Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge


RABBI LENNY GORDON (Congregation Mishkan Tefila): I am doing the Food Stamp Challenge, and many of my colleagues are doing it during this week before Thanksgiving. And I am sure that this will inform our teaching to our communities, our community Thanksgiving events, and our Thanksgiving meals.

Starting off my own personal Food Stamp Challenge with a day with our teenagers is actually very important for me. We’re going to do a little menu planning and shopping-trip planning before we go to sort of think about what we are going to be looking for…and then to go out there and price it and try as we’re going through, creating what essentially will be for me my week’s food supply.

Coming off the book and film “The Hunger Games,” the kids came up with this idea that the theme for the year is Hunger is No Game.

post01-food-stamp-challengeTEENS IN SUPERMARKET: $1.84; $1.50 for these. So we’re saving some money.

RABBI GORDON: The point is to always hold in mind that we’re trying to replicate an experience that is not a game. For a slice of people who have to choose between rent, medication, food, that you might sometimes have this as your total food budget.

TEENS AND SUPERVISOR IN SUPERMARKET: So we can put these on last, and then if we have enough for the extra second one, we will. OK.

RABBI GORDON: When you go to a supermarket, you can’t just buy whatever you want.

CASHIER AT CHECKOUT: $28.34 is your total.

RABBI GORDON: During the days of the Food Stamp Challenge, one of the things that–one of the repeated experiences is leaving a meal and not being sated. We’re gonna have a little meal together at the end of our day today, just so that we sit down together and say, “OK, this is what a meal might look like for a family to sit down together, and this is what they’d be eating.”

Rabbi Lenny GordonFor the people doing this, it’s not a hardship, it’s not a crisis. It’s something we’re doing to deepen our understanding about America. You know, there’s a story that I was told that, you know, sort of was transformative for me about a teacher in an elementary school looking at a girl who was falling asleep in class. And he said to her, “What’s wrong? Didn’t you have breakfast this morning?” And she said, “No, it wasn’t my turn.” And it was like, yeah, you know, there are people who are making decisions with multiple kids about who can have a breakfast before they go off to school. That’s what’s at stake.

Our synagogue is involved in collecting cereals and canned soups that are given as part of a food pantry. The teens who are doing the gathering of materials now, during the days and weeks ahead this year are becoming the ones who do the deliveries.

The tradition of the prophets was a tradition that said whatever you are doing is not really working as long as there are people who are hungry, who are without clothing, who are without shelter. When we talk about food insecurity, when we talk about the fact that there are people who are not sure where there next meal comes from, that’s where our vision needs to be.

The Food Stamp Challenge will culminate for me on Shabbat. And then, as the Sabbath ends, an opportunity to say, “OK, and now I can return to the normal routines of life,” but a little transformed by understanding that there are others for whom going back to normal meals is not an option.

  • Karen

    The only question I have is this: I am working with a family (mentoring to get off of assistance and on their own). The biggest difficulty so far is that they get $900/ month for their family of 6, which is a lot more per person than what most working families have to budget, our family included. So, if I were to take this challenged based on what she receives, we would actually have more to spend.



  • Barbara Southwell

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Your food insecurity segment has “thrilled” me beyond words. My husband Tom and I have adopted our own Mid South Food Bank as our ministry. In the last year we have donated ofer 1,000 volunteer hours by hosting neighborhood food drives and even one community wide food drive which collected over 4,000 pounds of food and over $2,000 in cash donations. Hunger in our 31 county service area is NOT acceptable. We also were told the story of “It’s not my turn” by a teacher in my own church and from a local doctor who found one of his patients eating CAT FOOD because she couldn’t afford anything else. I have not been food challenged but knowing that there are children, elderly, UNDERemployed, VETERANS, and others who are without basic food is not acceptable. Whoever is hungry in my area demeans who I am! So, please accept this HUG from me for bringing the FOOD STAMP CHALLENGE to the forefront! It should be required viewing by ALL OF US!

