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Finishing up the SNAP Challenge: Days 5,6,7

25 Jun
2013

As I write this, my stomach is full of Indian take-out and chocolate. My first day off the SNAP Challenge and I’ve already spent about $25 on food in one day, compared to last week when I spent just as much for five days. Did I learn anything from this experience? 100% yes. Have I touched a dish today or set foot in the kitchen? Absolutely not.

Let’s backtrack a little to Day 5: Friday. By this point I was tired of being in the kitchen, and my usual fervor for making every meal special was waning. I boiled some pasta and tossed it with the last of my red sauce from earlier in the week, and to top it off, I added some corn. Yes, corn. I have no idea why.

The morning of Day 6, the corn pasta made a repeat appearance as my breakfast. For lunch I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which I ate at an outdoor cafe, as Paul had a blue cheese burger. Speaking of Paul, did I mention he is no longer doing the Challenge at this point? He tapped out on Day 3 due to a misunderstanding of the rules; if iced coffees weren’t allowed, he wanted out. But I digress.. On our way home from a walk in the park, I stopped at Western Beef to see what else I could buy with my remaining budget. I wound up leaving with two apples and a sweet potato and $0.21 left in my #SNAPChallenge wallet.

Inspired by Chef Cowan’s chorizo hash and disgusted by my previous dinner, I made a sweet potato hash with swiss chard, corn, and garlic scapes, topped with an egg. It was delicious and reinvigorated my determination for the last day, whereby I woke up and headed straight to the kitchen to make pancakes. Realizing I had no milk, I decided to power through and use water instead, resulting in the grossest-but-best-looking pancakes I’ve ever had.

These pancakes=gross.

These pancakes=gross but edible.

For lunch I had another peanut butter and jelly in the park, and an apple with peanut butter later in the day. By dinner on Day 7 I was out of everything except bread and pasta (and peanut butter and jelly, but I’d had my fill of peanut butter for the day), so I wound up eating spaghetti with butter, garlic powder, and basil grown in my apartment.Last dinner

 

 

So what did the SNAP Challenge teach me?

For one, having a limited budget for food is scary. This isn’t the same as saying “I’ll set aside $30 for food this week, and $30 for other necessities.” This is “I have $31.50, and once all my food is gone, it’s gone until my EBT card gets refilled.”

It’s also a pain in the ass. I spent more time cooking, and washing dishes and tupperware this week than I have in a long time. It’s not an impossible task, but it requires more effort and is likely undertaken by people with disabilities or the elderly, who make up a large percentage of SNAP recipients, in addition to low-income families with children to feed. In other words, people who legitimately have a harder time cooking and cleaning every day than I do.

Resources and Farm Bill Shpeel

My daily musings about nutritional shopping and cooking programs were quelled by some research: ESNY (Eat Smart New York! SNAP-Ed) is New York State’s SNAP nutrition education program. Cornell University Cooperative Extension delivers SNAP supported nutrition education in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Here, eligible participants learn about MyPyramid/MyPlate, Menu Planning, Food Preparation, Nutrition, Fitness, Food Budgeting, Food Shopping, Food Safety, and Physical Activity. I’m unable to find the percentage of SNAP recipients who participate, but the program is available for participation, and that’s obviously a step in the right direction.

I also found some additional resources, including “Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables” which as the name implies, provides recipes and shopping tips for eating healthy veg & fruit snacks and meals. In addition, SNAP recipients can visit Snaptomarket.com and see which farmer’s markets in their area accept EBT/WIC.

The purpose of doing the SNAP Challenge was to raise awareness of the program itself, and the dangers it faced on the House floor, as Congress voted on it’s fate and potentially cutting $20 billion. It would’ve meant $3.9 billion dollars cut over the course of ten years, and 2 Million people losing their access to SNAP (As of March 2013, there were 48 Million people enrolled). The Farm Bill is a somewhat confusing piece of legislation that touches on a whole slew of issues, from agriculture to environmental and wildlife protection; it’s comprised mainly of SNAP funding (about 75%) in addition to farm policy, making it hard to decide on it’s fate without being able to view the two separately as individual bills. That said, here’s an interesting read on why it failed to pass, and why that’s a good thing that it did. For something a little easier on the eyes, here’s a neat infographic about the House cuts versus the Senate.

