At a recent meeting sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council, I became aware of what is known as the Food Stamp Challenge. The purpose of the challenge is to raise awareness of — and support for — anti-poverty advocacy by requiring participants to live for a week on the budget of a food stamp recipient: $31.50 per person.
After discussing it with my wife, Stacie, we decided that we (along with our 15-month-old daughter, Hailey) would undertake the challenge. As such, we had an aggregate budget of $94.50 for the week. We gave some thought to excluding Hailey from the challenge, but since a great many families with young children do not have that option, an authentic experience required Hailey’s inclusion.
The greatest difficulty we faced was trying to maintain a healthy diet on a limited budget since healthier foods are more expensive. We are fortunate in that our normal budget allows us to be more discerning about our food selections. People on food stamps do not have that luxury, and as a consequence, they tend to have less healthy diets, and this was certainly true for us during the challenge week.
The importance of the challenge and the cause it represents cannot be overstated.
The food stamp program is form-ally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to its most recent figures, SNAP provides assistance to approximately 45 million Americans who live at or below the poverty line. Without SNAP, those millions would not only go hungry, but also face serious nutritional and other health issues, the cost of which — both financial and humanitarian — would be significant.
The issue is not limited to the non-Jewish community. Many may be surprised to learn that approximately 15 percent of American Jews live at or below the poverty line, which is right in line with the national average. They rely heavily on the assistance provided by SNAP. In fact, many
of these recipients have the added expense of maintaining a kosher diet, making their challenge even more difficult.
Moreover, regardless of its impact on the Jewish community, addressing the issue of poverty is important. As Jews and as Americans, we are guided by a moral vision of how we must treat the most vulnerable members of our society, whether or not they are Jewish. In fact, I believe it to be at the core of what Judaism represents.
You can help in a number of ways, including asking your representative in Congress to protect funding for SNAP, becoming an advocate for anti-poverty causes and/or visiting foodstampchallenge.com and contributing financially.
The Dubovsky family participation in the food stamp challenge is now concluded, but my passion for the cause is in no way diminished. To be involved in such a noble venture and in some way give back to society has been one of the great privileges of my life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
When I think about the degree to which our lives have been enriched by this experience, I realize he could not have been more right.
Neil Dubovsky is an attorney with the law firm of Fedder and Garten in Baltimore. He and his family live in Canton.