Hunger Action Month

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Leftovers are gone

I must admit that I missed two days of following the $25 Challenge due to business commitments. WOW! Was I glad that I had those activities scheduled because they provided me some variety in my otherwise bland and constant diet of carbohydrates and limited food choices.

To compensate for the days that I missed, I extented my participation in the Challenge until the food I had purchased was consumed. I ate the last of my chicken and pasta last night...and, now I will not have "Chicken Tonight" as my dinner time theme or menu. I could rehash the meals I had during the Challenge, but that part of doing the Challenge is of little importance other than the lessons the menu taught me, which included recognizing how easily one can become trapped into eating foods that are low in nutrition value, allowing yourself to eat more calories to supply the energy you need rather than eating foods that would produce that same energy with less calories, and most of all realizing how fragile your existence is when you have a fixed income in the world of constantly rising prices.

The final leftover from my Challenge is my commitment to work harder than ever to bring more nutritious food through the Food Bank system to those in need and to constantly work to get benefit levels increased.

If you read any of these blogs and have a question about any of the collective statements...try the Challenge for yourself and you will understand what motivated the words.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Challenge for Sure!

Well, my week didn't change much in terms of eating on my alloted $25 worth of groceries. While I enjoyed the meals provided at my meetings and dinner events throughout the week, my awareness was most certainly elevated to a new level. We certainly take our access to groceries for granted. At each meal this week, I was aware that more and more people would be struggling to make ends meet and keep food on the table, much less healthy, fresh food.

I'm grateful for this experience and will be ever mindful of how paltry our safety net benefits are.

Kathy Ryg

"It's Over"

The challenge officially ended yesterday, Sept. 28. Thanks for the eye-opener.

But, before I bring more awareness to the issue of whether or not $25 per week is enough food for one person who is on government assistance in Illinois, I will put a fork full of pancakes in my mouth for breakfast. I will have a hearty lunch -- maybe.

For dinner, well, just read my last post. I detailed what I would be looking forward to.

I can't wait!!!

Thanks again for the opportunity.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Final Countdown!!!"

I have absolutely no idea how I [barely] pulled it off.

I knew I could do it, however, it's not something that I would want to practice. I am very thankful that I'm fortunate enough to not have to survive on $25 per week on food. It's a great saver, however, it's just not for me.

Taking this challenge reminded me -- not that I needed one -- how fortunate I am to be able to afford what I have and can provide for my family.

There are too many scratching and surviving on less than $25 per week for food.

I was born and raised in Chicago, but foodwise, I was raised on southern cooking. My maternal grandmother is from Georgia and I have enjoyed southern cooking all my life. She taught me my culinary skills and my children are being raised on southern cooking.

With that said, I can't wait until tomorrow so I can enjoy some greens, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, turkey and dressing, with gravy, corn muffins, peach cobbler and iced tea. I will pass up my usual Dr Pepper for some Georgia-style sweet tea.

Oh, I did lose one pound. After my soul food dinner tomorrow, it will be back.

Happy eating!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

From "Start" to "Almost Done"

Last Sunday I took my $25 and found the store that I knew would give me the most for my money...Aldi's.

I have a family of four and thought I would make sure that $25 of food would do for the entire family of four for the week. I planned it out so that it COULD work, if we were extremely disciplined.

I bought a whole chicken, a loaf of bread, a bag of salad, a box of rice, a bag of egg noodles, a gallon of milk, a box of grapes, a 24-pack of bottled water, a box of deli turkey for sandwiches, a bag of cheese and a 30-count package of eggs...all for $24.88.

The chicken would be baked and portions would be used one day in homemade chicken noodle soup and one day in fajitas.

My husband and I rarely eat breakfast and sometimes if we don't get a chance to eat lunch, because we are so busy in the field, we will just eat dinner.

Yeah, no breakfast and sporadic lunches...

Considering all of that, I said that although it's supposed to be $25 per person, my family of four could do it with just $25.

