Couple raises awareness for hunger through challenge

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two Buckingham residents recently took the Virginia Hunger Solutions’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) challenge to raise hunger awareness locally.

“Basically, we are living off the average benefit amount in Virginia for a SNAP recipient. That is $28 per week per person or $1.33 per person, per meal,” said Pam Fortune, an employee of the Virginia Legal Aid Society who participated in the challenge along with her husband Todd, a staff member of the Commonwealth Regional Council.

“Any food and beverages eaten at a restaurant is counted as well as that purchased at the grocery store,” she said.

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According to Virginia Hunger Solutions, an initiative of the Virginia Poverty Law Center to fight hunger and improve the nutrition, “by taking the SNAP Challenge and using the average benefit as your budget for food and beverages during the challenge week, you will see the difficult choices that low-income families are forced to make while food shopping with limited resources.”

According to Feeding America, a food bank network, one in eight people in Virginia struggle with hunger. Norm Gold, FeedMore’s chief operations officer at FeedMore said, “one in seven Central Virginians are food insecure, meaning that a total of 207,000 of our neighbors are not receiving the necessary nutrition.”

Gold said one in six people living in Central Virginia don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

According to state data from Virginia Performs, children and adults living in poverty are much more likely to be at high risk for poor nutrition and health. “The Southside region continued to have the highest percentage (20.2 percent) of individuals living below the poverty level of any region in the state.”

Essentially, SNAP is a supplemental program to help recipients get through on a limited income, Pam said.

According to Virginia Hunger Solutions, “SNAP is an essential lifeline that helps millions of Americans keep food on the table, but the current benefit level is far too low.”

“You must have your meal plans ready for the whole week, or you may come up short on meals,” Pam said. “Another issue is the limited menu options for the amount budgeted. We will be eating spaghetti for two dinners, turkey burgers twice and fish once. Breakfast will be oatmeal each day for me, and dry cereal for Todd.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.”

The department’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with state agencies, nutrition educators and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits.

“FNS also works with state partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program integrity,” according to the department.

“Another thing you quickly notice is that there is no money in the budget for eating out, so that time saver is gone,” Fortune said.

“Busy parents can’t afford to just go out and grab something fast on a hectic day. It also occurs to me that you miss out on many bargains to save money if you don’t have enough money to buy in bulk,” she said.

Christine Kimbrel, a local family nutrition program assistant,  said it’s a shame to choose between food and medicine for the elderly. Fortune also said the elderly are also a big concern to her when it comes to applying for benefits and getting the help they need.

“I hope the stigma of getting benefits when you need them can be lifted so they will feel comfortable getting the help they do need,” she said.

As the challenge came to a close, Todd said, “staying busy keeps your mind off of being hungry for a little while. That being said, come time to eat, I was definitely hungry during the challenge. On the bright side, I lost a pound during the week,” he said.