Can You Imagine What Hunger Feels Like?

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Can you eat on just $4.20 a day?From Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2014, members, staff and clergy of Congregation Shaare Emeth will take the SNAP Challenge and try to live on the average food budget of a Missouri SNAP recipient – just $29.25 per week or less than $1.40 per meal. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps). Why are we doing this? To raise awareness about the struggles faced by millions of food-insecure households, to experience first-hand how difficult it is to afford nutritious foods, and to renew our commitment to do what we can to put an end to hunger.

Please join us by attending one of our hunger events, following our blog as we document our experiences (subscribe by email in the box on the right, subscribe to the blog feed, or check back daily), joining as SNAP Challenge participant and blog author, or participating in an alternate way. Let's all learn a little more about what it's like to live solely on food stamps.

Friday, January 31, 2014

SNAP Challenge from Ted's point of view

Part 2


We ran out of some of the important staples on Wednesday.  Apples, Bananas and Egg,  all ran out after Wednesday's lunch.  As a result, Thursday's lunch consisted of 2 items, left over enchiladas and a small bag of raisins. I missed my apple.  This was the first day I truly felt hunger.  It made me cranky, tired and appreciative that on a normal day I could easily solve this problem with a few coins and a vending machine.

Fortunately Jennifer stopped by the grocery store after work and the apple shortage was eliminated. Unfortunately I feel like I need to catch up on eating no matter how much I eat.  We have now spent $104.00.


One of the rules/guidelines of the challenge is to avoid taking free food at work, from friends, etc.  Over the past week I have been offered Crab Rangoon, a Margarita (not at work), a doughnut and an office Super Bowl party snack buffet, I bet they had Que-so dip.  Such pain.  In addition, someone in this house who is an adult begged to stop at McDonald's to get a .69 cent ice cream cone last night.  I  held firm.

Tonight, Elyssa asked to have friends over.  We said sure but remember the SNAP challenge.  I don't feel bad, the last time we had this group over we picked up a bunch of food off the floor.

For Shabbat we are having homemade pizza tonight.  With Lilly off at a friends house, it would be a great opportunity for Jen and I to go out to dinner.  That will have to wait for another opportunity, but I am thankful for what I have.

Good Shabbas,


ARTICLE: Food Stamp Cuts and Cold Weather Put Extra Strain on Food Pantries

An article recommended by Rabbi Goldstein: Food Stamp Cuts and Cold Weather Put Extra Strain on Food Pantries. It's an NPR story about food insecurity/hunger, food pantry demands and needs, and effects of recent SNAP benefit cuts and higher heating bills. I've liked to NPR's Facebook post of the story rather than to the story on their web page so you can join the discussion.


Anti-hunger organizations say the unusually low temperatures are sending heating bills through the roof, cutting into the food budgets of many families struggling to get by. That means food pantries are bracing for more hungry people from their communities coming through the door in the weeks to come.

Extra Guests, Ski Club, and Challah

I just finished making lunch for everyone this morning and we are running low or are out of most of our staples from the week.  No more pretzels for after school snacks.  Only enough bread and peanut butter left for one more sandwich. 2 apples (though we have 3 cans of fruit left, as well as 3 bananas and a grapefruit). 1 carrot, 1/2 a red pepper and green beans. No tuna.  We have $22 left to help us get through Shabbat but we've run into a couple of problems.

1) Our oldest son is participating in his middle school's ski club tonight.  He usually takes about $10 to pay for dinner while he is there.  He lobbied the whole family pretty hard last night for at least enough money to get him some dinner.  His arguments centered around the fact that he didn't want to stand out as the only kid who brought his dinner.  It gave us all a small sense of the shame that families living with food insecurity must live with on a regular basis.

2)  In our original budget we forgot that Brett's parents are coming in tonight from out of town.  We will need more chicken for our Shabbat dinner tonight and more staples for tomorrow.

3)  We have not yet bought a challah.  Yes.  I could have made one (though I would still have to buy flour and sugar and eggs (because we are also out of eggs) - but that was not in the cards for us this week. At least by buying the challah we will have bread for sandwiches tomorrow (though I am not sure yet what we will put on them).

We ended up giving Macey money for dinner.  The whole family agreed that it was definitely do-able to stretch $12 to last for 2 more days - even with two extra people coming to stay in our home.  But getting to that point was stressful. The emotional toll that families living in food insecure households must face is almost as difficult as the hunger the families experience.