Boy, I am starving and my husband said to count him out after day one. And, my hungry-jack girls (ages 9 and 5) began to wonder why they were getting less snacks between meals than before.

I didn't have the heart to tell them that I included them in mommy's food challenge. So, I let them off the hook about four days into the challenge.

So now it's just me...and...I'm glad the end is very near.

It has saved me about $30 this week from eating lunch , but I need to get on a scale to see if the little weight I have is diminishing.

Until tomorrow...the last day of the challenge.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Well I'm gearing up for another dinner of ham & beans. It got me through the week and on budget. So what did I learn by going through this exercise?

It's hard to stay upbeat and on top of your game when your hungry. When you don't have the money to grab a snack (whether it's a candy bar, a piece of fruit or something else) it's hard to keep focused on the job at hand. Your mind and stomach continually wander back to wanting something to eat.

There is food all around you, all the time, but you can't eat it. There are fast food places on every corner, advertising on the radio, coworkers snacking at work. It seems everyone else has more than enough and you're on the outside looking in.

Forget nutrition. When shopping the only thing that matters is price. I didn't look at any of the labels or ingredients, cheaper is better. I spent my last dollar on cheddar cheese gold fish crackers. I wanted to have something that would fill me up - and crackers hit the spot (for twenty minutes) and only cost 95 cents.

The most important thing I learned is how difficult it would be for a parent to feed a child on food stamps. It's just not possible to provide a healthy diet. And, if nothing else, that's something every child deserves.

Frank Finnegan

I long for a slice of Chicago-style pizza...

My meals have been fairly consistent during the day this week...granola bar for breakfast and two hard-boiled eggs for lunch. My dinners have varied from pasta to chicken nuggets. However, I have tried to stay as true to the Challenge as possible. Whereas, many in the Challenge have taken hand-outs, I have been declining anything offered. I do not fault those who are taking the hand-outs. In fact, I had a great conversation with Senator Pamela Althoff yesterday about how people do things to get by. Those faced with this Challenge on a daily basis will do whatever it takes to have a meal. On the other hand, there are some out there who may be too ashamed or do not want to seem like they need the food out of being prideful. I am trying my best, but have a feeling I will fail by the end of the week.

Nearing the end of Day 4, I hopped on the train to commute home. My usual procedure is to sit down, put on some mellow instrumental music (Jazz, classical, etc.), and then start reading whatever book I have in my bag. I tried and failed. I have lost a lot of concentration and patience due to the Challenge. I have become extremely agitated for no decent reason. Last night when I came home, my girlfriend asked me what I would like for dinner and said I wanted something I bought off my list. She said fine, but proceeded to fancy up the dinner by adding some things to it. My tone came off negative as I told her I could not have the fancied dinner because of what she was adding was not within my $25. I'm not sure if I was just grumpy because I hadn't eaten much, but I did not like it. After I ate, I was cheerful again. It's a weird conundrum.

When I rode the bus this morning to get to my train, I looked at those sitting around me. How many of them are being challenged every day? How many of them receive assistance from organizations like my food bank? How many of them have trouble making it through the day with a stomach that won't stop making noise?

For their sake, I hope none of them.

We are out of milk.

My family of 4 decided to take on the challenge this week. With my background as the youngest of 7 children with a single parent for a portion of my life and starting out our marriage in a bitter financial state, I though we would be very resourceful with the challenge. Having the four of us to pool our funds together made the challenge much easier on us than a single person with only $25 - I'm not sure even the most clever economist can figure that out.

We all worked together to plan our menu (a lot of carbs, leftovers, and pb&j), collect coupons, and find the best sales. We between 2 coupons we had, a brand deal, and a store discount we actually got 6 boxes of cereal for free! However, at the store, when we had to stay away from our organic, whole grain, carbonated fruit juice all natural soda, and anything at all convenient the challenge began to be less of game and sunk in for real. We were terrified as our sub-total climbed and we still had meat, dairy, and produce on the list.

