January 19, 2014

My Eyes Have Been Opened

(This post has been 2 weeks in the making.  I have written from the heart on this one and instead of going back to proof read what I have written, I am just going to post it.  If I were to go back and proof it, it would take me another hour or so and I want to get this posted without putting it off.)

I’m surprised I have anyone following me after a very, very long time of not posting.  I have been sent down a rabbit hole ever since I started researching living on SNAP food benefits.  I began to try to figure out what an average family would get, how they would make that stretch for 4 people and that led me to doing a lot of research. 

You see, it’s not as simple as I thought.  I thought that I would get the SNAP amount, the amount of people in the family, perhaps do a scenario where they were unemployed and had small children, but that wasn’t enough for me. 

Little did I know that this small project would open my eyes to a problem in my community, state and country.   I have found out through me son, who is a teacher, through other teachers, through grocery store managers, clerks at stores and law enforcement that there is an incredible amount of people living in poverty in my community.  It is getting worse every year. 

My son is in his 4th year of teaching high school, the last two years at his alma mater.  He graduated in 2003 and has told me that in 11 years since his high school graduation the student population has changed a lot in that there are more and more kids that live in poverty as compared to when he was a high school student.  It has increased by a great margin.

I always knew that there were people that were poor in our community, but I never realized how many people in our community live with hunger every day.  I have heard stories from school bus drivers where kids have gotten onto their bus asking the bus driver if they had any food OR where the kids on the bus were worried that the bus might be late and they may miss breakfast at school.  In one school district near us I heard about the football team that wasn’t performing well, because the players were hungry because of not having enough food in the home.  A local woman got involved and then got her church involved in getting proper food to these athletes and starting a weekend backpack food program.
In a small community of 11,000 you would think that you would be more aware of the level of poverty and hunger, but I wasn’t.  In late November and December and early January the local newspaper published articles regarding local charities.  I clipped the articles and put them in an envelope.  I read more and more online articles about the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s war on poverty and I came to one conclusion:  in the 1960’s and early 1970’s we did a lot of work to end poverty, but the problem is back and it is worse than ever. 

No matter what you think about people living in poverty, the one thing that should make you shudder is that children are hungry all the time and not getting the proper nutrition that they need to do well in school and life in general.    Children don’t have a choice in their circumstances.

It’s not that I have had my head in a hole, I just didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem and how many people in our community go to bed hungry.  I am presently doing more research as to the numbers of singles and couples making minimum wage that are termed the “working poor.”
I began reading books on hunger and poverty in America, watching documentaries on Netflix and from the local public library.  I shared what I learned with women at my church.  This led to 5 of us forming a group to research the hunger needs of women and children in our community.  We made a list of local charities and have been conducting interviews. 

I am learning about the Working Poor and how our local Food Pantry is not open during hours when they can access it.  I am learning about food deserts and all sorts of things.  I have studied the history of food stamps and have watched with sadness recently as more and more benefits have been cut. 
Education is power.  I am enrolled in an online class on children’s nutrition on Coursera.  If you are interested in free online classes on all types of subjects google Coursera or EdX. 

So I am taking this knowledge and using it.  For the past 4 ½ years since being home I have wanted to do something with my life that really mattered (not that being home and taking care of family isn’t important) but I wanted to give back to some kind of organization or movement.  I wasn’t able to find anything that made me want to give my time and resources to, so I have created one.

The bottom line to our research is that kids in our school district are coming to school hungry and staying hungry over the weekend.  We are looking at a backpack program to send home food on the weekends.  High schoolers are hungry when they go to school and although most of them qualify for free breakfast they won’t stand in line to get breakfast because there is a stigma OR it isn’t enough to get them through the morning.  We are thinking about breakfast on the go where we put granola bars, a piece of fruit and some milk or juice boxes in a sack, have them come by our church parking lot and we hand them these sacks to eat prior to school OR providing a hot breakfast once a week for all high schoolers in our community.

Then there is the problem of the lack of nutrition in the school lunch program itself.  This led me to studying how the school lunch program began back in the 1940’s and how it changed from providing good nutritious meals to heat and eat junky food that kids have become used to eating over the years . 
This sabbatical I have been on has been the best thing I could have done.  It was a God thing how it happened in that God put some women in my church that I didn’t know very well in my Sunday School class, we got a discussion going and we found out that we had the same interests in fighting hunger and ending poverty. 

Also, I am back.  I missed posting but I am glad that I took time off to educate myself.  I will post after our group meets at the end of this month to report on their interviews with local charities.  I myself will be interviewing the local school superintendent and food service director. 

And as to the living on SNAP benefits, my research has led me to doing interviews with people that are doing just that and struggling.  As I get more information from these people, I will report on how they are doing it or not doing it. 


Anonymous said...

People sell their SNAP cards for drugs and alcohol. They let their kids go hungry because they are irresponsible parents. This is reality.