The House will have to get their partisan ‘ish together and create something that works before December. I  hope that the SNAP Challenge helped prove, at least a tiny bit, that every penny counts.

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Day 4 of the SNAP Challenge

21 Jun

Well, beans, we had a good run together. You fulfilled my carnivorous urges for 4 days, but your time is through. After tomorrow I’ll be left with a few eggs, some pasta, a solid number of PB&J sandwiches, and a drawer full of produce.

Nothing exciting to report today. Instead, I’d like to share what two other SNAP Challenge participants have been up to. One inspiring, one laughable. The contrast between the two, which I found almost simultaneously, is mind-boggling.

From Chef Madison Cowan's Facebook Page: "Southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash & cucumber/tomato salad. Trader Joe's Brooklyn offered 5 free range drumsticks for $2 & after searching a bit I was able to find a packet of 6! 2 leftover sweet potatoes at $0.49 each, $1.49 for a large English cucumber & $2.45 for a packet of 6 organic tomatoes on the vine (I used 2.)"

From Chef Madison Cowan’s Facebook Page: “Southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash & cucumber/tomato salad. Trader Joe’s Brooklyn offered 5 free range drumsticks for $2 & after searching a bit I was able to find a packet of 6! 2 leftover sweet potatoes at $0.49 each, $1.49 for a large English cucumber & $2.45 for a packet of 6 organic tomatoes on the vine (I used 2.)”

First, I came across the twitter feed for Chef Madison Cowan from Iron Chef America and Chopped. He and his family participated in the SNAP Challenge; the average amount given to 2 adults and 1 child is $94.50. The food he churned out of his kitchen on that budget was astounding. Fried chicken. Blueberry pancakes. Sweet potato and chorizo hash. Everything I found on his Facebook page made me slap my forehead and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” I quickly realized that I didn’t think of any of those things because I’m not a trained chef with years of experience in a professional kitchen. So the conclusion: it’s not impossible to make nutritious, delicious meals with a limited budget. Again it makes me think about what kind of support SNAP participants are given when it comes to healthy cooking and picking the right items when they go shopping. Or maybe I just don’t know because this isn’t the way I typically think about food shopping. Finding out what sort of programs are available has become my weekend assignment (though I’d love to hear some people chime in in the comments section). I applaud Chef Cowan and hope that he publishes some sort of budget recipe and shopping guide.

Shortly after closing out of Chef Cowan’s page, I stumbled across NYC Comptroller John Liu’s twitter feed, where he posted a photo of himself eating beans straight out of the can. Really? Also, you happened to have a can opener in the back of your limo? I tried not to judge, as he was further along in the challenge than me and god only knows what I’ll be eating by Sunday night, but come on. Beans out of the can? It felt exploitative and I was offended, but I shrugged it off.

John Liu doesn't have time for bowls.

J Liu doesn’t have time for bowls.

BUT THEN I SAW HIS NEXT LUNCH:

Stacks on stacks on stacks like a boss.

Stacks on stacks on stacks like a boss.

Really? Half a loaf of bread? You really ate that? You are in charge of this city’s finances and you couldn’t manage to make $31.50 work for week? It’s troublesome. Moreover, it’s a mockery of the Challenge itself and draws attention away from the issue at hand by creating a backlash of hilarious but disappointing coverage.

The official SNAP Challenge ended yesterday for most (if not all) participants, and today the Farm Bill was REJECTED in Congress. I’ll consider the last 3 days of my SNAP Challenge a victory lap for everyone that helped raise awareness for the bill, and spend some time tomorrow recapping what went down on the House floor…

For now, it’s a late-night peanut butter snack for me and then off to bed.

