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Food Stamp Challenge 2012

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 7: The Light at the End of The Tunnel


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.




Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service

November 20      1:30 p.m.

Light at the end of the tunnel…

Right about this time tomorrow, I’ll be sitting down to my first gluttonous, unrationed, unrestrained lunch in a week.  That will have followed a long-awaited, morning “break the hunger” meal probably more appropriately suited for a family of 8-10!  Why?  Because I can.  It’s funny how, at least for me, when a hardship or inconvenience nears its conclusion, the griping stops and the revisionist history begins.  “It wasn’t that hard…  I could have done it for another week… As long as you stay organized and conscious of your budget… Blah, Blah…”  But that’s not what I was saying four days ago, was it?  That was Saturday, Shabbat, when I was sulking that my $4.50 had already been consumed for the day before it even got dark outside.

So this morning, just as I’m feeling so virtuous, so disciplined and self-controlled, and so proud of myself for what I’m on the verge of accomplishing, I was handed exactly the dose of humility that I needed. 

Today is the day at JFS when our Food Pantry distributes enormous and plentiful Thanksgiving packages and food vouchers to about 300 families in need.  That’s food for over a thousand people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have a proper Thanksgiving meal without this assistance.  Thanksgiving Distribution Day at JFS (always the Tuesday prior to the Holiday) inevitably fills me with a “cornucopia” of powerful, and in some respects, conflicting emotions.  On the one hand, the awesome image of the long line of our clients standing outside in the cold, patiently awaiting their turns to get in, get warm, and get their food packages and food vouchers, is heartbreaking. It’s a line of humanity running all the way down the street and snaking around the corner of Whalley and Westerleigh Avenues.  It’s a line that is reminiscent of the old chilling photographs we’ve all seen of the ubiquitous soup lines from the Great Depression era.  Bleak.  Tragic.  Just plain sad.

But on the other hand, it’s heartwarming and uplifting to know that, at least on Thanksgiving Day – at least on this one day - all of our families will share in the bounty that defines and symbolizes this iconic American Holiday. On Thursday, when most likely I will subtly unfasten the top of my pants, full and satisfied, and then stretch out on the couch right after the meal, I’ll know that many of our clients are probably

Then on Friday, or maybe Saturday or Sunday when the leftovers have all been consumed, I’ll return to my normal eating pattern, as will our Food Pantry clients. 

Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel for them?  


Posted by: hgoldberg (November 20, 2012 at 5:31 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 6: The Silent 15%


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service

November 19, 2012             5:00 pm


As we’d hoped, from Day 1 those of us participating in the FSC and blogging about our experiences have received a great deal of attention from folks from all over the community (some of whom I didn’t even know that I knew!).  Of course, that was the intention – to make a bit more tangible for people the harsh realities of what it’s like to get by trying to feed oneself (let alone one’s family, too) on a skin-tight, unrealistic budget.

People have been incredibly supportive, encouraging, and well intentioned, some even offering me some of their own food out of compassion or concern or maybe a little guilt (tempted, though I may have been, I have not succumbed).  The attention is really kind of nice; it makes me feel like people respect what we’re trying to do, which makes me feel like there is purpose and meaning in what we’re trying to accomplish – a “method to our madness.”

But that’s the stark difference between the millions and millions of real life sufferers and the pretenders, like us, trying to simulate the part for a handful of days.  We’re high profile and noble in pursuit of a social cause; they’re invisible and ignored, or worse, denigrated and blamed.  Where’s the compassion for them - the families and children who really deserve some acknowledgement and caring and just need some help?  Of course, there are helpers and do-gooders all around us; and they do heroic work in support of the downtrodden, the vulnerable, the poor.  But why are so many unaware of or impervious to the pain and hardship of our neighbors?  Why aren’t we all fighting for economic justice and human rights on behalf of this silent 15%?

I don’t think it’s because people generally are callous or uncaring or disdainful of others, or because they believe that “those people should just get a job, stop being lazy, and stop relying on handouts.” I think it’s because most of us, naturally, just don’t want to see unpleasantness around us.  Because we do care, and real life can be ugly and disquieting and difficult to face.  It’s not easy to acknowledge that although we live in a proud democracy that upholds the pillar American values of equality, human dignity, and opportunity for all, those ideals are nothing but an illusion for those silent, invisible, disadvantaged “others.”