I read that SNAP benefits are $265 per person per month in the household - for my family of 5 that is $1325 per month. That is outrageous - and I hope that I am wrong on the amount. My family eats organic, shops farmers markets, CSA, (we also garden) and buy from local farmers and we don't spend nearly $1325/month.

Martha said...

I asked a licensed counselor in our area and she told me that the number of people that abuse the system is quite low. However, there is abuse and when those stories are published they get a lot of attention. As to the amount of SNAP benefits people get, it is according to income and what information I have received so far by doing some interviews is that the average amount of SNAP benefits in our area is around $25 per person with an average of $340 a month for the family. I'm not saying that what you read is wrong, I'm wondering what area of the country this came from.

Lee Ann said...

I think 265 a person per month is really high. It is not that way in North Carolina.
Yes there is fraud in Snap but there are loads of folks who lost their jobs, went through their savings, went through their 401k's and they need help. Yes maybe they spent above their means when life looked good and they had good jobs but that is not the case now.
Not all Snap folks sell for drugs and alcohol.
We never know when we may need help.
I applaud you on your research and the steps you and your friends are taking to help alleviate the problem.

Paula said...

The dollar amounts for SNAP that I hear from people around here are much like what Martha was told.

When we have a percentage of dishonesty and bad behavior in every walk of life--even clergy, police, and military-- it should be no surprise that a percentage of the poor are either dishonest, improvident, or both. That is no reason to punish all the others, anymore than we would decide to have no churches or police because of the misdeeds of a few.

I have volunteered at both a food pantry and distributing commodities for about a year and a half. There are a few that we believe are dishonest. They are in the minority. The average number served at the pantry has doubled in that time. Many of these people have lost jobs, others are working, but are suffering financially because the price of labor is being driven down. Another problem is that many who are willing to work full time can only get 20 or 25 hours a week because of the callousness of corporations deciding to hire almost exclusively part time help to avoid their societal responsibility to their employees. What should be their overhead becomes a problem for taxpayers and society at large. One of the largest corporations in the world is located about a hundred miles from me, owned by a family of billionaires. Yet many of their employees qualify for public assistance of one kind or another. When they want to pay low wages AND avoid providing benefits, the poor working person is walking uphill in deep sand.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry. He did not say to feed them only after all of them were faultless.

Lee Ann said...

I look forward to reading about the progress of the people you profile on Snap.

Also...have you considered using the same amount of the benefits your family would receive to have your own Snap challenge?

Melissa said...

Martha, I believe your research is more accurate to the amounts. I know several families who I would consider "the working poor" They don't receive a lot for their SNAP benefits. I also work in a school cafeteria. I have not worked there long, a little over a year. We have a new boss this year who is trying to improve the food we serve. One of the biggest obstacles I see is the long time cafeteria workers. They don't like change or to have to change they way " things have always been done". Over 50% of the kids I serve are on the free or reduced lunch program.

Sherry said...

I live in NYS and the average SNAP benefit here is $150/month per person. The maximum benefit is $189/month for 1 person. That amount goes down a bit for each addition.

This is the url of the federal site which shows the maximum benefit.


Also, SNAP benefits are used by the elderly and disabled they too can be below the poverty level in income.

You are doing a beautiful thing because more and more middle class families are slipping below the poverty line.

Debbie said...

My family was on SNAP about ten years ago. We recieved about 500 dollars a month for five people. It was more than enough to get through a month, with the amounts that were not used, added into another months total. It is a nice program when it works effectively. Education is a must, learning to cook "real food" should be a required class, and look at all the other social economical factors that folks need help with.

Theresa F said...

The thought of a child being worried about the bus being late just broke my heart. I agree that no matter the choices of the parents, kids should not be judged for being poor. They do not have a say in how money is managed. We all need to do more. To whom much is given, much is required.

Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is I admire you for being proactive about hunger here in the U.S. I believe this topic has been terribly ignored and brushed under the rug as a society. We find it hard to believe the level of suffering in a nation where we are supposedly the wealthiest on the planet. After educating myself on how people live in other developed countries (like Denmark, Finland, etc…) and how well their governments take care of them throughout their lives makes me very disappointed in ours. Our leaders need to step up.

Anonymous said...

I too would like to know where the poster got their information. Right now my sister, through no fault of her own, had had to rely on SNAP. The amount varies per person and per household depending on different factors. Trust me, she is not getting that much and what she does get, sometimes doesn't even cover the month, and that is buying the cheapest food and making as much from scratch as possible. She certainly can't afford to buy organic, and there are no opportunities here to buy from farmers, especially since it is doubtful they can accept SNAP. From everything too I have researched and seen first hand since her extremely hard times began, is that abuse is way over reported in regards to what actually occurs. That is one of those things that gets reported over and over without anyone bothering to actually fact check or update their information. My sister worked hard for close to 40 years and now is unable to afford anything. The only assistance she gets is SNAP and an eye appointment covered by the LIONS Club, and I am paying for her rent, lights, etc., and as a result is feeling a heavy financial pinch, and I have canceled everything not necessary including things like internet (I am doing this from someone else's computer), satellite, home phone, etc, and neither of us have any kind of credit debt. She is not able to afford any medical care, and she has diabetes and is in kidney failure. She has never drank, smoked, done drugs, or any of that stuff. She took care of my mom who has dementia (while still working) until our mom had to go into a nursing home. And now, she has to deal with the stigma of SNAP benefits, because everyone knows that only drug addicts and lazy people are on them, and they sell them to keep up their habit. I am so sick of hearing that from people who think they know so much

Lee Ann said...