  • Carol Thompson

    Back in th 60s, my husband and I lived on the foodstamp budget for a whole year, just to see what it would be like. The allotment was probably more generous, relative to food prices, than it is now, but it was an interesting experience. By shopping frugally, and cooking all meals at home, I was able to create satisfying meals. What I learned, every day, was how much more I had in the way of resources than the average poor person. Here’s what I learned:
    1. I had a good education and good math skills, so I could get the best buys.
    2. We lived in a suburban neighborhood, so we had access to grocery stores with lower prices than in poor neighborhoods.
    3. I owned several expensive cookbooks, including “The Joy of Cooking,” and both of us liked to experiment with various foods and recipes. I also had most of the cookware I needed to prepare the meals.
    4. We lived in an apartment that had running water,a working stove and refrigerator, not always available to all families.
    5. I had a working car and enough money to buy gas, so I could drive to a second grocery store to get a better price.
    6. The place we lived had a little space for a garden, so in the summer I could grow some vegetables, which saved money. The week I bought the seeds, we had to eat tuna casserole for three meals.
    7. I know about 20 ways to prepare canned tuna. Also, you can do a lot of things with oatmeal.
    8. After eating tuna for several suppers, a person sometimes dreams about eating steak.
    9. Steak was not on our menu.
    10. I had pretty dishes and linens (wedding presents), and on my walks I sometimes picked wildflowers, so even the simplest meals were pleasant because they were served in an attractive way.
    11. I had no children, so I never had to look at little faces crying for Oreos, or the disappointment of children at the grocery store when I couldn’t afford the foods that were heavily advertised.
    12. We did not have a TV, so we were not constantly bombarded with ads for thing we couldn’t have.
    13. It’s hard not to gain weight eating inexpensive foods. Lean meat, fresh dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables are the most expensive.
    14. Powdered milk is yucky, even if you only use it for cooking. It was pretty easy to feel full after meals, but it was hard to maintain good nutrition.
    14. My husband had a good job and I was not working outside the home, so I had all day to prepare the meals. Bread was 19 cents a loaf at the store, but I could bake for half that.
    15. There are a lot of necessities that you buy a the grocery store that are not allowable purchases with foodstamps, like cleaning products, paper products (toilet paper!), and anything which is not an agricultural product.
    15. Most importantly, we always knew that we were doing this voluntarily, and we would sometime go back to eating more expensively.

  • Oliver

    I saw the PBS broadcast this evening regarding the efforts to bring attention to the hungry here in the US (and around the world I suppose). What is rarely discussed is the extent of nutrients provided to the poor and underprivileged and the teaching to food stamp recipients of the greater challenge which is making the best food choices – and not needing so much food in the first place.

    I saw in the broad cast many boxes of cereals, cans of beans, and pasta being bought and served. Not any of these items have nutrients in them. Regardless of what each label might put forth, the nutrient, certain vitamins and all proteins simply do not exist in those items. Salt can be a nutrient (?) so that exists. So too is sugar perhaps, to a lesser extent. Items fortified with iron and other minerals can provide those minerals but no vitamins and again, never any protein(s).

    This is simply a matter of chemistry dictating that protein molecules cannot and do not survive outside of a host environment (a living organism) beyond, perhaps hours. When a biotic organism dies (a plant, animal, human etc), the protein molecule is the first to break down (breaking down as in decomposing – bio degrading). There is no way around this for any living/dead entity.

    Another fact of physics, chemically speaking, is that these molecules, which includes many vitamins (A, C etc)do not hold up well at all to various and numerous extreme environmental dynamics (and the sudden change of). Light, and oxygen play a great role in changing and breaking down many of these molecules. Heat, most certainly does away with many of the molecules that are nutrients – proteins, vitamins, fats.

    As any of this relates to food stamps, when a parent has only food stamps, or 70 dollars to feed two kids for the month, their choices should solely be about nutrients – whole unadulterated nutrients – vegetables (fresh salads – spinach/broccoli salads etc), fruits, nuts, seeds — and water. That’s all they/we need – for the rest of our lives. Of course at some point, french fries and ice cream can be added to this list of things but only after these needs are met. In the PBS broadcast the kids doing the shopping opted to pass on the pineapples (albeit canned). Those cans of pineapple might have been the only thing in their carts that had real unadulterated whole nutrients (and the bananas). I think I saw celery in the cart as well. Sadly, the vast majority of poor folks also pass up on fruits and vegetables, choosing instead big boxes of cereals and cookies, rice (rice has few nutrients even before heat exposure), beans, bread, and meats – all things that were either pre cooked or will be cooked.

    The milk has had it’s nutrients made moot by way of heat through pasteurization. All of the wheat products, bread, pasta were damaged in the milling process – all milling houses will tell you the process destroys the nutrients in the conversion from wheat stalk to flour – they then have to fortify the flour – but then the nutrients in the flour get destroyed once again in the baking, boiling, or frying processes (most cooking temps are 3 times hotter than the milling temps). Beans have to be cooked far too hot and long for any molecule to survive (unless it is a hardy toxic one, which can be found in many beans). As for cereals, the Department of agriculture has already done tests to show how the baking of cereals kills their protein content – those cereals can only be fortified with minerals (which are not molecules) and not with proteins and vitamins.

    As for being sated as was mentioned, the whole of America has to understand that the human body needs only a mere fraction of the calories we have become accustomed to – numbers put forth by numerous governing medical bodies. The human body expends more energy trying to process the amount of calories than it would with a super low calorie diet – the diets our earliest ancestors survived for millions of years on. Once we re-adjust this eating/calorie mindset, a “little” food will truly go a long way to feeding a family.

    Sincerely Oliver James

  • SJ Gleason

    Nice try but, the one thing that was so wrong with this “challenge” is that they used the amount of food stamps for one person instead of multiplying that amount by the number of people in the family. With the four people shown in Rabbi Gordon’s family, that would be a budget of $126 for the week which is not nearly as dramatic.
    I understand that the point is to become more empathetic with those of us who use food stamps, but I don’t like the situation being overly dramatized by untruthfully portraying the food stamp budget.