But of course, there is no “other.”  They are us.  We are them.  Just look in the mirror.  Could that ever happen to me?  But for a tough patch here or there, any one of us…

Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.


Posted by: hgoldberg (November 20, 2012 at 5:15 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Food Stamp Challenge, Day 5: Counting Down



Day 5, Sunday, Nov. 18, 10:30pm

 I’ve already written about the particularity of this experience, living on $31.50 for a single week. It is just not comparable to being on a limited food budget week after endless week. As I’ve said, the one-week trial is limiting in terms of buying too much of one thing and not enough of something else.  But in every way that matters, it’s a walk in the park compared to struggling with food scarcity with no end in sight. In addition, as long as I see my growing teenager eating to his heart’s--and stomach’s—content, I’m good. I notice that I am watching warily as my husband prepares their meals, wanting to intervene and suggest alternatives. But for the most part I’ve managed to hold my tongue and stay focused on my own meals.

Tonight I had four pots going: lentils, onions, rice, mustard greens. Isaiah and Daniel ate tuna fish sandwiches. I thought I saw Isaiah looking longingly at my version of the middle-eastern mujadera (lentils with caramelized onions and rice) so I offered him some.

All in all, I probably ate more healthily than they did today. I had my usual oatmeal for breakfast while they ate French toast dripping with real maple syrup. I’m starting to shed pounds.

What I’m finding is when your budget is limited, you have to make every penny and calorie count. Whole grains, vegetables, and legumes are the way to go. I didn’t intend to eat vegan, but the cheese, yogurt and milk I bought are so inferior to what I’m used to that I may not even finish them by the end of the seven days. And I haven’t touched the vanilla wafers since the first night. 

I’m definitely counting down. Two days to go. I have about $.65 left. What will I splurge on tomorrow?


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.







Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service

November 18, 2012             2:15 pm


I awakened this morning, for the first time really starting to feel the effects of this bizarre, unbalanced, and rather meager diet.  Nothing horrible, but a bit lethargic and definitely somewhat cranky and out of sorts.  But I forced myself out of bed, showered and  dressed, and then “enjoyed” my now usual breakfast of cheap, generic coffee, oatmeal, and a couple of bruised, reduced price fruits from the Stop & Shop discounted produce section.

By the time I arrived at JFS for our long-planned, long-anticipated special morning program for children and their parents with the theme of “Feeding the Hungry”, a collaboration of JFS, PJ Library and Federation, I was feeling much better, more “myself”, and really looking forward to what would follow.

Well, suffice it to say, at the conclusion of the program I felt like a million bucks.  It was a fabulous event – fun, creative, activity-packed, and meaningful.  “Feeding the Hungry” was JFS’ and PJ’s part in participating in the Global Day of Jewish Learning, but it was also entirely consistent with the message, theme, and awareness-raising goals of the Food Stamp Challenge.  What I felt so great about was not just that we had 60 people come to JFS on a Sunday morning, not just that the kids so obviously enjoyed the hilarious staged reading of the story, “Bone Button Borscht”, not just that the kids had so much fun and got so engaged in making Thanksgiving cards for our Food Pantry families and in decorating their own “Lend a Hand, Give a Can” bags for collecting donated food, and not just that all of these coordinated activities seemed to go off exactly according to plan (thanks to Saskia Moss from PJ/JCC and team.)

What truly felt great was looking into the faces of all these children who represent the future of our community, and knowing that they are learning early in life the important lessons of tzedakah, of compassion, of our obligation as Jews to help those less fortunate than we are, and of understanding that even now, as children, they can be part of the solution to the scourges of poverty and hunger that run rampant in our own community.   

And at the end of the program, we all went outside and marched together to the JFS Pantry with their decorated bags filled with the nonperishable foods that they had collected and brought with them from home, and they got the opportunity at the Pantry to sort the items according to food category that they knew would then go to families that truly need them.

Isn’t that what the Food Stamp Challenge is all about?

Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.

Posted by: hgoldberg (November 19, 2012 at 1:06 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Food Stamp Challenge Day 4: Getting Unfomfortable



Lauri Lowell, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council     Saturday, Nov. 17, 9:15pm 

I’m not so much hungry as irritable. I don’t like the food I am eating, so I’m eating less. Just enough less to be irritable. Maybe I’ll lose a couple of pounds. As my mother would say, make lemonade out of lemons.