Day 1 of the SNAP Challenge

18 Jun

Last week I decided to take part in the SNAP Challenge alongside many others and the Food Bank for NYC from June 12th-18th to help raise awareness for the upcoming vote that could effect it’s future. For those 7 days, I would have $31.50 to spend on my food (about $1.50 per meal) which is the average amount of money provided to people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

At the end of this post you can read some background information and find resources on the Farm Bill 2013, SNAP Program, and what’s at risk. AKA, the “What’s all the fuss about? Section”

Never one to turn down a challenge, my husband Paul also signed up. He has no qualms about eating the same meal for days on end, so this is likely a factor that will work to his advantage. On the other side of the spectrum, I enjoy pretending the Food Network has hidden cameras set up in my kitchen; every day is a new episode of Chopped, and I never eat the same thing twice in one week if I can avoid it.

Sidebar: “Hey, um, didn’t you already miss this? It’s June 17th.” If that’s what you were just thinking, you’d be correct. Before I even started I hit a road block: I had weekend plans out of town, which meant I’d have to forgo the BBQ and pies and fresh market finds, bring my own food, and basically miss all of the main activities planned. Literally, the first thing we did was put together a brand new BBQ, and the second thing we did was cook lunch on it. So, here is my first realization during the challenge: I really couldn’t go on that trip if I were living on a food stamp budget unless I was willing to let my friends foot the bill. Since I wasn’t, I decided to start the SNAP Challenge today, on June 17th. Judge me if you must, because I already feel like I failed, but here we are: Day 1.

Paul & Rachel Go Shopping

Instead of making a right out of our door to Whole Foods, we turned left and headed to Western Beef. Having grown accustom to eating as much organic and fresh foods as possible, this was our first big change. It just didn’t seem possible to shop there on a budget. I’m looking forward to going in there next week and comparing prices for the same items I purchased at Western Beef; for now, it would just make me sad to 1, see all the food I can’t afford and 2, see all the food I’ve been paying way too much for. <<insert sad walking here>>

I played it safe and left myself some wiggle room for the rest of the week. Contents: Half a chicken, black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, corn, 1 onion, 3 bananas, dozen eggs, 1lb of pasta, and 1 large can of crushed tomato

I played it safe and left myself some wiggle room for the rest of the week. Contents: Half a chicken, black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, corn, 1 onion, 3 bananas, 1 dozen eggs, 1lb of pasta, and 1 large can of crushed tomato. TOTAL SPENT: $10.97

Paul went in pretty confident, knowing that he's lived off of chili before and he could do it again. Gladly. Contents: Jar of tomato sauce, chick peaks, black beans, small can of crushed tomato, pink beans, milk, 1lb of turkey, chili mix, 1lb pasta, box of corn flakes. TOTAL SPENT: $16.52

Paul went in pretty confident, knowing that he’s lived off of chili before and he could do it again, gladly. Contents: Jar of tomato sauce, chick peaks, black beans, small can of crushed tomato, pink beans, milk, 1lb of turkey, tortilla wraps, chili mix, 1lb pasta, box of corn flakes. TOTAL SPENT: $16.52

Day 1 Meals

I had a hard boiled egg and a banana for breakfast. Around 11:30am I “snacked” on another hard-boiled egg. For lunch I ate some bean/corn/onion salad (which will be making numerous cameos this week), and boiled chicken. I used the chicken bones to make a stock which will see some action later this week in a soup. For dinner, spaghetti with marinara. Even though it would’ve been easier to buy a jar of sauce, I just couldn’t. Food stamps or not, Italians don’t do jarred sauce. It’s worth the extra effort to make it from scratch and save a few pennies in the process. I used fresh basil from a plant I have and a lot of hot crushed peppers to hide the fact that I forgot to buy fresh garlic and couldn’t use parmesan cheese.

While I slaved away in the kitchen, Paul had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and BOLDLY picked up some Pad Thai for lunch (that’s minus $8 from his budget). I’m not sure if he’s a genius or just arrogant, but I’m feeling silly for boiling chicken bones all night. For dinner, he made himself about 3 lbs of turkey chili and ate it as a burrito. This will be his lunch and dinner for the next few days.