As the week has progressed, I feel an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt for not providing for my family. I cannot help but to think of the families who face this every week.
Now we are out of milk and fresh fruit. We have 6 boxes of cereal to eat, but no milk...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A new low

I am a banana snob - I only like bananas that on the "green" side of yellow and have spent years turning up my nose at sub-standard bananas. Today, however, I came face-to-face with a yellow banana riddled with brown spots. The banana had been purchased two days before from a discount grocery store - and looking at the spots I understood why. But I was really, really hungry. Furthermore, I had an event after work and knew it would be hours until dinner. So, I did it. I ate that banana. It was so nasty - but so necessary. I followed it with 3 glasses of water - and felt full for the first time in 3 days. But the feeling was fleeting. It's 9:00 pm - dinner is done, dishes are washed, kids are in bed. And I am hungry again.

Thursday afternoon and I'm going home soon for more ham & beans. After eating the same thing since Tuesday, this is getting more than a little monotonous. The worst thing about this week has been that gnawing feeling that never leaves. I don't really crave any one thing, I just walk around wanting to eat something, anything.

Frank Finnegan


Meal two on Day Four has made me really aware of how little variety I planned into my diet...or weight gain program since far too many of my calories have been from the carbohydrate or fat family of foods. I could bore you with the details of oatmeal, tuna casseroles and salmon loaf, but I've already reported on those scrumptious meals.

What I really want to share with you is an observation: the Food Stamp program is changing its name to SNAP--Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. If I had been a member of a "test or pilot group" I would have failed the nutrition rating part. The sad fact is that unless funding gets increased at some point in the future...anyone who must use food stamps as their main source of food will not have a nutritious diet.

And we wonder about obesity, type 2 diabetes and other health issues. We can't blame the fast food restaurants for the growth in the percentage of people suffering from food related issues when our federal food assistance programs are as much the culprit as anything.



I went to Normal this morning to meet with a new pantry. They had some fresh apples in a box that a farmer had given them. They offered me one, however, I turned it down. Being more aware of the hunger "thing" I felt a child or senior might need it worse than I. Have you noticed how many restaurants and fast food places there are? I counted 4 Steak n Shakes, 2 Popeye chicken places, numerous pizza places and a bazillion TACO BELL's on my outing!! Am sure they have always been in those same places and I have probably seen them many times before, but I really NOTICED them this morning. Today is Thursday, day 4. I wonder if the mother, child or senior citizen who is hungry counts the days like I have been. I know I only have 3 more to go--they don't know when they can stop counting--it may have become a way of life for them.

Random Thoughts

It's a busy day today, so here are just a few random thoughts.

1. Thank goodness for my home economics teacher and my mom for teaching me meal planning and budgeting.

2. Even with the aforementioned skills, this challenge is extremely difficult. (That's the point, right?)

3. Perhaps I should grow a garden. It should definitely include herbs and spices.

4. If someone offers you an apple, take it.

A surprising turn...

Before the challenge started, I weighed myself. I figured that during this week I would either gain a lot of weight or lose a small amount. When I woke up this morning, I weighed myself again. I have lost about 5 lbs since this challenge began. This does surprise me a little considering a lot of the meals are carbs (pasta, granola bars, etc). Much of my weight loss may be a result of the diminishment of my snacking at night. It's Day 4 and it hasn't been any easier. As I told a colleague this morning, I have been going to bed earlier than usual so I can silence the growling sounds in my stomach.

Yesterday while contemplating more about what I am doing, two points came to mind. What I would do as a parent on food stamps and how the lack of food may cause me to turn to unethical practices.

If I were a parent who had multiple children, would I sacrifice my meals so that my children could eat? Parents have to face tough decisions every day for the health and well-being of their children and some have to go to drastic measures. This was an extremely powerful thought that shook my emotions yesterday.

