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Volunteers Needed: Festivals of Learning

30 May

Posted May 2016:

Every summer, Festivals of Learning take place in under-resourced communities where children have less access to summer learning activities. For too many kids in the United States, summer break means a lack of access to learning experiences, books and educational games, and even time to hang out with friends. Festivals of Learning bridge this gap by bringing a variety of activities that promote discovery, highlight skills, and encourage creative expression.

They are looking for volunteers to assist their New York City Festivals of Learning this year. Volunteers should love working with children and/or families and have the energy and patience to make each day of the Festivals a memorable experience!

Festivals will be held for 4 different times in 4 different locations. They’re looking for volunteers who can help out during any of these times with an extra day or two for preparations:

#1: June 30th to July 1st, 2016
#2: July 6th to July 8th, 2016
#3: July 14th to 15th, 2016
#4: August 29th to 31st, 2016

Mission Statement: ATD Fourth World is an international anti-poverty nonprofit with a grassroots presence in over 34 countries and consultative status at the United Nations. We work to overcome the injustices of persistent poverty and social exclusion by bringing together people from all walks of life. We have been working alongside communities in poverty in New York for over 50 years.

How to apply: Send e-mail to their New York team at with your full name, availability, and a bit more about your experience with children and/or why you’d be excited to be involved. Must be 18 years of age or older.

Locations: Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens

Time Commitment

Duration: Less than 3 months

Time commitment: Occasional (weekly or monthly) min. 2 hours per day, max. 8 hours per day

Times of day: Afternoons & Evenings

Days of week: Weekdays & Weekends

Schedule: Flexible Schedule

Additional details: Training provided, International volunteers welcome


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

25 Jun

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 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.

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.


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 3 of the SNAP Challenge

20 Jun

Egg. Banana. Tomato base. Beans. Sound familiar? If you’ve been keeping up with this blog it should. I mixed things up today with a heaping spoonful of peanut butter and an apple for an afternoon snack, but otherwise my office days are becoming deja vu in the food department.

Don’t get me wrong: there ain’t nothing wrong with leftovers. Cold pasta was my breakfast of choice for years. It’s that I don’t have a choice with my budget restrictions. I can’t make a last minute decision to run out for lunch without suffering the consequences later. Food is perishable. If I don’t eat what I have and it goes bad, I don’t get my money back. It makes me wonder how many programs or workshops there are to help people using SNAP to map out their meals intelligently to maximize their dollars without sacrificing nutrition or sanity.

Speaking of sanity, I had my first CSA pick-up today and came home with an insane amount of produce. For those who don’t know, here’s a brief description about how CSA’s work, from Wikipedia:

Community-supported agriculture (CSA; sometimes known as community-shared agriculture) refers to a particular network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit.

This is what our weekly share looks like.

This is what our weekly share looks like.

This is yet another road-block I expected to hit during my #SNAPChallenge. Since we had pre-paid for the CSA in April, the shares are ours every week whether we want them or not. In addition, there are CSA’s that work with SNAP participants so that they can participate in the program, so I decided to calculate my weekly cost and factor it into my SNAP budget. This means $7.95 gone to vegetables. Had I picked up my share earlier I may have gotten the allotted amount, which was much less than I anticipated, but I lucked out and got a larger share since I arrived 15 minutes before closing.

I used some kale, swiss chard, garlic scapes, and spring onion to make a chick pea soup. The chicken stock from earlier this week came in handy, as did the tomato sauce. I instinctively topped it off with a fried egg without thinking. I’m hoping I don’t regret that later in the week, as it was really just a frivolous thing to do, even though adding an egg to anything automatically makes it more awesome.

Rachel’s Budget: $28.93 spent, $2.57 left







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


Day 2 of the SNAP Challenge

19 Jun

Having lost the gusto I had on Day 1, today was a little less exciting and a lot more like a regular work day sans coffee. Another egg and banana breakfast, a glass of water. Around 11:30am, I really needed something to snack on but wasn’t quite ready to dive into my spaghetti, so I headed downstairs to the green market for a piece of fruit. As my coworkers each bought a $4 lemonades, I picked through a pile of peaches ($2.99/lb) for my sugary treat and headed to the scale with what I thought was an average sized peach. It turned out to be a half-pound monster that cost me $1.67. This immediately made me reconsider my snack urge: how hungry was I? The $31.50 budget comes to about $1.50 per meal. Was I hungry enough to eat a SNAP-budget-meal-worthy-peach all at once? I decided I wasn’t.

For the next hour I let the peach sit my desk and mask the smell of farts that was emanating from myjames-and-giant-peach garbage can full of egg shells (yea I said it, boiled eggs smell like farts. don’t act surprised). I decided around 1pm that it was finally time to eat my leftover spaghetti and have some more water. Finally, at 3pm, that peach met it’s maker: I carried it to the kitchen and sliced it in half to find the most deliciously ripe and juicy peach I’ve ever had. I packed up the other half to bring home for later and brought my bounty back to my desk before anyone saw the peachy gold I had foraged outside.

With the saga of the peach over and dessert to look forward to later, the day carried on. After some overtime and visit to the vet with our cat, I got home at 7:45. For a few minutes I considered eating bean salad for dinner, but realized I needed to prepare something for lunch tomorrow: back to Western Beef I went. As I shopped, Paul happily ate his turkey chilli, which he topped with cheese and put in a tortilla. This is the fourth chilli meal he’s had in 2 days.

I came home having spent $8.34 on peanut butter, jelly, a loaf of bread, an apple, and a can of chopped tomato. I turned the bean salad into bean chili with some pantry spices, leftover pasta sauce, and can of chopped tomato, and topped it off with some chicken. It was about 9:15pm.

As I sit here now typing at 10:30pm, my stomach feels pretty full. I’m guessing its the massive amount of beans and eggs. Not enough to stop me from devouring the rest of that peach, but enough to make me appreciate a fibrous diet with ample greens and fruits.

Rachel’s Budget: $20.98 spent, $10.52 left

Paul’s Budget: $31.50 spent, $0.00 left


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