Day 1 Recap

I’m not hungry, but I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with what tomorrow looks like: more eggs, more spaghetti, more beans. I also realized quickly that in order to eat during the day, I had to plan out my meals at night and prepare/cook ahead. It’s time-consuming and time isn’t something people always have to devote to cooking.

Useful Information:

Food stamps were renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP in 2008; the goal of the program is to help recipients maintain healthy diets by making relatively expensive items like fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to those with low incomes. Since the literal food ‘stamps’ were mostly replaced by Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, food stamp is a somewhat outdated term.

Click headings below to learn more:

About the Farm Bill and proposed cuts

About the Food Bank for NYC & SNAP Challenge

Learn about SNAP eligibility standards and allowances in NYC

See the USDA requirements for eligibility and do the math

Learn the difference between SNAP, WIC, and EBT

TELL CONGRESS TO PROTECT THE SNAP PROGRAM

Growing Pains

20 Mar
2013

Hello readers,

You might have stumbled on this site through a google search, or perhaps you were trying to reach giveandgetevents.com and were re-directed here. In any case, welcome. Have a seat.

This site has been up for four years now and continues to prove itself as a solid resource for people looking to volunteer in New York City. Last year, I attempted a spin-off of sorts called Give & Get Events, which was dedicated solely to the sharing of non-profit events, fundraisers, and group projects. And in keeping with the tradition of spin-offs, it didn’t really work out so well. It split my readership and just generally didn’t function as well as I wanted it to. I was disappointed but it was a learning experience that will ultimately benefit you all- my readers!

For that reason, I’ve decided to reassess and rebuild Give & Get NYC. In a few short weeks, you’ll be seeing a new site that will include the best of both worlds: that wacky spin-off character you loved (G&G Events) will play a bigger role-with all your favorite characters from the original G&G NYC- and end it’s solo career. The “Spotlight Series” of interviews, non-profit highlights, and event reviews will continue to add depth to the site, and an events calendar on the front page will be chock full of do-good fun times submitted by NYC non-profits themselves.

I’m sorry I strayed, but I hope you’ll stick around to see the final product. In the meantime, a less-cool-but-still-totally-functional event calendar has been added to the sidebar on the right so that no one missed out on the spring gardening projects, fundraisers, and volunteer opportunities. Please email giveandgetnyc@gmail.com to add events, get in touch, offer words of wisdom, support, or ask questions.

My Best,

Rachel

Founder, Give and Get NYC

How to Help After Hurricane Sandy

31 Oct
2012

Hurricane Sandy has left a path of destruction across the eastern seaboard, and now is the time for us to come together and help our fellow man. Below are any and all opportunities I’ve found to help recovery efforts, whether its volunteering your time or donating money to those who are already dispatched into communities across New York. This list is focused on NYC, but I welcome any new opportunities in the Tri-State Area and beyond: please email giveandgetnyc@gmail.com and your organization’s needs will be posted.

At this time, the donation of time and money is much more beneficial than in-kind donations, as the efforts needed to package and dispatch such items is time consuming. Unless expressly noted by an organization that they are in need of specific items, which some are and have, please consider a monetary donation before giving in-kind gifts.

VOLUNTEER

FOOD BANK FOR NEW YORK CITY: If you are interested in joining the Food Bank for NYC within this critical time of need, please join their mailing list HERE. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email us at volunteerfoodbanknyc@gmail.com.

NYC SERVICE: To be dispatched wherever there is a need in NYC, email nycservice@cityhall.nyc.gov with your name, email and borough.

BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK: As of October 31, the park remains closed, but they will need all the help they can get with clean up efforts over the next several days. If you would like to volunteer, please email Sarah Ward (sward@brooklynbridgepark.org), and they will alert you when it is time to mobilize.