Having said all of this, I do know that our sense of gratitude for the modest meals that we have been eating this week has been immense.  I hope those feelings remain with us long after this week is over.

Snap Challenge from Ted’s point of view:

Part 1


To prepare for the SNAP challenge Jennifer made a menu for the week.  It was a loose menu and changes were made along the way.  We did not generate an item specific shopping list and we headed off to Aldi to make our purchases.  Overall it was a fun experience because Jennifer and I rarely shop together for groceries.  It took us a long time to analyze and find the ingredients that we needed for our meals, and we had many debates over food quality and price.  It was also the first time that I had ever used the calculator on my phone.  Needless to say I made several mistakes but was cautious to always pad the total so that we stayed within budget.  Our first trip we spent about $76.00 dollars and Jennifer had to do make a follow up trip on Sunday and spent an additional $14.00.  Our total family budget was about $120.00, so we have about $30.00 left to fill in missing items.


I take for granted that I will always have food around to grab when I’m hungry!  If I’m hungry, I just go into the refrigerator and grab a snack, usually something processed and unhealthy.  If I don’t feel like making myself a lunch to bring to work, no problem I can run to McDonald’s and grab something real quick.   No time for breakfast, no problem, just stop somewhere and get a breakfast sandwich.   Worst case, go to the vending machine and get something. 

Living on a SNAP budget does not allow for these conveniences.  We have to plan everything or be prepared to settle for nothing.  This is our reality this week.  For others, this is their reality all of the time.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just Grateful!

Our Challah is shaped and rising on top of the stove.
Shabbat is coming.
We had plenty tonight.
Last week, it would have looked like little, or simple, or would have brought the question "What's for dessert?"
What a difference new lenses make.  Tonight we had plenty.
Tomorrow we will have meat for the first time this week, challah, stoemp (potatoes and carrots).
Shabbat will be a feast.

Shabbat Shalom,

There are good deeds being done every day…

Allen and I chose to participate once again in the SNAP program.  We kind of made a menu, shopped for the week buying soup, a chicken, bread, staples, salad and veggies. We already had the PB&J, and other food items that would become part of our week’s menu.  Sunday was easy for us, fortunately we were home for all of our meals.  A half of protein bar (bought 5 for $5) does not go a long way for breakfast, but lots of water to drink does!  And you can imagine where I spent a lot of time!  We shared the can of soup, a salad with one piece of chicken cut up for lunch and dinner.  You may ask, did we go to bed hungry?…Yes, I did.

Monday was more of a challenge.  I had a breakfast date with some friends.  Did you know there are not many places in Creve Coeur/Chesterfield where you can get something for breakfast for $1.49.  We ended up at a Bread CO and stood there for 5 minutes trying to figure out what I could eat.  Nothing, not even a cup of coffee, that I do not drink anyway.  We mentioned to the man who was going to take our order what my challenge was this week and why. He heard us say there was nothing I could get at Bread Co. therefore, I would just pass on eating breakfast.  He took their order, then asked me what I was thinking of getting?  I said maybe just an egg but did not see that on the menu in my price range.  The good soul that he was, said he would make me an egg for $1.00.  I said, really… and thanked him.  He agreed that you can’t eat out for this amount.  I got my egg and water and met my friends. As we were eating, he walked by me with a drink and bag of fruit loops for his breakfast.  Wonders and wonderful people who pay it forward never cease to amaze me.

Tuesday was another day…breakfast and lunch would be fine.  We were given hockey tickets and with the tickets comes a free hot dog and drink...  Yeah!

Between the cold and the fact that there are people without heat, a place to sleep or enough food to eat, I feel very fortunate that I can pass it forward to help others.

by: Ronnie Brockman

Wednesday, January 29, 2014



We are still going strong at the Houser house.  We are lucky to have no teenage boy to eat us out of house and home.  Our meal plan is working, tonight chili and tomorrow hot dogs.  Lunches have been PB&J or leftovers.  Tuna is still available and a fruit and/or veggie goes with every meal.  Popcorn, apples, bananas and boiled eggs are the snacks. 
I had the thought today how the SNAP challenge isn’t really as realistic as possible.  I told my friend no one would take up the challenge if one of the conditions was to not use a car during the week.  Particularly in St Louis, there is no easy public transportation route from here to there.
I also thought about how lucky we are. Finance aside, 61% of SNAP recipients’ income was $14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013.  Our family is truly blessed.

