This week, several members of the Greater Chicago Food Depository staff are taking the SNAP Challenge by eating for seven days on just $35 – the average weekly benefit of an individual living on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps).

SNAP is a vital piece of the federal food and nutrition safety net that aims to alleviate hunger by providing a means for low-income households to purchase food. Nearly 46.2 million people across the country and more than 820,000 individuals in Cook County depend on SNAP to help put food on the table each month.

Yesterday, Vice President of Community Partnerships Steven McCullough went shopping for his week’s worth of groceries with just $35 cash. Here are some of his thoughts from “Day Zero” of the SNAP Challenge:

Steven McCullough

I was really looking forward to doing the SNAP Challenge. This challenge gives participants a glimpse of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans. It forces you to make difficult food shopping choices on a limited budget and you realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious items and stay healthy with too few resources.

I have been broke before; throughout my youth, and as a young adult and occasionally as an adult.  So I am thinking that I will go back to that mind set, hunker-down and it will all be good. I thought $35 for me, for food for a week would be easy.  I went grocery shopping for the first time in ages.  My family usually has groceries delivered to our home, which is convenient but expensive. 


So I went to a discount grocery store on the West Side yesterday at about 9:00 a.m. The store was already full of people and I had to deposit a quarter to get a shopping cart.  So I am upset that I have to go back to my car to get a quarter so I can get a cart.  I get the cart, go back in the store, grab a sales paper, pull out my calculator, and start down the aisles.

Steven’s grocery receipt


Starting off went well enough; I am counting down from $35, thinking about what I would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Maybe I would have enough to get a snack?  I get through a couple of aisles trying to pick the most nutritious food possible.  After making my way through the dry and dairy sections, I only have $10 left to get to the fresh produce and frozen sections.


I decide I can get more mileage out of frozen vegetables than fresh ones.  I go to the frozen food section and pick up some frozen vegetables.  I thought about my week some more and thought to myself, I’m going to be too tired to cook most nights and my wife is cooking for the kids.  So I broke down and bought frozen ravioli and a couple of frozen pizzas.  I blew it.  My shopping experience and my laziness got me off my plan of eating healthier on this budget.  All in the span of a half hour. 


I checked out at $33.06.  I did get a lot of high fiber products, juice, milk, cereal, oranges, protein bars, but I left the store mad and kicking myself.  Not a good start.  I still believe I can get through the week.  I spent the rest of the day eating as much of my favorites as I could. My last indulgence before my challenge starts was to go see a movie with a large bag of popcorn.  Let the challenge begin!

Check back this Wednesday and read more about the Food Depository’s staff members’ experience taking the SNAP Challenge. Are you taking the SNAP Challenge? Share your experience with us!