Last night we had shabbas dinner out and our friends served brisket and homemade challah (amazing) and other delicious things. I was unusually focused on the meat. I knew I wasn’t going to see anything like it for several more days.

Today I slept right through breakfast and lunch. That way I didn’t have to deal with the dilemma of how much I would eat at kiddush.  I woke up hungry and surveyed my options.

I couldn’t afford Cabot’s when I went shopping last week, so I bought Cracker Barrel. I melted it on my cheapo whole wheat bread and ended up with a warm plastic-like consistency and very little flavor.  My son said I was exaggerating the difference. How does he know?  He’s not eating it. He’s eating fresh challah with chevre and olive tapenade. (What can I say? His tastes are sophisticated for his age.)  I couldn’t find a way to rationalize eating challah, so I didn’t.

Later in the afternoon I had a few squares of my one extra-large Hershey bar and a large glass of water. I took a long, fast walk and came home hungry enough to eat what was left of the Spanish rice, for the third time around. I spiced it up with some Chinese hot oil to try to fool my palate into thinking this was something new.

Instead of dessert I had a bowl of yogurt, with sliced apples and honey. I decided honey was one of the ‘condiments’ I’m allowed to eat from our shelves. But noticing the price I see that I would never be able to afford it on food stamps. 

Tomorrow I’m going to make lentils and onions and rice with sautéed greens. The following day I’ll add potatoes and turn it into soup.

Is it just me or are there a lot of stories in the media the last couple of days about hunger, food and nutrition? After all, it is national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.  It’s also the week before Thanksgiving, when many people remember to be thankful for all that they have.

I’ve been thinking about how proud Americans are to live in a country where they are free. But when you are poor, you may have freedom, but you have very few options. Maybe you are not really free when your choices are so limited.

Think about it. Poverty is un-American.

Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.



Posted by: hgoldberg (November 19, 2012 at 8:02 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 3: Into the thick of it all




Lauri Lowell, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council     Nov. 16, 1:15pm 

At a recent meeting, someone commented that the Food Stamp Challenge was just a gimmick. According to my thesaurus, a gimmick is an ‘attention-grabbing publicity stunt.’ Well yes, exactly, to bring public attention to the fact of hungry children, malnourished children, right here, right now, in New Haven, in Connecticut, the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world.  That’s so easy to forget, when most of us can buy whatever we want and keep our stomachs full; when so much food is thrown away every day.

Please use the link on this page to tell your representatives in Congress to save SNAP. And please donate to the JFS Food Pantry. The need is huge.  

As for me, I may continue to complain about the inconvenience of a limited food budget for the next 4 and ½ days, but I know that come Tuesday night, it’ll be over and I can go back to having a wide selection of excellent quality food and for that I am extremely grateful. This experience is teaching me not to take that for granted. 

Remember my concern about how to manage Shabbat dinner? Beans & rice for me; chicken, potatoes, roasted veggies, etc. for Isaiah and Daniel? Awkward. Well, we were invited to a friends’ house for Shabbas dinner, and of course we’re going and I’m going to eat.

A colleague warned, ‘Just don’t eat too much. Eat half of what you’d normally eat.’

Now hold on. People on food stamps week after week might have occasion to enjoy a friend’s hospitality for dinner. In such a case, would they not eat heartily and well? They would. However, in the spirit of the challenge, I promise to eat with moderation.

Someone else suggested, ‘Don’t eat much at kiddush on Shabbat.’ Have you seen the usual BEKI kiddush? It looks and tastes like a catered affair (and it is, albeit self-catered). Should I pass it by? Consider this: If I were trying to feed my family on food stamps, I’d certainly take advantage of communal opportunities to eat for free, especially at synagogue or church. Again, I commit to moderation and forbearance. Soon enough I’ll be back to oatmeal, yogurt, and peanut butter and jelly.

