National religious leaders, Congress members and recipients of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) gathered at a Washington, D.C., Safeway supermarket Oct. 27 for a press conference and a shopping trip for a week's worth of groceries. Their challenge was to spend no more than the weekly SNAP allotment of $31.50 per family.
With Congress considering cuts in SNAP, the religious community is focusing the country's attention on the realities of hunger and poverty. An estimated 45 million Americans currently receive food via SNAP.
"The timing is very important in that comes when the Super-Committee is deliberating and will soon be delivering its recommendations for deficit reductions to Congress by Nov. 23," said Sandy Sorensen, director of UCC offices in Washington, D.C. The Super-Committee comprises 12 members charged with submitting the proposal.
"Faith leaders were accompanied by recipients of food stamps," said Sorensen. "It was interesting to watch because (the food-stamp recipients) know this territory and know how difficult it is to find quality, nutritional food and still remain within the budget of $31.50 a week to feed a family."
Sorensen said one team of shoppers found itself $6 or $7 over budget. "The things they needed to put back were peanut butter and rice," she said. "We're talking about choices involving peanut butter and rice. We're not talking about steaks here."
The national event marks the beginning of the fourth annual Fighting Poverty With Faith mobilization. Co-sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public affairs, Catholic Charities USA and the National Council of Churches, Fighting Poverty With Faith comprises more than 50 national faith organizations.
Among featured guests and speakers Oct. 27 were: Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches; Sayyid Syeed, director of Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America; Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D – Mo.); Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture; and local SNAP recipients.
"So many of us have no idea what it is like to struggle to feed families on $4.50 a day," said Chemberlin, who once had been on food stamps. "I challenge all of us to share in that struggle for a week, not merely to attract attention to the growing needs of persons in poverty, but as a reminder that God does not expect any of us to turn our backs on others in need."
Added Sorensen, "The notion that these baseline programs that help people survive from day to day could be threatened is just really alarming. You can just see that what we have now is barely enough for people to get by."
More information about the Food Stamp Challenge is available at <foodstampchallenge.typepad.com/>.
To learn about the upcoming UCC Mission:1 campaign to fight hunger, please visit <ucc.org/mission1>.