Hunger 101? An entry-level course on hunger? Aren’t we all hungry sometimes?
As I would soon find out, the CEO Weinberg Regional Food Bank tackles a different kind of hunger. In its Hunger 101 class, CEO is talking food insecurity. Food insecurity is more than your stomach burning and your head hurting. It’s about fear— the fear of not knowing when or where you’ll get your next meal.
For today’s Hunger 101 role-play, I’m Sam Smith, father of two with a full-time job. My wife works full-time for minimum wage, and our monthly income is about $2,000. The challenge: feed my family for a day. How hard could it be? Pretty tough, actually.
Stretching the dollar
The experience begins in a large room where tables represent a series of stores and office buildings. I receive my food stipend: a grand total of $3.65. Not much to feed a family of four, especially if you want to eat healthy. I withdraw some money from the bank before heading to the table that represents the grocery store. I scan the list of food and notice that meats are the most expensive items while sugary treats are the cheapest. A day’s worth of ground beef, the cheapest meat on the list, cost more than my original stipend.
With that, I pause for a moment and rethink my plan. I lay out my menu, picking items that fit the budget, food groups, and recommended calories. My meals are pretty lousy, but I fill my family’s bellies and reach our calorie count for the day.
And I thought I had it tough!
The other participants play single parents, the unemployed, and the homeless. They can’t just stroll into the supermarket like I did. Instead, they have to jump through hoops just to secure a bag of groceries. They pay bus fares, arrive at each location at a prearranged time, visit the food pantry, and apply for SNAP benefits.
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was once known as the Food Stamp Program. Today, it helps eligible, low-income individuals and families obtain healthy foods at the grocery store. For my fellow Hunger 101 participants, receiving SNAP benefits means they can choose fruits, veggies, and protein rather than instant noodles and snack cakes.
From role play to real life
So I succeeded, right? Not quite. I managed to feed my family for a day, but with only a few dollars left in the bank, my meal plan wasn’t sustainable for more than a week.
That’s where the Weinberg Regional Food Bank steps in. It distributes food to more than 100 partner agencies such as soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, children’s programs, senior citizens’ programs, and other charitable groups across four NEPA counties. These agencies then use the food to feed at least 8,000 local people per week.
If the Hunger 101 simulation was stressful, imagine what food insecurity must feel like in real life.
Let’s lend a hand to all the Sam Smiths out there. You can volunteer, donate, or organize a food drive (either in-person or virtual) to benefit the Weinberg Regional Food Bank. Together, we can transform communities one plate at a time!
To learn more about the Hunger 101 program, visit www.ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org.