Until then, Shabbat shalom

Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service


November 16, 2012             4:25 pm

Ultimately, the overarching goal that I set out for myself this week was to get to “that place” in which I could experience true empathy for those individuals and families who in real life rely on the SNAP/Food Stamps Program to avoid starvation.  Not just feeling compassion and rachmones for those families less fortunate than me and my own, but creating the experience of “putting myself in their shoes” and coming to understand on a deep and visceral level what it is to literally face the pain and terror of hunger every day.  The ability to make an authentic empathic connection to another human being is the quality that separates a competent psychotherapist from an excellent one (I used to be a clinical psychologist in my former life, so I should be well-practiced at this endeavor).

But alas, how can I really “be” food insecure for just one week?  I know that when the clock strikes midnight on Tuesday, I’ll have the peace of mind and the satisfying pleasure of a refrigerator full of all my favorite foods.  And how can I really know what it’s like to worry not just about my own struggle with hunger, but about the rest of my family too trying to eke by on the same meager budget? 

I would never have dreamed of asking my wife and especially my children to join me on this journey into (albeit time-limited) poverty and hunger.  The very thought causes me pain.  So how can I know what it’s actually like for a parent to face the impossible choice of deciding which of their hungry children gets the last piece of bread?  And how can I ever know the guilt-ridden agony of satisfying any of my own dietary needs when doing so would mean less food for my growing and brain-developing children?

So empathy, shempathy.  The best I can hope to achieve from the Food Stamp Challenge is a heightened awareness that for almost 50 million Americans just like me (but for a bad break somewhere along the way), that horrible physical and emotional circumstance is their daily, ongoing reality.  And hopefully, through these reflections and those of my FSC partners, you can take this journey with us and gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which the scourges of poverty, social injustice, and food insecurity wreak havoc on our families, on our community, on our society.

Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.



Posted by: hgoldberg (November 16, 2012 at 12:08 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Food Stamp Challenge: Day 2




Lauri Lowell, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council     Nov. 15, 11:30am 


Today is day two. Already I’m bored with oatmeal & sliced banana.

So how did the shopping go? First let me acknowledge the artificiality of this situation. I am shopping for myself for one week.  I bought an 18-ounce jar of natural peanut butter for $2.99. That was almost 10% of my entire budget of $31.50. I’m never going to eat that much peanut butter in a week. If this were my real life circumstances, I’d be eating it for several weeks and PB wouldn’t be on next week’s shopping list. So next week I could spend that $2.99 on something else—such as a bag of flour so that I can bake some cookies and not have to eat the cheap, crappy vanilla wafers I found (and bought) at Price Rite for $.99.


Speaking of cheap and crappy, ever wonder why the more processed something is, the less it costs?  This is especially true of dry boxed goods. The processing entails adding preservatives and other ingredients I can’t pronounce to increase the shelf life of the item. That’s good for food manufacturers and grocery stores because it means less waste, less loss, more profit. But by the time they’re done processing, the food tastes like cardboard. You might just as well eat the box.


I’m not just talking about flavor. I’m talking about nutritional quality.

Real food is grown, not manufactured.  Unadulterated food should be less expensive, not more so.


Some of the stuff I see in the supermarket astonishes me. I don’t know what it is. I’ve told my kids that some of the bright, colorful sugary stuff they see isn’t food and they shouldn’t put it in their bodies. They may want to wear it or decorate their walls with it, but they definitely should not eat it. For the most part, they seem to get it. (With some exceptions--my younger son and I have a weakness for Starburst candy. I don’t know why. The artificial colors in there are frightening.)


Back to my shopping experience.  I spent $30.57 in two shopping trips. I have $.93 left. Breyer’s ice cream was on sale at Stop & Shop for $2, but I didn’t have enough to buy any. I thought about putting back the half-pound of cheddar I found on sale for $2.50 so I could get the ice cream. Then I thought better of it. Or the extra-large Hershey bar on sale for $1.50, but who can do without chocolate for a week? No, better to give up the ice cream and keep the cheese and chocolate.


By the way, whole grain bread is expensive. I settled for store-brand whole wheat on sale for $1.50. The bread I really wanted cost three times as much.


When I arrived home, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t afford the ice cream, even on sale. My husband offered to trade me some ice cream from our freezer for my extra brown rice—after all, I wouldn’t be needing two pounds of rice; I only got that size because there wasn’t a smaller bag. If I sell him half my rice and some of my onions and peanut butter, how much ice cream can I get? Our son said this would definitely be cheating, violating the terms of the Food Stamp Challenge. People on food stamps don’t barter or trade food.