If I were a child living off food stamps, I kept thinking whether I would steal to stop my hunger pangs or to get more food for a younger sibling. People turn to unethical practices, but sometimes it's out of survival. Could you blame them for being that hungry?

I am hoping everyone taking this challenge has been thinking deeper about the root of the food stamp situation as I have in the past week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Skipped lunch and now someone is making microwave popcorn in the office kitchen. No matter where I go I can smell popcorn. Earlier this morning someone brought Krispy Kreme doughnuts to work. It's like looking through the candy store window but being locked outside.

More ham & beans tonight but it's only 3:15 now.

Frank Finnegan

Wednesday morning.

Tuesday evening meal of ham & beans and cornbread was delicious! One of my favorite meals and I've made it often in the past. It was so good I sampled it all night. I made it with 2 pounds of dry pinto beans that should last me through Friday. Unfortunately, that's all I'll be eating for lunch and dinner the rest of the week. Already experiencing some "gas."

Have no idea how a parent could provide a nutrionally balanced diet much less some variety to children on $25 a week.

Frank Finnegan, St. Louis Area Foodbank

In Spite of My Best Efforts...

Two days into the challenge and I've already blown it! In spite of my best efforts, I'm quite sure I will not meet the challenge but I fully intend to continue to try. Here's what's happened -

Sunday afternoon - went to my Target Superstore to buy my store brand staples: loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, box of cereal, box of macaroni shells, jar of pasta sauce, 4 oranges @ $1 each!!!!, small brick of cheese and bag of frozen spinach leaves. My total bill was $19.53 - figured I could use the milk, jelly and eggs I had at home but if I had to buy them I would be right at the $25.Clearly I was not going to be eating very healthy - the fresh fruit and vegetables would not fit into my budget, neither did frozen or canned. Frozen spinach in a pasta dish and my 4 oranges for a week fall far short of the recommended 5 servings/day.

Monday - had several meetings - one out of town so I didn't even use any of the food I bought. So to keep from starving, I did eat the food provided at my meetings but didn't eat nearly what I would have if I weren't feeling guilty about my access to free food as part of my job. As I looked at the spreads of rolls, eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, salads, beef, potatoes, eggplant, and cheesecakes and pastries I realized that this is the food that is offered for people who work and pay to attend conferences and meetings. If the food weren't offered, most of us in attendance would stop on our way to the meeting and grab a meal to go from any number of fast food or even restaurant carryouts. I could spend my entire $25 on Starbucks some weeks and I didn't even buy coffee to make at home because I couldn't afford it.

It was really eye opening to think of how much excess food I have access to and heartbreaking to realize others are going hungry.

Tuesday - still on the road but home for dinner. I was hungry as I walked in my house but realized I had nothing to munch on from my $25 grocery supply. Veggies and dip, cheese and crackers - things I take for granted as my pre-dinner snacks, aren't affordable in this Challenge. I quickly got to work so I could eat - boiled the macaroni, heated the spinach and pasta sauce, chopped some onions but realized, they were not in my $25 purchase - another luxury of eating beyond my means. Got me to thinking - if $25 has to pay for the necessities, and knowing how expensive spices, onions, mushrooms, and garlic are - how does one make good tasting food on such a limited budget?

Still trying...Kathy Ryg

Grumpy and sick

I came into work today after being out sick yesterday. My co-workers accused me of staying home and eating take-out all day. Don't I wish! Instead I was at home not feeling like eating or cooking for that matter. Of course I had no choice, I still had to feed my child, so out came the stewed chicken and the flour, eggs and milk for the dumplings. The good thing is that I saved some money by not eating lunch. What I would have given for a delivered pizza. Dennis - can you spare a couple of pieces?

Tonight I have a choice - go to my father-in-law's eighty-first birthday dinner and drink a glass of water or stay at home and eat some more chicken and dumplings. Tough choice.

Yep--my stomach is really growling!!

