As a leader of a domestic hunger relief organization, I know a lot about hunger by the numbers: the 49 million people in America that face food insecurity, the 3.9 billion pounds of groceries the Feeding America network distributes to 37 million people each year, the more than 60,000 agency locations where our clients can receive groceries.
There is also 48 million, the number of individuals who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to help put food on the table for their families. And $1.50, the average SNAP benefit per meal—the number that will be the center of my personal challenge next week.
Getting beyond the numbers this Hunger Action Month, I will take the SNAP Challenge September 15-21 and feed myself on a budget reflecting today's average SNAP benefit, which is $31.50 for one week. Other leaders and advocates in the hunger-relief world will be engaging in this experience with me, including Ron Shaich, founder and CEO of Panera, Matt Knott, Feeding America's president, and many food bank CEOs across the nation.
The SNAP Challenge originated as a way to bring attention to the value of this essential federal program in helping feed those facing hunger, and to show the limits of the benefits. With cuts already in place to bring the per-meal benefit under $1.40 effective in November, it is truly alarming that Congress is now considering additional cuts that could total $40 billion.
Cuts in any amount would be devastating to those who are already struggling to feed their family. The charitable hunger relief system would simply not be able to make up for the number of meals that would be lost through the proposed SNAP cuts.
The SNAP Challenge is not just about staying on the budget; it is about attempting to budget for healthy meals that can sustain a person throughout the day. My experience with the SNAP Challenge won't replicate the challenges many SNAP participants face, such as lack of transportation, health issues or dietary restrictions, and the strain of raising a family on limited resources. But by participating, I hope to better understand a few of the burdens faced by our clients and inspire others to take action.
Together, we can help educate people about SNAP, fight stigma associated with the program and ultimately help feed our neighbors in need. Together, we can solve hunger!