Friday, November 1st, 2013
Today, just in time for the upcoming holidays, millions of parents are going to find themselves having to find a way to feed their kids on less than the little they already had. You’ve probably read the news yourself: Substantial cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, go into effect today.
Whatever impression you may have of food stamps and those who use them, think about this statistic: One in seven Americans currently uses food stamps. Most of those affected are seniors, people with disabilities—and families with children. As Parents reported in our story “The Hunger Crisis,” one in four American kids live in households that are “food insecure,” meaning on any given day, there’s uncertainty that there will be enough food to go around.
Critics of food stamps are quick to point out that they can be used to buy “fancy” food items. Take this quote that went viral on Facebook:
Food stamps cover lobster, filet mignon, ribeye, caviar, and other luxury foods for free….
Meanwhile, the middle class is suffering.
“Share” this if you think that is wrong.
Here’s a reality check: The average SNAP recipient gets $4.50 in benefits per day. I don’t know about where you live, but $4.50 a day doesn’t buy a lot of caviar near me. And if I’m working with a $4.50 budget per child, chances are I’m not buying “luxury foods,” or lattes at Starbucks. The truth is millions of families are already making very difficult compromises to barely get by, even before today’s cuts, or we wouldn’t be reading headlines like this one: “Parents Who Can’t Afford Diapers Are Reusing Dirty Ones.” (If you were wondering, food stamps don’t cover those.)
Who uses food stamps? My family did. When I was a child, my schoolteacher father got sick, lost his job, and our family’s financial situation quickly nosedived. So for awhile, my mother pulled food stamps out of her wallet at the supermarket checkout line, a necessary and helpful solution, one that nonetheless brought her great shame. The few times I’ve mentioned my childhood experience with food stamps, I’ve always learned about someone else I personally know who also relied on food stamps at one time or another. The friend getting through the financial fallout from her divorce. The professional couple who unexpectedly found themselves out of work for months. Food stamps are a part of more lives than many might think. (And I like to believe that many who hit the “share” button on posts like the viral message above don’t have all the facts, rather than that they’re completely lacking compassion. After all, someone on their own friends list has probably used food stamps, too.) Statistics show that roughly half of all U.S. children go on food stamps sometime during their childhood, and half of all adults are on them sometime between the ages of 18 and 65.
Food stamps are a good program. They’ve helped keep millions of Americans from hunger. So before focusing on abuses of the system, let’s keep in mind the people who will be fighting even harder to eat, and commend those—anyone—who does something to make a difference, rather than criticize people who are already feeling shaky and vulnerable. Last year, I attended a holiday party where in lieu of gifts, every guest brought a donation to the local food pantry, for instance.
Such gestures may make only a minor dent in struggling people’s lives. But a little kindness, at least, seems like a good place to start.
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Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
As a kid, I always looked forward to summer vacation. I spent my mornings with a bowl of peanut butter Captain Crunch followed by episodes of Clarissa Explains It All. Fortunately, my mom never worked during the summer (she’s a teacher), so we spent our lazy days at the town pool or beach. My friends and I enjoyed too many snow cones, Little Debbie brownie packs, and other sugar-laden treats. I tried to make up for this by eating all of my vegetables at dinner, much to my parents’ delight.
However, many children, especially in rural Tennessee, don’t get to experience carefree summers like this. They’re worried about something that most of us probably don’t think twice about–hunger. Instead of swimming, camp, or sports, these children are living in a constant fear that they will never have enough to eat.
That’s where the Lunch Express comes in. Lunch Express is a school bus transformed into a bread truck. A food bank in Tennessee saw a need to make sure eligible children received regular meals during the summer, a time where food stamps often run out. The food bank purchased four school buses earlier this year and created routes that pass through some of the most impoverished areas of the country “where poverty rates have almost doubled since 2009 and two-thirds of children qualify for free meals,” according to the Washington Post.
Rick Bible, the driver of the Lunch Express, tackles his 66-mile route through Greene County each day, transporting three coolers of sack lunches containing celery sticks, canned oranges, chocolate milk and a bologna sandwiches. For many children, this is their first and only meal of the day.
The Lunch Express isn’t a free-for-all. Bible remains at each trailer park stop for 15 minutes to make sure all of the children finish their lunches. They can’t take food or extra milk home, and adults are ineligible for the lunches, unless they are disabled.
But it’s not just kids who are hungry in the summer. Their parents are struggling, too. In an area plagued by high unemployment and lagging development, healthy food is hard to come by. Families do anything to stay satisfied when their food stamps run out and stockpile calories whenever they come available. Eli Saslow, a writer for the Washington Post, observed children eating dinners of Doritos, bread, candy, or whatever else they can get their hands on. One mother of five who relies heavily on the Lunch Express told the Washington Post she sometimes feeds her 9-month-old Mountain Dew to top off her formula.
Luckily, food stamps last longer during the school year thanks to free meals and snacks. The Lunch Express is making a difference, but one meal every day isn’t enough to satisfy these children. Congress must allocate more money to summer food programs.
We can’t make hunger disappear, but there are plenty of ways to help struggling families. Donate a bag of non perishables to your food pantry every few months. Many are in need due to record numbers of unemployment, and the food pantries need all of the help they can get. If you don’t have time to shop, a gift card to a grocery store is also a good choice. Spend an afternoon at a food bank or shelter if you have time to spare. Your kids will learn the importance of giving back, as well as the satisfaction of a good deed.
Image of boy eating sandwich via Shutterstock
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Appalachia, childhood hunger, diabetes, food stamps, hunger in America, Michelle Obama, obesity, Tennessee, USDA | Categories:
Food & Nutrition, Health, Must Read, The Parents Perspective