Day 3!! I awoke this morning to my stomach actually growling!! I had some tomato juice (I didn't use all of it (intentially) in the chilli I made on Sunday) this morning for breakfast along with a bowl of instant oatmeal. My son called last night and wanted to know if I was "cheating"?? I said no and proceeded to share with him the thoughts all of us are sharing in the blogs. I visited with my 16 y/o grandson on Monday evening while watching him "wolf" down a foot long subway sandwich. I must have been watching intently every bite he was taking, because he excused himself and went in the other room. He commented he couldn't possibly see how anyone could eat on $25 a week--'gosh gram, sometimes I spend that on a meal'!! I, of course, invited him to take the challenge with me---he pretended not to hear me and I haven't seen him all week. I'm experiencing a bit of indigestion from eating chilli more than twice a week and am finding myself daydreaming about eating fruit and munching on carrots. The teachers I have visited with tell me they can spot a hungry child in their classroom. They don't pay attention, experience sleepiness and don't focus real well. I am relating to that. This challenge has been really good for me. I have been guilty of not appreciating nutritious food and believing it was a matter of "choice" that some people don't eat healthy food. I still believe in many instances that it is a choice for many people but no longer do I believe it's a choice for HUNGRY people. It's a matter of just filling the emptiness in your child's belly and doing the best you can do with the amount of money you have.

A tempting snack...

A difficult part of this challenge is being around those who are not participating. While they may know you are doing this, they may not understand exactly what you are feeling. As Kate pointed out in a previous post, "A diet of carbohydrates alone makes one cranky." I haven't necessarily eaten only carbs (a good majority has been), but I have found myself to be a bit edgier and a little more easily annoyed when I am talking to others.

On the first night of the challenge, I was on my couch watching television after eating six bite sized chicken tenders and wishing I could follow that up with a snack of chips and salsa. At the same time, my girlfriend starting making popcorn and the smell drove me crazy. She sprinkled some speciality garlic seasoning on it and ate the bag. All I could do was watch as popcorn did not fit into my $25.

However, after the first few days I have grown to accept the growling of my stomach as something that will happen. I still think about food almost every few minutes, it's getting easier. By the end of the week, I may not be saying the same thing

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

4 Lessons I Learned Today

1. A diet of carbohydrates alone makes one cranky (just ask my co-workers and family)
2. One chicken thigh does not a meal make
3. Canned green beans are not green
4. Don't buy canned salmon (thanks, Dennis, for the warning!!)

Salmon Failure

Salmon was terrible. The Salmon I bought for such a low price was low in quality. Imagine eating food you would rather not eat, but had no other choice.

Free Pizza

Well it only took me two days to get off the plan. I am almost glad except that when you read my meals of yesterday and add my two free pieces of pizza today to the carbohydrate count you might see that I may be in danger of dying of carbohydrate overload.

Yesterday I had Oatmeal and a tiny slice of margarine for breakfast, a hard-boiled egg for lunch and I made my Mac&Cheese-Tuna Casserole for dinner....It was really tasty...I even had two slices of bread with margarine. I weighed two pounds more this morning than yesterday. I had really tasty food yesterday. Does that mean that good tasting food is good for you?

Free pizza aside, I have my dinner cooking, it is a salmon loaf with some left-over chipotle sauce and some of my oatmeal. It is now obvious to me that you can start from scratch and do meals, but, on the other hand, if you do have to start from scratch you will not even eat as well as I am going to eat since I already had some of the seasonings. We forget that you need simple things like Pepper, Salt, Sugar, Mayonaise, Mustard, make most stuff taste good.

Is it right for us to think that we provide food to people through special goverment programs, like Food Stamps, and even through the generosity of our Food Banks and our connected agency partners when we cannot guarantee that there is a sprinkle of salt to season a very bland dish of oatmeal.

Or, to cover up the really fishy taste of low grade Salmon bought at a drug store.


