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.




Add Comment
Subscribe to posts