Or do they? 



Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service


Tuesday, November 14, 2012     9:45 PM



One down (almost), six to go.  Day 1 has certainly lived up to its name.  Indeed, it’s been a “challenge” for me to stay on the Food Stamp track.  I got home about an hour ago after a long work-filled day, and my stomach is now making a case to my brain that it’s time to unwind and to enjoy a tasty little treat.  Nothing fancy – a little soy yogurt and a banana or even a big Granny Smith apple or a protein shake would be great.  The only problem is that I’ve already expended my daily food allotment of $4.50, and I don’t want to be in deficit mode after just one day!


And so my brain shouts back to my stomach that I’m far from malnourished and that I’ve already had a sufficient amount of food for the day.  And my brain tells the truth.  So why am I complaining?  Because - I’m not proud to say - I’m spoiled!  How lame am I!?


I doubt that the 40-50 people I was watching yesterday morning who were lined up patiently waiting outside of the JFS Food Pantry are whining tonight.  Tonight, for them, is just another night.  And they’ll deal with whatever hardships they are forced to endure and look forward to the next day.  Hopefully they and their children have a place to be tonight that they can call “home.”  Hopefully there’s enough heat and that they have electricity so that they too can relax a little bit, be at peace, do homework, or maybe even watch a little television for fun or go online to check out what’s going on in the world - if they own or have access to a computer or a T.V. 


So maybe I should just buck up, grow up, and just get a good night’s sleep in my warm, comfortable bed next to my warm, beautiful wife.  Breakfast time will be here soon enough.



Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Sydney A. Perry

CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven


Thursday, November 14       


The second day of the Food Stamp Challenge provided some real insights into both the simple ways that one can save money and the much more stark lessons of what it means to be living below the poverty line.

I had a meeting at breakfast time and ordered a black tea with 1 lemon and sugar. $1.58, with tax. At home, with a single tea bag, I could have done a lot better. Lunch was a challah roll, which was filling, and a chocolate taffy bar. Still under the wire as far as my budget. By the time I got home at 10:30, I was literally famished and was grateful for the box of ditalini I purchased for $1.69. Boiling up about a fifth of the box, I was wishing that I could have afforded a little parmesan cheese. Too expensive. The pasta, part of a can of tuna fish and some of the homemade tomato sauce we made this summer from our tomatoes and basil tasted pretty good.

My small sacrifice for a week doesn't really mean much. By itself, it won't help anyone who can't afford a decent meal. What might help is the donations that people will make to Jewish Family Service to help others. CLICK HERE.

Eating on $31.50 a week is simply not manageable without supplementing the meager food that supplies with going to food pantries and soup kitchens.

Today I will be getting ready for Shabbat. It will not be the typical Perry family meal. I really like spicy chili: it's great for a cold night, rich with hamburger and rice and beans, accompanied by a little guacamole and chips. But it's not shabbat fare and I have spent $5.38 of my $31.50 on the one time this week I will have meat. No silver tip roast this week for Sydney. I will say that I look forward to the kiddush after services at shul. I'll be first at the table for some of the famous Westville synagogue oneg shabbat, but I'll still avoid the herring...

Shabbat Shalom,


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service


November 15, 2012            6:53 pm


After giving myself a good dress down last night for acting like a whining “one-percenter”, FSC Day 2 has gone a lot smoother than I’d anticipated.  Mind you, the day is not over and my good cheer undoubtedly is due in part to my eager anticipation of the rice and beans and yucca root dinner that awaits me when I get home this evening.  But all in all, I feel like I’m starting to get into a groove and, for the most part, I’m feeling mentally prepared to carry this through until midnight, 11/20 (but who’s counting?).


Maybe it’s the clear mindedness that can accompany periods of “famine”, or maybe it’s because of the big focus today at JFS on the present challenges of the Food Pantry in general, and on the Herculean operation going on there right now so that we’ll be prepared next week for the Thanksgiving distribution that will provide relative feasts to about 300 families next Tuesday.  That will amount to somewhere between 7-8,000 lbs. of food given out in just one day, and it will require the contributions of some 50 volunteers and staff to pull off.