I too am concerned with the working poor. I have not heard of any family getting $265 per person. That seems way abnormally high.
Please continue to blog about this as I am too.

Martha said...

In my comment on January 19th, I should have said that the SNAP benefits were $25 per person per week.

Martha said...

@Lee Ann - Yes, I have considered using a budget of $50 per week for our SNAP challenge. I plan to do this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martha,

In my community there is a volunteer delivery service for working people and the elderly who cannot get to the food bank during open hours. Also, after much encouragement from the City Council the food bank extended their hours to include one evening for working people.

Thanks for caring - not all poor people are cheaters - some are actually just poor with hungry kids.

Anonymous said...

Things are about to get a lot worse once people realize just how much they are expected to pay for health insurance, and as employers scale down the benefits for their workers. Target has just decided not to give part-timers health benefits, Home Depot too. With the huge deductibles on most of the health insurance policies now it's going to be a major struggle for people who were managing before just to keep up.

I don't know how much fraud there is in SNAP, but if there is it's the adults who are responsible, the kids can't help it if they are hungry.

It's a thankless task sometimes helping your neighbors- I put food on one family table for years and as soon as I got sick and could not help them any more they dropped me as a friend. You just have to think about the children, not irresponsible parents.

Good luck!

Paula said...

Some of us are quite pleased about the health insurance. My husband worked for a large company for many years and we were used to excellent insurance. In 2010 he had to take early retirement because of Parkinson's Disease. I lost my insurance and had a pre existing condition. I couldn't get any insurance at a price I could possibly pay.

I lived in fear of unavoidable hospitalization, which could have cost us our home, as we own it outright. If you've never been uninsured, you can't imagine the constant nagging worry.

Thanks to the affordable care act, in just three days I will be insured again, at a price I can pay (not much more than my husband pays for Medicare). I am well pleased with the plan. It is a good stop gap until I can get Medicare and a supplement in three years.

In all probability, the plan will make a profit off me, as I normally only see the doctor once a year for a check up and prescriptions, plus buy my meds. That's fine. I have the security of knowing that if I DO become seriously ill, there is no way it will cost more that we can lay hands on if we have to, and our home is no longer at risk.

Martha said...

@Paula: It is great to hear a story about how the Affordable Health Care Act is helping someone. So many times the news reports all of the people that are saying that they are not benefiting from it. I'm so glad that you are getting health care insurance. Back in 2007 when our son got married, one of our gifts to them was paying for health care insurance for them through our State Farm Agency. They had no health care insurance when they were in grad school and we did not want them to go without. So, we got a plan with a high deductible so if the worst case scenario happened (cancer, car accident) they would be covered.

Anonymous said...

I admire your compassion, and share your concern. i think education would be better vs more giving. Teach them how to make wise choices, how to take advantage of coupons and sales. I saw a mom buying doughnuts at Casey's with food stamps and told her kids that was their dinner. that money could have been better spent at the grocery store.

Mrs. Miano said...

I know this post is a bit older....but I really admire what you are doing. We live in a rural area of Ohio. Year ago I worked for the WIC program (Women, Infants and Children) So many people here are still having a hard time....I know the kids at our school- their families are struggling too. My best friend is a single working Mom with 1 child..they only receive 86$ for the whole month. Thats not enough for them. Remember the "S" in SNAP is "supplemental"....it isn't meant to cover your full food bill - maybe unemployed people get more but not the working folks. The ones who cheat will always be there....but dont lump the ones who truly need help in there. Martha, you seemed to have studied a lot about food. Did you do the challenge? When I was working for WIC there was talk of us coming up with a small pamphlet that had a basic week long menu and grocery list to help. With WIC a qualifying Mom got free milk, formula,beans, peanut butter, juice and cheese. They never got around to doing that while I was there. I wished they had. A lot of the girls confessed they never got the beans because they didn't know how to prepare or used dried beans. Bean soup,rice and beans, burritos with the free cheese, baked beans, hummus. A lot of families are clueless about how to make ends meet and where to start....it is still a crisis out there....monthly I still see homes going empty in my area. I wish SNAP would do this too...something simple for the folks.... Buy these 30 items = eat breakfast lunch and dinner for a week. I HATE thinking of children or any one for that matter not having enough to eat.