Five Lessons Learned After Living on Food Stamps for One Week

Guest Blog Post By Matt Ferraguto

SNAP Challenge-2

In 2014, 47 million Americans received benefits through the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). On average, these Americans receive $4.40 per person per day to purchase food.

This month, our Leadership NC class was encouraged to attempt the SNAP Challenge, which involves attempting to live on the same food budget as the average SNAP beneficiary for one week.

Here are five lessons my family learned from my experience, after my wife and I and our two children (4 and 6 years old) completed the challenge.

  1. It’s difficult not to feel like a tourist. While the cause behind the challenge is noble, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were making light of the actual struggles that millions of families face. That’s in part because I knew at any point I could “cheat” if I wanted to or had to. Still, the experience was meaningful for us and our kids.
  1. Having a family makes stretching your food budget a little easier. It was plenty difficult purchasing enough food for the week on our budget of $123.20 (4 people x $4.40/person/day x 7 days) You can see the results of our primary trip to the grocery store in the header image. But I can’t imagine trying to feed one person for a week with only $30.80 ($4.40/person/day x 7 days). Having a family of four enabled us to buy a larger variety of food and meant we did not have to make as many individual meals last multiple days.
  1. Giving up food “luxuries” is hard. At the beginning of the week, I didn’t have enough money for both coffee and Diet Coke, so I chose morning coffee and gave up Diet Cokes (my one true addiction) for the week. And I had to forego any office snacks (which are plentiful) during the day as well, so we were all more noticeably hungry by the time we got home at night.
  1. It must be very difficult as a parent to explain food limitations to your child. I had a hard enough time convincing my children that they had to choose between the two generic cereals we’d purchased (they’re used to a selection of at least five or six kinds of brand-name cereals). I can only imagine how painful it must be to explain to a child that we simply can’t afford enough food for that day.
  1. No matter how well you plan, it’s easy to run out of food and money. After the first grocery run, we left ourselves with a cushion of $49 for the week, thinking that was plenty to cover any additional food we needed. It wasn’t — we ran out of money (and bread and cereal) on day 6. It turns out that’s the reality many families living on SNAP assistance face. In fact, a recent study found that hospitalizations spike at the end of the month, when families may have exhausted their budget.

As you may know, North Carolina has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the nation, and that problem is even worse among children. In fact, 1 in 4 children (26.1%) in our state struggle with hunger on a regular basis.

The good news is that individuals can make a difference. North Carolina has seven Feeding America Food Banks, which are the backbone of our state’s hunger relief efforts, supporting thousands of shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, and schools.

Interested in fighting hunger in your community? Find the food bank closest to you and volunteer or make a financial contribution.

 

Matt Ferraguto is the Client Services Director at Eckel & Vaughan, a strategic communications agency based in Raleigh. He is also a member of Leadership NC’s Class XXIII.