But I’m definitely in a contemplative state of mind today, thinking a lot about the clients we work with on a daily basis at the Pantry.  If anyone has the right to scream out for justice and expect a little humanity and compassion from the world, it’s these folks.  But what’s amazing is how gracious, how appreciative, how engaging and endearing the vast majority of our Pantry users are with us at JFS.


We are privileged at JFS to have the opportunity to lend a helping hand to these struggling, but wonderful folks, and to share with them a very special and powerful bond.  And if we start to think about the unique relationship we share, there’s a whole lot we can learn from this wise group about living a life of meaning, about coping successfully and leading a life with honor and grace even under adverse and hostile circumstances, about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.


Posted by: hgoldberg (November 15, 2012 at 11:21 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

One week. One Challenge. Three Perspectives.



for the 2012 New Haven

Food Stamp Challenge

Wed., Nov. 14 -- Tues., Nov. 20, 2012


Starting Wed., Nov. 14, Jonathan Garfinkle, Executive Director of Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven, Lauri Lowell, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Sydney Perry, CEO of the Jewish Federation, will each be living on $31.50 for one week, that’s $4.50 per day, the national average food stamp or SNAP benefit for an individual. 

They’re taking the Food Stamp Challenge, initiated by national Jewish anti-poverty and religious groups, to raise awareness and take action against hunger.  Jonathan, Lauri and Sydney will be sharing their personal reflections on this blog page over the next week.


In New Haven County, 19% of children experience food insecurity, the lack of consistent access to adequate amounts of food for an active, healthy life. One in seven families struggle to put food on the table. SNAP is the difference between eating and going hungry. Funding for SNAP is in jeopardy, but 75% of Americans think cutting food assistance is the wrong way to balance the federal budget.

And please know, that when food stamps or SNAP isn’t enough, families turn to food pantries like JFS for help.

You can make your views about SNAP known to your representatives in Washington by clicking HERE.

Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Lauri Lowell, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council     Nov. 13


When was the last time I anxiously consulted my mother about what groceries to buy for the coming week?  Never, I think. Recipes, yes; Rosh Hashanah menu, sure. But this is different.


I’ve been thinking, no, worrying, about how I’m going to eat for an entire week on only $31.50, the national average for an individual receiving ‘supplemental nutritional assistance’ or what is commonly called food stamps.


A lot of questions swirl through my head:

1)    Kosher meat is too expensive so I’ll eat vegetarian. No problem. I was a vegetarian before I got married; I was even a vegan for a year or two. I can do that. But what about Shabbat dinner? No chicken?

2)    Fresh fish? Nope, too costly.

3)    Like many Baby Boomers raised by parents who lived through the Great Depression, I keep enough food on our pantry shelves to feed a family of six for a month. And we’re only four, and one is away at college. It’s just what we do. But I can’t eat from our shelves this week… or if I do, I have to ‘buy’ it from myself.  Weird.

4)    I’ve been buying fresh organic produce for decades, and especially since we had children. So that’s out. I’ll be looking for bargains and sales.

5)    Buying a single small size of something is the most expensive way to shop. But with only $31.50 to spend, there’ll be no economy of scale shopping solo this week.  Economies of scale work like this: You have to have enough money in the first place to be able to spend a relatively large chunk of it on something that you’ll use over a period of time. Not an option during my one week on food stamp rations.  So this is one of the ways the poor get poorer. They spend more per item or they do without.   

6)    I anticipate the worst of it will be the loss of variety, and whatever I make I’ll have to eat until it’s finished. I’ve always been frugal but I don’t particularly enjoy leftovers (except leftover chicken, but see 1, above).

7)    No, even worse would be being hungry, which is a real possibility. No wonder I’m so anxious.


My grocery list looks like this: brown rice, potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, garlic, bananas, apples (whatever’s on sale)… better get broccoli (a super-food) and greens  -- whatever is cheapest -- certainly not chard, too expensive … kale? Collards? Mustard greens? (Fortunately I love greens cooked in garlic and olive oil.) What else: yogurt (not the fancy hi-protein Greek kind), bread, peanut butter, jam (surely not the organic kind I like at Trader Joe’s). Pasta is cheap but I don’t like it. No pasta. Joel Levenson told me he ate a lot of eggs. (Not me, allergy to egg whites.) Jonathan Garfinkle said he eats beans; lots of beans. Maybe. Milk, yes, a half-gallon of the store brand.

