when my grandmother had to drive to town from her rural community she would have to plan carefully to maximize the journey because the cost of gas affected her budget, which included food. I remember her talking about how much gas it took to get to and from town and how she had to clean one more house to get gas money.
My grandmother cleaned other people’s houses for a living down south in Louisiana.
She never earned a lot, but she got by on what she had. When she stopped working in her eighties, she received some food assistance.
She received $15 per month in food assistance. My grandmother was thankful for that $15 per month because it helped supplement her nutritional needs.
I have much appreciation for those who assist anyone with Hunger needs.
During the interview, Coleman repeatedly went back to his concern about the children who go hungry.
And he worries what their situation is on weekends, when they don’t have school lunches and such. “These kids aren’t going to walk up to an adult and say, ‘I’m hungry, please feed me,’” Coleman said, adding that they have pride and their families have pride. “They do without rather than ask for the help they need,” he explained.
Anyone who knows Coleman, knows he’s competitive. And that was evident during his experience that week. “I wasn’t going to cheat and I wasn’t going to go to my pantry,” he laughed.
But by day 3, he admitted he was “starving, irritated and cranky.” And he actually gained a pound the first few days, which bothered him, but lost 3 pounds by the end of the week.
The days he exercised were worse and he had difficulty sleeping after those days.
Also, he found people really wanted to help him. “Everyone wanted to give me food, but that’s not real life. I said, ‘no, but thank you for offering.’” He added that his girlfriend, Jenene Holcomb, was very supportive and helpful.
And in the end, he had 75 cents in his pocket.
So, the question on everyone’s mind is, what was his first meal when he completed the challenge?
He laughed. “I went to the Purple Pig and had a personal pan pizza called The Hog.”
The next question is, will he do it again?
“Just like the Polar Plunge, I’m going to do it every year. Even if it makes a difference in just one person’s life.”