Thinking About Food

What's really hitting home for me as I shop for the Challenge is how much more expensive the nutritious food is than the junk food. I always knew that was true but now I have to live it. Whole wheat bread is more than twice the price as white or the wheat bread that's not whole grain. The same is true for whole grain rice vs. "brown" or white rice. Luckily I was able to buy the HyVee brand whole grain cereal for $1.49 on sale. It certainly seems to be a quality over quantity issue. Unless I fill up on items like non whole grain bread, cereal, mac 'n cheese, etc. I am going to be hungry. Don't think I've ever thought about food so much (that alone is making me more hungry).

Executive Director, Tri-State Food Bank

Going to the grocery store to purchase food for my family of four, spending just $25 per person, opened my eyes to a very real problem that many low-income families trying to survive on food stamps face. I have a daughter with Downs Syndrome who lives in our household. She is 27 years old and works 3 hours, 5 days a week (min. wage). She needs to prepare her own breakfast and lunch, with very limited cooking skills and cannot use the stove without supervision. Prepared meals that are microwavable took a big chunk of the budget, leaving very little left for the other three members of the household. I can see why families, who are living on a tight budget with special dietary needs, must turn to local pantries to have enough to eat. I do not anticipate making it through the rest of the week without going back to the grocery store.

Stopped at the grocery store on my way home and bought items for ham & beans.

Smoked pork hocks $2.47

2 lbs dry pinto beans $1.88

One onion $0.59

2 small boxes corn bread $0.67

Carton of 8 eggs $1.29

Ham steak $3.51

Milk $2.29

Because I hadn't eaten all day and needed to leave for the baseball game soon, I also bought two pieces of fried chicken at the store deli counter for dinner. Two chicken thighs were $1.98. When I got home to eat them they were overcooked and dry. I ate every morsel anyway.

Total spent with tax $15.29

As I said yesterday, I went to the Cardinal game last night and saw them drop a game to the AZ Diamondbacks. I also saw people eating brats and cheese nachos covered in jalapeno peppers just the way I like them. Of course I couldn't afford to buy anything but it sure did look good.

Frank Finnegan

Farmer Bob

I always marveled that our County Sheriff fed his prisoners for less than $4/day. I visited with the food supplier today and found that their vendors are charging 30% more per delivery, I assume as a fuel surcharge. Nevertheless, the cost of these spartan meals (2 cold and 1 hot meal/day) just jumped a $1. If they can live on that, maybe we can too.

It's somewhat easier to achieve the $25 goal if you still have a garden and preserve fruits and vegetables in season. Making things from scratch is another way to live within the limits but skills to do all the cooking and baking are less common. My mother was good about teaching me to cook so those skills are still employed in our household. Eating out is corrupting the family budget, time together, and nutrition (spelled obesity).

Changing my routine

After dinner last night I was not hungry, but at the same time, had the sense that something was missing. For certain, the menu was not varied (Mac and Cheese and a veggie), but the fact that my decsions around what I will be eating are driven by the cost of the food is quite evident. For example, I really wanted some fruit after dinner, but elected to save that for later in the week.

A curious thing. I have an event tonight and normally I would grab a bite to eat on the way to the meeting. I am planning to swing by home and eat dinner before I go to my event. I will be rushed, but the fact I won't eat until late if I don't do this really drives the decision. Again, the way I am buying food and the resources I have influence other parts of my daily life

It is about the choices.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tough questions

At dinner tonight, my six-year-old wanted to know why I didn't have to eat vegetables. For what felt like the 40th time today, I explained - in six-year-old-terms - what the $25 challenge was and why I was doing it. When I got done, my son looked at me and asked the question that all of us taking the challenge have been asking ourselves: "Why does food that's good for you cost more than food that isn't?" I tried, once again, to answer the question in six-year-old terms. But the truth of the matter is that I really don't have a good explanation. Which my son quickly realized - cutting me off mid-sentence by saying "you know, Mom, I think it's just silly."

The Sound of a Growling Stomach...

