Could you eat on just $35 for a week? Staff members of the Greater Chicago Food Depository have been taking the SNAP Challenge for the past four days – eating on the average weekly benefit of an individual living on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps) – $35 for seven days.

Chief Operating Officer Caroline Howe and Vice President of Communications Bob Dolgan are now on day four of the SNAP Challenge:

Caroline Howe

I am feeling the effect of lack of my normal intake in fruit, leafy vegetables and grains; specifically, salads, nuts and juices. The most challenging part of this, which fortunately for me is an exercise, was the thinking that went into the shopping, planning for as many combinations as possible with products purchased and not having the monetary flexibility to choose otherwise during the week. 

While I am doing this for a very short and limited amount of time and I can see a light at the end of the week, I will be relieved to buy what I am able and what I want. I know to do this every day, every week, each month in and out would be far more mentally challenging. It can be defeating knowing that my access to food is limited.

We all have our comfort foods – not having food, crushes the very idea of ‘comfort food.’ I am really beginning to feel, this isn’t a challenge anymore – it is a fight, I am trying to get to Sunday. I still have food left, but not sure that’s the issue anymore.

Caroline’s $35 grocery receipt

Bob Dolgan

Three days in, and I’m realizing that the rest of my SNAP Challenge week will be filled with bland food and without much variety. My breakfasts and lunches have been essentially the same every day—wheat toast with butter spread and cheese in the morning and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at midday. I may not have enough bread to make it through the full seven days.  Craving snacks, I’ve already gone through nearly a whole bag of carrots.
On Wednesday night I had ramen noodles and a soft-boiled egg for dinner. The highlight was the hot sauce I added to the noodles, the first splash of real flavor all day. I’m grateful for the Challenge provision that allows us to use condiments, which will help with tomorrow’s dinner of egg noodles and Friday’s quesadilla dinner.

Like Steven McCullough, I’m regretting some of the choices I made when I went shopping on Sunday. I didn’t buy any beverages so I’ve been drinking water all week.  I didn’t buy enough fresh produce—there were few appealing items at the discount store where I shopped. Today I broke down and used the last couple of dollars I had to buy a bottle of cranberry juice and I plan to dilute it with water to make it last longer.

The Challenge offers insight into the difficult choices so many people in our community face when it comes to food. It’s easy to see how flavor and convenience become more attractive options on a limited budget. 

Day Three: Bob’s dinner

Check back this Friday 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!

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