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Food Stamps, Food Security, and Hunger

This page is under construction. Please bear with us while we finish re-organizing these resources.   

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    Background on the Challenge

    Hunger and poverty have been with us since Biblical times. Leviticus provided us with one solution to this age-old problem: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the stranger” (Lev. 19:9-10). In the United States today, we have a different method of dealing with hunger. It is not a solution, but it is one way to help, and that is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, more commonly known as Food Stamps. 

    In Wisconsin today, over 800.000 people are currently living on food stamps. This means Wisconsin recipients of SNAP eat on a weekly allocation of $29.07 a week per person in the household, or roughly $3.88 a day per person. This assistance is a great help in addressing the nutritional needs of people living in poverty. Unfortunately, it is insufficient to meet the full nutritional needs of an average family, particularly for families living in urban areas. According to SNAP’s Thrifty Food Plan, the basis on which SNAP’s allocation levels are determined, a family of four needs between $126.50 and $144.90 a week to eat at the Thrifty Food Plan level (http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2012/CostofFoodJun2012.pdf). This is already lower than Wisconsin allocates for its food stamp recipients. Add to that the higher cost of food in urban areas, compounded by the lack of large grocery stores resulting in limited food choices, and people living on SNAP have a difficult time meeting minimal nutritional needs. Many families find it difficult to make their allocation last to the end of the month, and end up resorting to food pantries and soup kitchens to fill out the month (http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/urbansnapreport_jan2011.pdf).
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    The Challenge

    Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice invites individuals and congregations to take the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge for one week during the weeks of Lent or the weeks between Purim and Passover. 

    The SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on a little under $4 per day worth of food – the average food stamp benefit in Wisconsin. Challenge participants are forced to make food shopping choices on a limited budget, and often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy with too few resources.

    Members of Congress, governors, state officials, journalists and other community leaders around the country have taken the Challenge and have learned firsthand what it is like to try to make ends meet on the average food stamp benefit.

    While living on a food stamp budget for just a week cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month, it does provide those who take the Challenge with a new perspective and greater understanding.

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    Challenge Guidelines

    1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge week. That amount is $29.07 for all food and beverage for the week.
    2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
    3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
    4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
    5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
    6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.
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    Are you Planning to Participate?

    If you are interested in taking the Food Stamp Challenge, or just in learning more, please email Rabbi Bonnie Margulis at rabbibonnie@charter.net. During the next few months leading up to the beginning of Lent/Purim, we will be posting information and materials on our website and sending the links out to those who sign up. During Lent/the weeks between Purim and Passover, we will host a blog on our website for participants to upload your contributions – entries on your experiences taking the Challenge, what it is like for you to shop on a restricted budget, recipes you created to stretch your food budget, and photos or videos of your meals, your shopping expeditions, and any programs your congregations offer in connection with the Challenge.

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    January 23 Press Conference

    On January 23, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice held a press conference about the Food Stamp Challenge at the Community Action Coalition offices in Madison, Wisconsin. Statements from several area agencies dealing with hunger were presented. 
    • Media Advisory from Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice
    • Opening Statement by Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, President, WFVJ
    • Press Statement by Dr. Jonathan Grieser, Grace Episcopal, Madison
    • Press Statement by Greta Hansen, Executive Director, Community Action Coalition, Dane County
    • Press Statement by Michelle Kramer, Foodshare Outreach Specialist, Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin
    • Press Statement by the Rev. Tina Lang, First United Methodist, Madison
    • Press Statement by Christine Thompson, Executive Director, PEPartnership, Inc.

    A Kick-Off Program

    Please note: This section will soon be updated with a report on the dinner and program.

    In addition, for those individuals and congregations in the Madison area, First United Methodist Church has invited WFVJ members and congregations to join FUMC and Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice for a kick-off Lenten dinner and program on February 20th. Stay tuned for more details and information on how to RSVP for the dinner and program. Program materials will be available on our website for download for other congregations around the state that want to host a similar program.

