This post was written by Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America.
As a leader of a domestic hunger relief organization, I know a lot about hunger by the numbers: the 49 million people in America who face food insecurity; the 3.9 billion pounds of groceries that the Feeding America network distributes to 37 million people each year; the more than 60,000 agency locations where our clients can receive groceries.
Additionally, there are 48 million participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–the program formerly known as food stamps–to help put food on the table for their families. The average SNAP benefit per meal amounts to just $1.50.
This last number took on great meaning for me last week when I embarked on my seven-day SNAP Challenge, during which I tried to live off of $1.50 per meal for a week. Throughout the challenge, I didn’t have a dollar to spare. The experience has made me even more committed to doing everything we can to find an end to hunger.
For those of you who love food the way I do—who believe food can help create connections to family, friends and culture—you know that it’s not just meals that a family facing hunger may miss out on. When you live on four or five dollars a day for food, you can spend all of your energy just trying to get by.
My meals were not always satisfying, and I certainly felt my body physically craving more nutrition at times. It was a tedious reality: the mental strain of sticking to a limited budget, frequently thinking about what my next meal would be and the struggle to make the hodgepodge of food left at the end of the week work as a meal. Every client that a Feeding America food bank can relieve of this burden is worth fighting for.
My heart was very heavy when I finished. My week participating in the SNAP challenge this Hunger Action Month has come to an end, but one in seven Americans continues to depend on the program. Making the lives of these individuals and families harder still, last Thursday the House passed a disappointing Farm Bill nutrition title that would cut nearly $40 billion from the SNAP program over 10 years.
Participating in the challenge is one step that can help us prevent this critical safety net from being dissembled through the attention it brings to SNAP participants’ reality. The latest bill may have been passed in the House, but we are reaching thousands of people through our SNAP Challenges with the message: Don’t take a single meal away from a family struggling with hunger.
You can help. It’s not too late to take the challenge or call your representative to speak out about these devastating cuts. I would like to thank my partners in this challenge: Ron Shaich, Panera Bread Founder, Chairman and CEO; Matt Knott, Feeding America President; Kate Maehr, Greater Chicago Food Depository CEO; Kori Reed, Vice President, Cause and Foundation at ConAgra Foods, and her family; and the many other leaders and advocates for those facing hunger. Thank you for all you do.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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