Last month, Laura Belazis, our associate director of training and evaluation, participated in the SNAP Challenge, spending one week eating on a SNAP benefit-limited budget. In recognition of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, here are her reflections from the challenge.
In October I participated in DC Hunger Solutions’ SNAP Challenge, which aims to highlight the struggles faced by too many throughout our region who can’t afford the food they need. The average SNAP benefit is $33 for one week, which is about $1.57 per person, per meal. This meant my husband and I had $66 to shop for everything we would eat for seven days.
I love to eat, and I love hearty meals full of bright colors and local ingredients that are both delicious and pack a nutritional punch. I knew it would take some careful planning to put together 21 meals for two people with only $66. To start with, I ruled out meat. Then to save time I decided to make four servings for each dinner, so there would be plenty left over for lunch the next day. Finally, my husband offered to make wonderful multigrain bread for the week.
For breakfasts I planned on plain Greek yogurt with pears and honey for our weekdays, and eggs on our multigrain toast for the weekend, which came to $0.99 for each of us per day. I also needed to make sure that we got in a couple servings of fruit, with some snacks to carry us between meals: four apples, a pound and a half of clementines and six bananas cost $7.64.
To make all of this happen I had to think carefully about where to shop to get the best ingredients at the lowest prices. I went to Trader Joe’s for bananas, clementines, starches, and butternut squash (over 4lbs and only $2!), a local co-op for the multigrain bread ingredients (the bulk bins let us buy exactly the amount we needed), and a mobile market for everything else. The mobile market is the only place I know in D.C. where I can get several grocery bags full of local produce and farm fresh eggs for only $20. And if I really had been using SNAP benefits, I could have taken advantage of their Bonus Bucks program to double my SNAP dollars.
We met my goal of a healthy and delicious SNAP week, but it took a lot of careful planning. It also made me truly appreciate many things that I take for granted:
#5 – I have a fully equipped kitchen.
#4 – On an ordinary week if I want to eat out, treat myself to a pastry or go to happy hour with friends, I have that luxury without having to check my budget and without having to make difficult trade-offs.
#3 – We have enough time and freezer space to keep our veggie scraps and make our own sauces and stocks, which are healthier than store-bought, and certainly less expensive too.
#2 – I live in a neighborhood where healthy and affordable produce is abundant.
#1 – My parents taught me to cook, and gave me both an arsenal of culinary knowledge and a love of good food.
My main takeaway from the SNAP Challenge is that living on a SNAP budget takes time, food access and knowledge to provide for your family, and the energy to keep it up week after week. Fortunately, programs like the 42 Campus Kitchens in communities across the country are making access to nutritional food easier. But could I have made it through the week if I had to work long hours at several jobs to make ends meet? Or if I had health issues or dietary restrictions? I don’t know, but having completed the SNAP Challenge, I have a better understanding now of the significant challenges faced by too many families trying to get by paycheck to paycheck, relying on their SNAP benefits to put food on the table. I hope that more people take the SNAP Challenge to gain insight into the difficulties faced by members of our community, and that with more knowledge and insight, together we can come together to solve hunger.
Emory University prides itself on serving local and sustainable food. Their dining halls are full of produce from area farms, and they even host a farmers market on campus. But when that locally sourced food isn’t eaten, it’s either thrown away or composted. Knowing there was a better solution, Emory students have chosen to reduce food waste on campus and hunger in the Atlanta community by launching a Campus Kitchen.
The Campus Kitchen at Emory University (CKEmory) is our 42nd Campus Kitchen and third in the state of Georgia. They will use the demonstration kitchen in the basement of Few Hall to cook and package the food they recover from Emory’s Sodexo-run dining services. The meals they create will be delivered to local organizations, including Mercy Community Church, Intown Collaborative Ministries, Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children, The Open Door Community and Meals On Wheels Atlanta. Truly a collaborative effort, CKEmory brings together partners from Volunteer Emory, Greek Life, Emory Dining, Sodexo, Office of Sustainability, local food banks, shelters and countless students.
During their first cooking shift last night, Emory students whipped up homemade vegetable soup with couscous and a zucchini pasta casserole – 120 meals in total for hungry Atlantans.
According to the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, food waste should be used to feed hungry people before it is turned into compost. Emory’s on-campus eateries are already willing to work with students to recover food to be used for healthy meals, and with the start of CKEmory, this is now possible.
To learn more about bringing a Campus Kitchen to your school and to qualify for a $5,000 launch grant opportunity, visit our Campus Kitchen Planner.
Just last month, students and staff at the University of Kentucky participated in our latest launch grant video competition and won $5,000 to start a Campus Kitchen that will serve older adults. With that funding in hand, their coordination with dining services, creation of partnerships with community organizations and volunteer recruitment on campus has come to fruition: this afternoon, the Campus Kitchen at the University of Kentucky officially opens.
The Campus Kitchen at the University of Kentucky (CKUK) is our 41st Campus Kitchen and the first to open in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. They will operate out of the Erikson Hall Food Lab in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and initially recover food that would have otherwise gone to waste from Aramark-run UK Dining. This food will then be used to create nutritious meals for clients with the Lexington Senior Center, Catholic Action Center and Hope Center. Soon, the student leaders with CKUK estimate they will be able to provide several hundred Lexingtonians with a meal each week. The Campus Kitchen is sponsored by the University of Kentucky Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition.
University of Kentucky is one of five schools that participated in the older adult-focused Campus Kitchen launch grant video competition sponsored by AARP Foundation in mid-October. A group of campus representatives created a video (watch it at the top of this post) explaining why their community would benefit from a Campus Kitchen and rallied thousands of supporters to vote for their entry. By the end of the competition, University of Kentucky’s submission received more than 3,400 votes, winning them a $5,000 grant to bring our program to their campus.
CKUK aims to serve older adults ages 50-59, many of whom are ineligible for other senior-focused services because they do not meet those age requirements. Nearly 9 million older Americans are at risk of hunger, a staggering 79 percent increase over the last 10 years. Kentucky is 18 in the nation for senior hunger, and over 8 percent of the state’s seniors do not know from where their next meal will come.
Matt, our expansion and partnerships manager, and Andrea, our DC-based AmeriCorps VISTA, are spending a couple of days in Lexington sharing best practices with the student leaders who will be running the Campus Kitchen. This afternoon, they will host a reception ceremony in Erikson Hall to officially launch the Campus Kitchen at the University of Kentucky.
To learn more about bringing a Campus Kitchen to your school and to qualify for our next $5,000 grant opportunity, visit our Campus Kitchen Planner.