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    Related Events

    Join Us at the Movies: A Place at the Table
    Sunday, March 3, Sundance Theater, Hilldale Mall, Madison

    The weekend of March 1, a new documentary, A Place at the Table, is opening at Sundance Theater in the Hilldale Mall on Madison's west side. We are working together with Wisdom's Well to invite you all to see the movie on Sunday afternoon, March 3 (time TBD). After the movie, Sundance has made one of their meeting rooms available to us to have a meeting, to debrief together and talk about what we saw, what we learned, what we found surprising in the lives of the three families depicted in the movie. More information can be found below. I hope to see you there!

    Fifty million people in the U.S.—one in four children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine the issue of hunger in America through the lens of three people 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.

    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.

    WHEN: Sunday, March 3, 2013, 4:20pm

    WHERE: The Sundance Cinema, 430 North Midvale Boulevard, Madison, in the Hilldale Mall

    WHAT: Buy your ticket at the box office ($7.50 each) and then look for people near the box office wearing Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice or Wisdom’s Well stickers. We will all try to sit together during the movie. Afterwards, we will all convene at the upstairs meeting room for a debriefing and discussion about the documentary and about hunger in America and what we can do about it.

    For more information or to RSVP, email Rabbi Bonnie Margulis at rabbibonnie@charter.net.

    Sample Articles & Flyers

    Sample Weekly Bulletin Article:

    Take the Food Stamp Challenge! The prophet Isaiah teaches us “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…Is it not to share your food with the hungry?” (Isaiah 58:6-7). As we approach the season of Lent/the holiday of Purim, let us turn our attention to those among us who regularly do not have enough to eat. Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice is encouraging individuals and congregations to spend a week during Lent/in the time between Purim and Passover and live as if we had only food stamps to pay for our weekly groceries. (insert here any specific programming your congregation will engage in). For more information, and to sign up to take the challenge, email WFVJ President Rabbi Bonnie Margulis atbmargulis@tds.net.

    Sample Monthly Newsletter:

    The Food Stamp Challenge, (insert dates here): Can We Live on $29.07 of Food per Week?

    In the book of Genesis, we read the story of Jacob and his family who were victims of severe famine in the land of Israel. They were compelled on one more than one occasion to seek food from Egypt, a neighboring wealthy nation that had listened to Joseph and, wisely, preserved food during the seven years of plenty.

    In our nation of relative comfort, there are, similarly, people who suffer from hunger. How much do those of us who have enough to eat truly understand about what it is like to live with hunger? A brief snapshot:

    1. In this, the wealthiest country in the world, one-sixth of our nation’s citizens live below the poverty level.
    2. Over 800,000 Wisconsinites live on food stamps (http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/snapdata2012_june.pdf), which, Wisconsin, provides $29.07 a week per person for groceries. Non-grocery items such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and diapers are not covered by food stamps.
    3. A full-time worker making Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour earns $15,080 a year, $9000 less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. (http://www.620wtmj.com/blogs/johnmercure/164320516.html)

    These facts should inspire each of us to seek to understand better the lives of those who live on the edge.  I am, therefore, asking us to take part in the Food Stamp Challenge from (insert time period here – either pick a specific week, or ask each person to pick a week during the period of Lent/the weeks between Purim and Passover), sponsored by Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice.

    What are the basic ground rules of the Food Stamp Challenge? Each of us sets an amount to spend for food and beverages during the Challenge week. $29.07 is the approximate weekly food stamp benefit that Wisconsinites receive per individual; family members may combine their benefits.

    All food purchased and eaten during the week must be included in the total weekly amount. Fast food and dining out should be avoided (as these purchases cannot be made with food stamps).

    By living on the amount of the Wisconsin food stamp benefit, we will find ourselves forced to make grocery-shopping choices on a limited budget, and become mindful about how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy without adequate resources.

    At the conclusion of the week, I would like to encourage us all to donate money that we would normally have spent on food – but did not – to one of our local partners who provide food aid and nutrition to the poor, or to one of the national organizations that advocate for food security and anti-poverty policies. Suggestions will be available by mid-February on Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice’s website (www.wisconsinfaithvoicesforjustice.org). There will also be an opportunity there to upload your contributions to a blog WFVJ will create, devoted to the Food Stamp Challenge.

    Remember, this is to be a challenge and not a competition. No one should risk their health in their participation, and should families with young children join in, they may stop at any time.

    Ultimately, this is a call to mindfulness. Look to your email for further information. May we come to understand and empathize with those among us who are victims of hunger!

    Sample Flyers

    These links connect to flyers that have been prepared by congregations and organizations participating in the Food Stamp Challenge. Feel free to use these as inspiration for your own organization, or -- if you're a member of one of these organizations -- to inspire you to join in with the rest of your organization. 

    The Dane County Food Pantry Network (DCFPN) is a group of approximately 50 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters throughout Dane County. These agencies receive food and technical support from CAC's Food Resources Division. The DCFPN was established by CAC and meets regularly to discuss hunger issues, food availability and collaboration projects.

    For a listing of these pantries, and more information on the Dane County Food Pantry Network (DCFPN), visit http://www.cacscw.org/food-dcfpn.php.

    It's not just food...

    It's not just food that people need. Although SNAP offers valuable assistance, food stamps cover only food. They don't cover diapers, deodorant, laundry soap, dish soap, tampons, razors, combs, shampoo.... If you've looked at your own grocery bill in detail lately, you'll be well aware of how much those products can add up to. The Federal Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that personal/household hygiene products represent anywhere from 20-35% of the typical grocery bill -- which is a lot of money to come up with! 

    And it's not as if these products are "luxuries" that people can get by without. Although it's true that if you've starved to death, you don't need to worry about washing your hair, these products are essential to the overall success of people in poverty: 

    • These products don't solve hunger…
      …but folks will eat a lot safer if they can wash the pots and pans they cook the food in. 
    • These products don't provide an education…
      …but both kids and adults learn a lot better if they aren’t worried about classmates teasing them about their clothes, their odor, their appearance.  
    • They aren't employment….
      …but it’s a lot easier for folks to get and keep a job when they’re able to shower, shampoo, shave, wash their clothes, use deodorant….
    • They won't provide housing….
      …but the landlord will probably be a lot happier if the floors and windows and toilet are cleaned occasionally; and getting the security deposit back will almost certainly not happen without that.  
    • These products aren't health care…
      …but folks are much less prone to a whole host of health problems if they can brush their teeth on a regular basis, and simple scratches are a lot less likely to turn infected if soap and band-aids are available.  
    • These products won't ensure friendship and community involvement...
      ...but it's a lot easier to be accepted within the community if people don't really reek of poverty. 
    Many food pantries try to provide at least some of these products, but, since their primary mission is food, personal/household hygiene products are a low priority, and tend to be only sporadically available. 

    Fortunately, there is developing understanding of the importance of these products. Nationally, there are now somewhere between one and two dozen agencies who intentionally focus on these products. In southern Wisconsin, there's now the PEPartnership Alliance. As of October 2012, this Alliance has five agency members who work in cooperation to provide these products within Dane County and western Jefferson County. 

    For more information on this need, and on the resources available, check out the PEPartnership, Inc., website, at http://pepartnership.net

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    Suggested Places to Donate

    In Dane County...

    Outside Dane County

    National Organizations

    International and National Organizations

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    Please support the work of WFVJ

    Donations are warmly appreciated. Checks should be made payable to MUM. Please send donations to: 

    Rabbi Jonathan Biatch, Treasurer
    Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice
    22 Chautauqua Trail
    Madison, WI  53719

    For suggestions or corrections to content on this website, or for any questions, please contact
    the web manager, Christine Thompson, coordinator@pepartnership.net