By Taylor Gleeson, NFTY Social Action Vice President
In the United States, 1 in 6 people face hunger. In a country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $15.7 billion annually, the fact that roughly 17% percent of its citizens cannot afford to feed themselves and their families is absolutely deplorable. Hunger is a critical issue in America and one that affects every state across the map. In order to alleviate malnourishment in our country, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was created in 1964, and since its creation has helped millions of families afford food. It is estimated that 1 in every 2 American children will receive SNAP benefits at some point in their life before they turn 20. These statistics are horrendous, and yet still not enough is being done to lessen the impact. In 2013, Congress enacted major budget cuts to the SNAP program resulting in even less food for the people who need it most, and presently there are major threats to cutting the budget of the SNAP program even further. There is a silence in America surrounding the issue of hunger, largely due to the fact that almost all of the people making the laws have never experienced genuine hunger themselves. There is a silence, and it needs to end.
The SNAP Challenge first began as an attempt to end this silence and better understand the struggle that people living on food stamps face on a day to day basis. SNAP Challenge participants live on the amount of money for food as someone receiving SNAP benefits for a week. Though the amount varies from state to state and even sometimes within the specific states, the average turns out to be around $4.10 per day, or $28.70 per week for an individual. Even though many people who are privileged enough to regularly consume a nutritious diet are able to get away with a week of eating junkfood with little repercussions, the goal of the SNAP Challenge is to experience, as accurately as possible, the food intake of someone on SNAP benefits. Therefore, when shopping for food during the SNAP challenge, it is essential to try and achieve the most nutritious diet possible during that week.
Though it is impossible to completely understand what it is like for an individual or family who rely on SNAP benefits, the goal for people who take part in the challenge is to gain a greater understanding and a new perspective about hunger in America. When you are living on such limited funds, every dollar means something. Fortunately, I have never experienced genuine hunger, yet after having completed this challenge two times previously, I am able to say that I found a new understanding in the day to day struggles that malnutrition presents. Doing the challenge changed my entire perspective on the way we approach hunger in America. I realized that the difference in a couple of dollars may not matter for me, but could be the determining factor between a nutritious meal and a night without food for a child in America.
Sure, in our Temple’s Sunday School and Confirmation programs, it is common to visit the local homeless shelter to cook a meal, hand out food in the city park, or donate to a local food bank. While these actions can successfully benefit our local communities, there is also a certain level of detachment that is only fortified by this type of engagement. Instead of only trying to solve the problem of hunger for one meal or for one individual, participants of the SNAP Challenge will learn firsthand why hunger can be so detrimental, and will in turn find a new perspective towards working for a solution for this critical problem.
The NFTY North American Board has identified hunger as a crucial issue this year and we are designating the week of November 13th through November 19th as the week where NFTY comes together to engage in the SNAP Challenge. The board has pledged to take the challenge, and we are encouraging as many NFTYites as we can to do the same. For more information, please visit nfty.org/snap. Here you can learn more about the challenge and the ways you can be a part of this project. You also have the opportunity to pledge to attempt the challenge. We hope that everyone will commit to at least trying the challenge, even if they are unsuccessful. It is time to become educated, to do the challenge, and then take action as a movement so that we can all be a part of snapping the silence.
To learn more and sign up to pledge to attempt the challenge, visit nfty.org/snap.