OMG, wait, what about dessert???!!! 


So what was my mother’s advice? Get a box of Quaker oats and eat oatmeal every morning. Good idea, mom. (Boxed cereal is too costly.) But oatmeal without organic raisins? Lauri, get over yourself!


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.







Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service


Tuesday, November 13, 2012     1:25 PM



It’s less than 24 hours before I begin my second foray into the Food Stamp Challenge.  As it has been said, sometimes the less you know, the better.  Last November, I approached the Challenge with eager anticipation, actual excitement, believing strongly in the importance of what we were undertaking as a meaningful and powerful community awareness vehicle into the world of poverty and food insecurity, while at the same time thinking that the task before me should not be all that difficult to endure for just one week.  After all, I’m a vegan with a very simple diet (although peculiar to most) of relatively low-priced, unprocessed, mostly fresh food.


Well, it didn’t take long for me to discover just how far $1.50 per meal could take me.  Who counts that precisely when we purchase our weekly groceries?  Some of us might take advantage of special supermarket sales or cut coupons; we might choose one brand of the same product that’s cheaper than another; but for the most part we buy what we like and don’t give it another thought.  So with my newly-acquired insight, to answer my own question, I now know, at a “gut” level, that it’s at least the 50 million or so Americans who rely on Food Stamps to fend off chronic hunger that have to count their pennies that closely.


So given the wisdom I gained from my eye-opening one-week journey into food insecurity one year ago, I’m approaching this Food Stamp Challenge much more strategically.  This year, my goal, my mantra, is “volume.”  I’m willing to forgo taste and I’m willing to make compromises on nutritional value and dietary balance.  But I just don’t want to feel hungry at the end of the day when my $4.50 daily allotment has been expended.  That’s what I wasn’t sufficiently prepared for last time – having to go to bed hungry.  And so that’s what I want to try to minimize this go-around.  So say hello to buckets of rice and beans, oatmeal, and bruised reduced-price produce from Stop & Shop.


Having to go to bed hungry….  All I have to do is imagine my three children going to bed with their stomachs growling.  All I have to do is think about the one in five children in Connecticut who truly are chronically hungry or food insecure, and I feel like such a privileged complainer to gripe about one finite week of not having whatever I want whenever I want it.  All I have to do is think about those children and mine and it makes me want to cry.


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.







Sydney A. Perry

CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven


Wednesday, November 14       4:44pm


Starting a daybreak today, I committed to participating in the Food Stamp Challenge. It means living on $31.50 for one week, or $1.50 a meal, the national average for food stamps, the SNAP benefit for one person.  I spend that much just walking through the aisles at Stop and Shop on coca-cola, candy, smoked salmon and raspberries!  


So why did I decide to take up the challenge with my friends Lauri Lowell, JCRC Director, and Jonathan Garfinkle, the Executive Director of Jewish Family Service? It’s one week. I can do it. Thanksgiving lies directly ahead when I know that many tasty delights await me.  


Why? Frankly, I wanted to understand in a  visceral way the struggles of the more than 45 million people who live on food stamps every week. Every week. And I hope that it will motivate others to support JFS and their food pantry. 


Yesterday on the way home from the General Assembly of the Federations in Baltimore, a man approached me in the train station.  He said he was hungry and needed money to buy some food. I offered to take him to the little store near-by. He bought a package of fig newtons and four bananas – and blessed me.  We take for granted if we want to buy Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies, a kosher steak at $14 a lb., or asparagus, we don’t always think twice. Four bananas were a treat for this man.

If you want to support my effort, then please read my blog each day and my Facebook page. For now, think about what you are eating today. What did it cost? Could you have managed for one day (Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av don’t count!)? Normally, I would start the day with a medium iced coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to work. $2.54.  Not happening. I’m a real carnivore. I could eat a hamburger for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch, and brisket for dinner very happily.


Tomorrow I’ll report on my shopping experience and what I ate today. I will be thinking of how it feels for our neighbors to be food-challenged and what we can do to correct the issue of hunger in the wealthiest country in the world.






Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much


Posted by: hgoldberg (November 07, 2012 at 12:54 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink