By Paula Walter
Despite reports of a growing economy, more than 47,000,000 Americans are receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also referred to as food stamps. This equates to one in seven people living in the United States that count on help from the government in order to feed themselves and their families. More than 16,000,000 children live in households that struggle to put food on the table everyday.
On average, each person enrolled in the SNAP program receives approximately $31.50 a week. The monies from this federally funded program can only be used at grocery stores to purchase breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, along with dairy products. It may not be used to purchase alcohol of any type, cigarettes or tobacco products, pet food, diapers, household cleaners, vitamins, hot foods or food that will be eaten in the store. Any benefits that remain at the end of the month on the SNAP EBT card will roll over to the next month.
A quick perusal of the shelves at a local grocery store indicated sticking to a food budget of the allocated $31.50 per person per week would not be easy. A gallon of milk costs approximately $3.00 a gallon, and cereal ranged from $2.50 a box on sale to over $4.00. Add some fresh fruit to your cereal and milk, and the cost rises as bananas run approximately .60 a pound, strawberries cost $2.00 and a pint of blueberries runs roughly $2.50 a pint. The cost for milk, cereal and fresh fruit for breakfast alone would cost approximately $10. If you are lucky, you may have enough cereal for the week without having to return to the grocery store.
For lunch, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and jelly will cost approximately $7.50. If you throw in some vegetables and salad dressing to make a small salad, the ingredients will add another $4.50 to the tab. You have already spent around $22 for the week and nothing has been purchased for supper. You could buy some chicken drumsticks for roughly $3.00 a package if they are on sale, or some chicken thighs for $1.30 a pound. A one-pound bag of pinto beans will add $1.40 to your tab, along with some canned corned and green beans for $1 per can, some inexpensive pasta and spaghetti sauce and your total for your evening meals amounts to just over $12.00. You have already exceed your allotted amount of SNAP benefits for the week.
Inexpensive and starchy processed foods are often purchased to help make the dollars stretch, instead of fresh and healthy food choices. For those trying to feed a family on limited funds, hot dogs, canned beans and some boxed macaroni and cheese wont make a big ding in the budget and will fill everyone up. Statistics show that children who do not eat well do poorly in school, become sick more often and are less likely to graduate from high school and move onto further education. The cycle repeats itself and that hungry child is now an adult with hungry children of their own.
Recently, 62 boxes of food were given out in one day at First Christian Church in Mountain City. Much of their food comes from Second Harvest. Each box given out is valued at approximately $60 to $70. Most people who come in are truly needy people, said Dr. Joe Ray. According to Ray, who helps with the distribution, the church is seeing an increase in the number of people seeking help, including many new faces. The church receives calls requesting assistance not only for nourishment, but also with their electric bills and rent. People across the country, including those here at home, continue to struggle not only with unemployment, but underemployment.
The church was recently able to purchase 3,400 pounds of food for $283. The local Food Lion donates every day to Second Harvest food agencies, including day old bread and meat at its pull date. Its a tremendous help, said Pastor Dwayne Dickson.
Many of the local food banks have restrictive hours and are only opened limited times during the month. Along with the closing of some locations, the demand on the food banks that remain open has doubled. At this time, St. Anthonys Catholic Church, 833 W. Main Street, distributes food on the first and third Thursdays of each month from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm. They can be reached at 423-727-5156 for more information. Hales Ministries is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 12:00 pm. Contact them at 423-727-152. First Christian Church, 410 W. Main Street, is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm. They are closed for lunch from 12:00 pm until 1:00 pm. Gods Country Church, located at 1568 Crossroads Drive is open during morning and evening Sunday worship hours and Wednesday evenings. They can be reached at 423-727-5884. Check with these locations to verify the dates and the times they are open.
If you are interested in helping to put an end to hunger in Johnson County, contact the local food banks for find out how you can help. Locations that participate in the Second Harvest Food Bank are able to purchase food for as low as .14 a pound. Any donation goes towards helping feed those who struggle with poverty every day.
By Paula Walter