NEW YORK CARES: As the City’s lead organization for the management of unaffiliated volunteers, New York Cares’ Emergency Response Program ensures that volunteers can be quickly and effectively mobilized in the event of a disaster. If you are already a New York Cares volunteer please click here. You will be prompted to sign up to express your interest in being contacted about disaster recovery projects after Hurricane Sandy. We do not yet know the extent of the need, or where or when volunteer projects will take place, but we will contact interested volunteers once we have a better understanding of the response needed. Thanks for your support as we help the city respond. If you are not already registered with New York Cares please click here.

RED CROSS: If you’d like to volunteer at a Red Cross shelter and are…

  • Over the age of 16
  • Available for 12 hour shift from Wednesday, Oct 31 to Friday, November 2.
  • Be ready to deploy to a shelter location outside of New York City and stay for up to 72 hours.
  • Able to lift and carry 30-40 lbs
  • Comfortable working with people in stressful situations

If you meet these requirements, please fill out our Spontaneous Volunteer Application.

Hurricane Sandy has forced the cancellation of approximately 300 American Red Cross blood drives in 14 states along the East Coast, resulting in a shortfall of more than 10,700 units of blood and platelets thus far. To help by donating blood in NY, click here: http://www.redcrossblood.org/nyp . For other states, click here.

NYC PUBLIC ADVOCATE: The Public Advocates office is helping to mobilize volunteers. Register here.

JERSEY CARES: Register with Jersey Cares to volunteer for recovery projects in New Jersey, and they will email you when projects are in place: http://www.jerseycares.org/HOC__Volunteer_Registration_Page

NJ EMERGENCY VOLUNTEER HOTLINE: If you are interested in volunteering in NJ, call the state’s volunteer emergency response hotline at 1-800-JERSEY-7 (1-800-537-7397). This hotline was established earlier this year to enhance the state’s emergency responsiveness by harnessing New Jerseyans’ strong spirit of service. If storm conditions preclude the hotline from being answered by live operators, volunteers may call one of two backup hotline numbers: 609-775-5236 or 908-303-0471. Volunteers may also send an email to rowena.madden@sos.state.nj.us. Read more here.

STATEN ISLAND RECOVERS: This is a recovery organizing site for Staten Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The site allows people to offer/request assistance, and is coordinated by the folks at Occupy NYC and community organizations on the ground. Visit the site: https://statenisland.recovers.org/

UPPER WEST SIDE SHELTERS (Updated 12:50pm, 10/31): “Upper West Side shelter needs help: clothes in large sizes needed for Sandy evacuees at MS 118, 154 West 93 St.” There are three shelters in the neighborhood. The one at John Jay College had enough volunteers last night (not sure about tonight yet) but the following two were running low on volunteers and will need help again tonight, including for overnight shifts:

Brandeis High School on West 84th Street (between Amsterdam & Columbus Avenues).

MS 118 on 93rd Street (between Amsterdam & Columbus Avenues)

If you can volunteer at an evacuation shelter or know anyone who can, please contact Shelly Fine at sfine50@aol.com or 917.453.3911.

DONATE

MAYOR’S FUND TO ADVANCE NEW YORK: The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is committed to improving the lives of New Yorkers. Right now, you can donate directly to hurricane relief in NYC through this website: https://www.nyc.gov/html/fund/html/donate/donate.shtml

RED CROSS: The best way to donate is to make a financial gift. Visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. In-kind donations are not needed at this time.

NYC RESCUE MISSION: If you can purchase or have extra food/water–take it to NYC Rescue Mission, 90 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013-4494. They are also in need of dry ice, generators, and AA and D batteries. If you are not in the area but wish to donate, you can do so through their website: https://nycrescue.org/give/donate-now/

THE HUMANE SOCIETY: The Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team is assisting animals and people in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, and is prepared for ongoing disaster relief after this historic storm. To make a donation click here

THE BOWERY MISSION: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, The Bowery Mission is providing safe shelter and food to more homeless and displaced New Yorkers, effectively tripling its normal capacity. The supply of food and pantry items is drastically decreasing at a time when it is needed most. Make a donation by clicking here, or donate over the phone by calling 1-800-BOWERY-1 (1-800-269-3791)