Michigan Food Stamp Challenge

What can you buy with $5.87?  What can you eat for that amount of cash?  Well, most fast food value meals are still under $6.  And a sandwich from Tim Horton’s is just three dollars. But what if that $5.87 was for an entire day’s meals?  Breakfast, lunch and dinner plus maybe a snack?

The Michigan Department of Human Services is “sponsoring” a Food Stamp Challenge this week to bring attention to poverty and hunger in the state and hopefully increase donations to area food banks.  About 300 people including Governor Granholm, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, automotive execs and a number of regular citizens are participating in the challenge.

The Michigan Food Stamp Challenge encourages people to spend just $29.35 for food per person in a five-day period, equivalent to the maximum amount a Michigan resident who has no income might receive in food assistance benefits. The minimum amount of benefits is $14 a month with the average benefit being about $100 a month.

Half the recipients of food stamps in Michigan are children.  With the slowing economy. Okay, I’ll say it. With the economy in a recession, more people will file for food stamps in the near future. Especially as home heating bills come in.  Did you know that the poverty level income for a family of four is just 21,000 dollars?

One of the comments I read about the Challenge came from Governer Granholm. She said she bought a lot of mac n’ cheese for this week.  Don’t get me wrong, mac n’ cheese or ramen noodles are a good way to stretch out your dollar. I certainly ate more than my fair share of ramen in college.  But healthy? Not so much.  Besides being high in sodium and processed food chemicals, these are not well-balanced meals. Where is the protein? Where are the vegetables?

The reality is that many families receiving food stamps can’t afford to buy a large selection of fruits, vegetables and meat.  Whole foods cost more.

Michigan has this really great program called Project Fresh. It provides coupons to at-risk persons to buy fresh locally grown produce at Farmers Markets.  I completely 100% agree that this is a wonderful program. Too bad only women and children in the WIC program are eligible.  In 2005, that was 38,000 Michigan residents.  And only 70% of the coupons were redeemed. More than 1.3 million residents get some level of food stamp assistance.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those people were being educated on the importance of a well-balanced nutritionally dense diet?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those people could redeem food stamps at the farmer’s market?

The reality is, how does someone who can barely afford to eat choose a one or two apples over 6 boxes of mac n’ cheese for $2.00?

What happens to the kid that only eats pasta and cheese with artificial coloring and flavorings and chemicals galore?  If he’s missing vitamins and minerals vital to brain development, how is supposed to excel in school?  If she’s hungry because there was no milk or cereal at home this morning, how can she concentrate on her biology quiz? Poor nutrition has a serious impact on education and the ability to learn. Kid grows up lagging behind and malnourished then 15 years later Bill Gates is on TV complaining that he can’t find qualified candidates for technical jobs without going overseas.

Hunger in America pisses me off. I know many people have made poor choices or found themselves in horrible positions through no fault of their own. Some people are starving but refuse to accept help. I can’t fix everything. But US food supply is large enough to feed every American two times over.  And that’s presuming the average adult American eats 2100 calories a day. There is no reason on earth why a child should ever be starving in this country.

What to do?

Encourage families to grow their own food crops either at home or through a Community Garden Project.

Earthworks thru Capuchin Soup Kitchen
In Ann Arbor
More Detroit options
Lansing’s Garden Project by the Lansing Food Bank

Donate money and goods to the local food bank/pantry, soup kitchen:

MidMichigan Food Bank
Lansing Food Bank
Find a Food Bank thru Feeding America (formerly America’s 2nd Harvest)

Other ways to contribute:

  • Set aside a portion of your home garden for Grow a Row a national program that encourages gardeners to grow extra produce for donation, usually through your local Farmer’s Market.
  • Even if you aren’t trying, you might end up with extra tomatoes or zucchini, etc., in your garden. Contact your local food bank to donate the veggies.
  • Give the Food Stamp Challenge a try. Spending a day or two in the shoes of someone less fortunate can be an invaluable lesson.
  • Encourage Congress and the legislatures to incorporate nutritional counseling and cost-cutting tips in to new Food Stamp Rules and to make it easier for recipients to buy fresh healthy whole foods instead of processed garbage.
  • Get educated on hunger in America through sites like FRAC, Bread for the World and the 2006 Hunger Study (sponsored by Altria of all companies).

I’m sure there are other things too.  Remember all the times your parents said “Clean your plate. Think of the starving kids in China, Africa, India?”  Those kids are still starving but so are children in this country.


*Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s subject is Poverty. I had started writing this post yesterday, not knowing a thing about Blog Action Day. When I discovered the event, I hurried up the writing of this post as it could not be more appropriate.

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