What I Learned in Five Days on a Senior’s Food Stamp Budget

The Meals On Wheels Association of America’s Chief Advocacy Officer, Erika Kelly, embarked on the SNAP Challenge. Here is what she learned:

Working for the Meals On Wheels Association of America – a national organization with a mission to support local programs and to end senior hunger – the issue of hunger is a part of my daily life. It is my job to help raise awareness, build partnerships and political will to find solutions to reduce senior hunger in America.

So as a part of September’s annual Hunger Action Month and better understand senior hunger myself, I decided to take the Senior SNAP Challenge. It’s called a “challenge” because you attempt to eat as nutritiously as possible on the average daily Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) budget. For a senior living alone, that budget is $4.06 or about $1.35 per meal.

While the problem of hunger in our country is not well known in general, senior hunger may be the most hidden. It’s often found behind closed doors of some of our nation’s most vulnerable and forgotten citizens – individuals whose mobility is limited, may be too proud to ask for help, or have worked hard all of their lives and still can’t make ends meet with their Social Security check. Today, nearly 1 in 6 seniors may not know where their next meal will come from.

As I approached this challenge, I called upon my knowledge of hunger as an issue and reflected upon my own past when living on a tight budget and stretching a limited food supply. Going in, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but I thought my own experiences might have somewhat prepared me for the road ahead. I was wrong.

Prior to this week, I had never stood in line at the supermarket with so much anxiety about over whether or not I would be able to afford the few items in my shopping cart. I had never weighed produce like bananas or an onion, because never before had pennies mattered so much in my budget.

Prior to this week, I had never experienced waking up hungry and then feeling the panic of having forgotten my breakfast, a banana, on the kitchen table. And then having to make the decision about whether to eat my lunch for breakfast or go without enough to eat during the workday.

Prior to this week, I had never experienced the social isolation of having to watch my colleagues and friends enjoy a meal together, while I had to turn it away. I had never lost weight, nearly 4lbs, from not eating enough. Or finally, I had never felt a grumbling stomach, incessant headache, fatigue, lack of concentration, and blurred vision for days in a row.

Never before had I actually experienced hunger.

Today, as I write this, I thought the lessons during my Senior SNAP Challenge were probably behind me, but they weren’t. I decided to leave my house and go to my local coffee shop to write this blog. Since the house was a mess, my husband was watching football and I was distracted, I thought a change of scenery would certainly do some good. As I placed my order with the barista, my mind was on what I would write. That was until the barista issued a rude awakening, “Ma’am that will be $8.19,” he said. I felt panic and shame wash over me in the same moment. For the price of a cup of coffee and small sandwich, I had just spent almost half of the budget I had eaten on for the previous week.

It was at that moment I learned just how much this challenge has forever changed me.

Advocacy Officer to Embark on SNAP Challenge

September is known for its changing of seasons, freshly stocked Halloween candy and a powerful human rights campaign known as: Hunger Action Month. On behalf of Meals On Wheels Association of America, Our Chief Advocacy Officer Erika Kelly is supporting this campaign by embarking on the SNAP Challenge. But what exactly is the SNAP Challenge and what does SNAP even have to do with our work with Meals on Wheels?

First, some facts about SNAP:
• SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps. It is the first line of defense against hunger in the US, and has traditionally been authorized through the Farm Bill.
• SNAP isn’t a welfare program; it’s an entitlement to all Americans who meet income and household characteristics. Nearly half of SNAP participants are actually children, and 8% are over the age of 60.
• Only 1 out of every 3 seniors that qualify are participating in SNAP.
• More facts about SNAP can be found here.

Why is SNAP important to Meals on Wheels Programs?
As we learned in this week’s SOS, SNAP is important to Meals on Wheels programs because it enables the clients we serve to eat beyond the meal or pay the program that serves them. Some pioneering programs are even able to grocery shop for their clients or can accept SNAP benefits to enable them to serve more food insecure seniors.

What’s the SNAP Challenge?
The SNAP Challenge is a weeklong challenge used as a way to take action and raise awareness of the reality of hunger. The challenge requires you to eat off of $4.50/day. Many have done the challenge recently as part of September’s annual Hunger Action Month. Panera Bread’s CEO Ron Shaich took the challenge, as well.
Even though the SNAP Challenge is pretty tough, it’s even tougher for seniors. For SNAP recipients over 60, the average monthly benefit is lower—about $4.05/day. Erika is setting off on the Senior SNAP Challenge to see how those over 60 eat on a SNAP budget.

Make sure to follow Erika’s SNAP Challenge on Twitter,Instagram, or her blog.

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Fall-proofing Your Home

As a kid, I remember sliding through a freshly waxed kitchen floor in the middle of an intense chase my friends only to have my head meet the slippery surface. Falls can be a dangerous effect from something that starts with light-hearted intentions. According to the National Council on Aging, every 15 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and one third of Americans aged 65+ fall each year.

In honor of National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, the Meals On Wheels Association of America recognizes the importance of this day and wants to make sure that homebound seniors everywhere can be safe within their own homes. Therefore, to tie in today’s purpose, we have provided some tips to fall-proofing your home:

• Remove things that you can trip over; these things can be as simple as clutter, rugs and furniture. Pay special attention to items such as, extension cords, loose carpet and raised surfaces.
• Keep your home, porches, outside walkways and stairways well-lit. You can increase the brightness on your phones, remotes and other tech tools. Remember to also keep a flashlight near your bed when attempting to access another light.
• Make sure to double-check the features in your home that you rely on for physical support. For example, the handrails on stairways or various handles that you lean on for support in places like the bathroom may become loose.