1.     Our family of five (one at college) is headed by two adults, not one.  With both our input, we are able to focus our attention, maybe a bit too much, on our children.  Someone is usually around after school to ask about their day, help with homework and tuck them in.
2.     We have books at our house.   As simple as this sounds, some children have not been read to on a regular basis before they enter kindergarten.  This along with the malnutrition puts them behind the eight ball at the age of three.  Both adults in our family have a college education and have impressed upon our children how reading and education is empowering. 

3.     We have a car and I work ten minutes away from home.  We don’t have to plan our lives around the bus schedule.  We don’t have to leave at 5 am to catch a bus that will make countless stops until we hit our destination across town and an hour and a half later.

4.     We have stability in our health care. We can afford our medicine and we go to the doctor on a regular basis.  We have not been limited to public clinics nor emergency rooms.

5.     We have two grocery stores within walking distance of our house.  We are not in a food dessert where produce is sparse and gas stations snacks are our main source of nutrition.

All of this we are blessed with.   If a family is without some of these blessings, the stress can be debilitating.  We have done well in this challenge so far because we bought whole foods that I had to create meal with.  If I was a single mother with a sick child and I lived in a food dessert; I most definitely would not be as diligent as I am this week in making sure I have healthy food to eat.  Survival is enough to deal with. 


A Place at the Table

Tonight I, along with many members of the congregation, viewed the movie, A Place at the Table.  If you have not seen this movie, I could not recommend it more strongly.  Its depiction of the complex state of hunger and food insecurity in America is eye opening.  It is also inspiring in its push for each of us to take an active role in bringing the issues of poverty and hunger to our state and federal representatives.

I want to thank our member, Cindy Levin, who is a tireless volunteer activist with Results (a grassroots organization working to alleviate poverty in America and across the globe) for providing the information below, which makes it so easy to write a letter to members of Congress.

It is most important to write to our Senators, McCaskill and Blunt, urging them not to pass a Farm Bill with 9 billion dollars worth of cuts to the SNAP Program. I urge everyone to take just a few moments to hand-write a letter to our senators, turning our awareness into action.

Take Action! Write Letters Urging Congress to Protect SNAP

1.     Introduce yourself to your representative or senator as a constituent and as a person who is concerned about poverty in America.
2.     Inform them that in 2012, more than 1 in 5 children in the U.S. were at risk of going to bed hungry every night (21.6 percent). Studies show that children who are regularly hungry suffer from weakened immune systems, slowed and abnormal growth, and anemia.
3.     Remind them that decades ago, our nation made ending hunger a priority by creating the Food Stamp Program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
4.     Since then, SNAP has been critical in helping low-income families put food on the table and in reducing poverty. The U.S. Census reports that SNAP lifted 5 million people out of poverty in 2012, nearly half of them children. SNAP is also very effective, with a 96 percent accuracy rate.
5.     Explain that in light of this success, you are disappointed that Congress is looking to cut SNAP by nearly $9 billion over the next ten years.
6.     Tell them that we should be working harder to end hunger, not make it worse.
7.     Urge your representative/senator to talk to House/Senate leadership, telling leadership that they oppose cuts to SNAP and urging them to protect SNAP in the final Farm Bill.
8.     Thank them for their time and ask for a prompt response to your letter.
Note: To find contact information for congressional offices and the name of the agriculture aide, visit our Elected Officials page ( For directory assistance, you can also contact the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

To learn more about how you can help end poverty in America, visit

Houser-ific SNAP start.

Houser-ific SNAP start.
Sorry for the delay:
Saturday: Went shopping at Aldi with plan in hand. Best shopping experience ever with Houser, no fighting over high priced food. 

Sunday: An apple drops on the floor when I was unloading the bag into a bowl. I though I better use that one quickly. Lilly asked what was for breakfast. I told her eggs, toast and apples. She said she'd skip the apples. 

Monday: I realized I convenience shop. I have too much in my fridge and pantry that I don't use or need. This may be my biggest lesson.

Tuesday:  We are still going strong and who knew you can make homemade enchilada sauce.  Elyssa asked for it again and Lilly ate it sans black beans.  GO PROTEIN!

