More than 50 members of two St. Louis-area Reform congregations are taking the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, attempting to live for a week on the equivalent of $31.50 per person per week, the average allotment for individuals receiving benefits through the SNAP program (formerly known as “food” stamps).
Both Central Reform Congregation (CRC) in St. Louis and Congregation Shaare Emeth in Creve Coeur took on the challenge under the leadership of their rabbis, and both congregations quickly had members sign up to join the rabbis in the challenge. Under the guidelines set by the national Jewish Council on Public Affairs, participants were to spend only $31.50 per person for the week, are discouraged from accepting free food, and are not supposed to eat any food they already own, with the exception of spices and condiments.
Midway through the week, participants reported a broad range of experiences: constant concern about whether they will have enough food; fatigue from eating less nutritious food than usual; and elevated awareness of the advantages they have, even on this budget, over low-income families that may not have cars, time to cook, or access to supermarkets.
Many have reflected on how food insecurity impacts other areas of life. CRC member Michelle Shanker wrote, “I have spent much of the week wondering how people on “food” stamps survive. I am hungry, tired, and crabby. I think about food and miss the ‘noshing’ all day. Mostly, I can’t figure out how hungry people can be expected to work–or how hungry people are able to look for work?”
Both CRC and Congregation Shaare Emeth have built additional anti-hunger programming around the food drive. Both congregations kicked off the week by highlighting hunger issues at Shabbat services, and both hosted screenings of a documentary, “Food Stamped,” about one couple’s attempts to eat a nutritious diet on a food stamp budget. Both congregations also are holding a food drive for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.
Learn more about food insecurity in America and the Food Stamp Challenge at Mazon.org.