  • Carol Olson

    I hoped this becomes a tradition in many churches.

  • Fr. Brendan Drown

    The Food Stamp Challenge allows people who have the resources to purchase enough food for the family to understand the plight of those who do not. People are challenged to live on $4.50 a day per person for a week—$31.50 which works out to $1.50 per meal per person or $135.00 a month (3 meals a day for thirty days).
    People who are actually using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) sometimes find that they do not receive the amount of money that people taking the Food Stamp Challenge (FSC) use. For instance, there are two men that I know who use SNAP. One receives $35.00 a month for Food Stamps. The other only gets $16.00. That works out to about $0.39 a meal for the one, and about $0.18 for the other. While one may have been able to buy a meal for thirty-nine cents in 1825, the fact of the matter is that a meal cannot be had for that amount today in America.
    There are more repercussions. Poverty is a major factor in obesity. To be honest, it is difficult to buy healthy foods when one is limited to eighteen cents for a meal. As both of the men in my example are poor, dental health is impossible. As a result, one man has six teeth, and the other only two. Try now to buy a soft meal that requires minimal chewing for eighteen cents.
    Neither of these men look underfed. Both are obese. Both have been criticized for their weight not once but many times. Recently, both were refused when they applied for a volunteer position, and one of the reasons was their weight. One man is spending money out of his own pocket to supplement the supplement part of SNAP, and most of what he buys is cottage cheese.
    There is a great disparity between $1.50 per meal and 18¢ per meal I know that these numbers are just figures put into a computer and the computer calculates how much money the person is making, and number of dependents, and arrives at $16.00 per month. And I realize that it is near impossible to get a computer to understand that one cannot purchase a meal on eighteen cents. I also understand that the figure of $1.50 per meal is an average, based on income and number of mouths to be fed.

  • Matthew H.

    The food stamp Challenge on the surface seems like a good idea……but…..what it ignores is the other 2/3rds of the food stamp program, The Rabbi doesn’t have to suffer the humiliating “re-certification” process or ineffective “jobs” programs and we cannot forget the taunts and comments of other shoppers and clerks as people use the food stamp cards.. How do I know this? I am on food stamps! A few years ago I was a working member of society, today I am an under-employed ” welfare Maggot” ( as i’ve been called). Here in Idaho about 250,000 people are on welfare of which 97% are employed!. I barely clear 18 to 22 hours of work every 2 weeks, I have an autistic child and my wife is disabled (we’ve been fighting Social security for 2 years for her benifits). Don’t believe hate exist read the comments here and at Yahoo news about the food bank shortages. Here in Idaho H&W used to stagger the food stamp allotment over the first 5 days of the month, to save money they now issue FS to everyone on the first, stores are complaining that they are being slammed on the first and want the staggered release back at a cost to the state. it just doesn’t make sense why don’t the stores hire more clerks or give the ones they have more hours? The saddest thing is how callous this has made me, Charities I used to give to have turned thier backs on me, Groups I used to support, both political and religious, have lost me forever
    People hae to realize if you want to end welfare you have stop worring about whos getting what and start promoting real wages for real work. I’ll leave you with two quotes,… first… president Teddy R said “Show me a man who cannot strike for better wages or working conditions, and I’ll show you a man who has no liberty! and second…unknowen said ” the cure for poverty is not prosperity, it’s Justice!

  • Murray Gorelick

    I think the Rabbi Gordon’s experiment has a lot of merit. First it gave the students an insight of what a person on food stamps has to go through..It brings to the students attention that when they bring in money to help the poor it will also help if they bring in a game or book or clothing that the poor family cannot buy at any time.

    I know being a teacher myself. what it means for a student to come to school and not have breakfast and not go to the lunch room with his or her class and not have any money for lunch. Also the cruelty of other students apply when they see you sign for your lunch, I made arrangements with the kitchen help not to have the students to get the money in private early in the day so that they do not have to face that situation.

  • Murray Gorelick

    I think the Rabbi Gordon’s experiment has a lot of merit. First it gave the students an insight of what a person on food stamps has to go through..It brings to the students attention that when they bring in money to help the poor it will also help if they bring in a game or book or clothing that the poor family cannot buy at any time.

    I know being a teacher myself. what it means for a student to come to school and not have breakfast and not go to the lunch room with his or her class and not have any money for lunch. Also the cruelty of other students apply when they see you sign for your lunch, I made arrangements with the Nurse,to provide the students with the money that each teacher donated each pay period.The kitchen help not to them sign it the forgot to get the money but to, tell them to remember to bring it in tomorrow. I also made arrangements for the food that was left over to be packaged and the custodian to place it in the students locker to take home.

  • Alexia Amsellem

    I really enjoyed this article and thin it has given a great impact on other people who have read it and all around the world. It makes me so happy to see people contributing to help others