I know the food we are eating is not the best quality, but I am more concerned than usual as to what the kids are putting in their mouths. I also see food having more value than I once did.

We will see how the week goes. Who will be the grumpiest when we are down to oatmeal and sandwich bread?

Lessons From the Past

My grandmother raised 13 children.  Only three on them were hers.  Ten were foster children.  Most of them were actually brothers and sisters (they had the same mom)  The oldest of the children came to her when she was 16.  The youngest was a baby.  One of those "kids"(who had polio as a child and is a little simple minded), now in her late fifties, still lives with her.
My grandmother was German.  She was from Berlin.  At 16, she met my then 19 year old grandfather (who was a prisoner of war in Germany), fell in love, became pregnant, clandestinely married him and right after the war, move with him to his family house.  For the next three years, her in laws were awful to her.
My grandmother knows survival, she survived a war and discrimination.  She is tough, strict, and hardworking.  In 1948, after a brief separation, my grandparents move to the home my grandmother stills inhabits today.  After having three children, she learned there were many children in orphanages in France.  Many farmers would welcome them in their homes as foster kids.  They would receive a small monthly compensation, some toiletry items and a yearly budget for two cheap pair of shoes.  When they were not going to school, these kids were often free workers on the farm.
My grandfather had his own business.  He was a carpenter.  My grandmother approached him about fostering.  The first two teen girls came.  They had significant addiction problems.   As babies they were soothed to sleep with whisky mixed to milk.  My grandmother was able two refocuss their energy toward less self destructive behaviors, and quickly the social worker approached her and asked if she could take in 5 siblings ranging from 8 to 16 year old.  She did. Later, two more children from the same family (twins) joined them.  My grandparents had two bedrooms on the first floor of the house.  One of those was theirs.  My grandma transformed a small living room into an additional bedroom.  Later, my grandfather built two more bedrooms in the attic.  There was only one bathroom in the house.
You must be wondering where I am going with this.  The thing is, I have been thinking a lot about my grandmother this week.  Everything we ate this week (but for the etnic food), I would have eaten at her table.
She raised chicken and grew a garden, she canned, and pickled.  I found myself using some of her "tricks" this week or thinking about them.

  1. She did not put pots and pans on the table (except for special occasion when she would use pretty serving plates).  She would serve and remove.  Out of sight, out of mind.  If you wanted/needed more and you had cleaned out your plate, she would serve you what you wanted.
  2. She would only serve one day old baguette that she would "age" in a large plastic bag.  That way it did not feel crispy and we would not eat it all in one day.
  3. She made everything from scratch.
  4. She often served soup and stew before meal or as a meal.  It fill you up.
  5. She would involve the kids in the planting, harvesting, cooking and canning.  It gave them all appreciation for the food.
  6. She always made the food tasty enough (so they would eat) but never great enough that they craved it.
  7. Other than fruits, dessert were special and really appreciated.
  8. Everyone participated from getting the meal on the table to cleaning up at the end.
  9. They all ate together every night.
Most of those children actually "made it" in life though they had a rough start.  Not all did.

My grandmother did not give children a roof. She gave them survival and life skills.  One of my friends shared with me that many people do not want the fresh food at the food pantry because they do not know what to do with it.  I did not grow up in this country but from what my friends tell me, when they were in middle school and high school there were classes to teach them some basic cooking skills.  I had those classes back home.  Today those are optional.  
One of the reason we ate a balance and pretty healthy diet this week (so far) is that I did learn to cook as a teen and continue do to so as an adult.  I recognize that I am now usually more of a "semi-home-made" kind of a girl, but I have not forgotten the lessons from the past.
I do teach my kids how to cook.  I will admit that my girl is better at it but I think that's because my son has no problem replacing sustenance to taste.
If nothing else, weeks like these are great opportunity to revisit with them the lessons from the past and to tell stories about ancestors they do not see very often.

I also have to admit that I "bended the rules" today.  The SNAP challenge allows for us to use condiments we had.  Well, we always eat our lentils with French mustard and we did not have any.  I contemplated going to Mc. Donalds and helping myself to one or two packs of mustard.  Instead I asked my Head of School if I could take the mustard that has been in our fridge at school for a while.  She agreed.  To compensate for the "infraction", I fed another teen at our table tonight.  I feel OK about it.  A great Rabbi once told me that I did not have to be good at everything, just good enough.  For today, this is my "good enough".