I woke up this morning and realized the challenge had begun. All my thoughts have turned to constantly thinking about food. Even before I took a bite of food, the thought of how I would make it to lunch crept up on me. How is that even possible? There are some mornings when I will forgo eating well into mid-afternoon and it would not even phase me.

Tonight while riding the train home, my stomach was growling and I kept tring to read a book to take the focus off of the sound. The sound prevailed. When I got home, I spoke with my girlfriend about what happened during the work day, but the entire time I pondered what I would be eating for dinner and how I could stretch a box of frozen chicken tenders into possibly three dinners this week. Nothing else mattered more during this time.

In almost finishing up my first day, the subject of how this directly affects the education of students keeps circling my mind. Around 2:00 p.m., I could barely focus on what I needed to do. I had to start-stop-start-read what I had written-start again for over an hour because my concentration level hit a plateau. How do students who live this challenge as a reality do this everyday? Without having a nutritious breakfast or ample amounts of food in general, their educational progress will falter.

Perhaps others doing this challenge have encountered the same problems. I can only hope that this week will get easier. I can only hope that by the end of this week all of us will learn a lesson we will use and never take for granted.
It's 1:45 Monday afternoon and I'm hungry.

Breakfast: I didn't get to the store over the weekend so I had to skip breakfast - saved $1.19 if you figure 3 meals a day for seven days. Now I can splurge on dinner.

Lunch: Had a business lunch meeting that I could not cancel. Made up an excuse about an upset stomach and only ordered ice tea. There were six of us at the table. The others ordered a salad, chicken sandwich, Reuben, open faced beef sandwich and and a Cuban sandwich. The sandwiches came with home made potato chips that looked and smelled really good.

Dinner: I plan to stop at Jack in the Box on the way home and order off the value menu. If I can get a hamburger and fries ( no drink) for $3.57 or less - I can stay on my daily budget. So much for splurging on dinner.

Just got a call from a friend inviting me to the Cardinal Baseball game tonight. My first thought was that I can't afford to order a hot dog. I'll let you know who wins tomorrow.

Frank F

Where are the fruits and vegetables?

Yesterday my eight year old son and I went to the grocery store to buy our groceries for $25 each. Before we left I had prepared a list of the things I was hoping to buy - chicken, peanut butter, potatoes, milk, bread, cereal, eggs, and a few vegetables for the soup I was making. I put off going to the store until last night because I just dreaded the thought of it. We headed down the aisles and looked for the best sales we could find. Luckily cereal was 6 for $10 - forget that it was chocked full of sugar - it fit into our budget. Cube steak - half priced - another item that went into the cart. We passed by the orange juice, past the soda, past the yogurt, past the snacks. When we reached the check-out lane my son asked me what we do if we spend over $50. I said we have to put it back. As I stood there waiting for the checker to total our groceries, I hoped my math was right. It was - I have $4.32 left for the rest of the week. The problem is that the only vegetables I bought are going into the soup. What about the rest of the week?

Getting Started.. Oh the choices or lack thereof

I finished my 'shopping' for the Challenge yesterday morning and of course began today with breakfast. My bill was $24.61 and the difficulty was in choosing or prioritizing. I need (or want) coffee each morning and after that purchase, I was forced to forgo something. I choose to buy chicken parts instead of a whole chicken and will have one or two meals of ramman noodles in place of chicken.

The fact that I had to take the time to figure out just how this would play out for me for the week is the purpose of the whole exercise. It is about choosing and sometimes the choices aren't that good. I am not eating fresh veggies and miminal fruit. But lots of carbs. So much for my low fat, low choloresterol diet.

I did not stop at the coffee shop today and fork over my $2.23 for a Cafe' Americano. Never thought of coffee as a budget buster but it is this week.

I will be in touch.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Challenge is on...Learning how hard it is

I posted a message several days ago about "getting started" and "losing hope." I have come to realize that I was a little pre-mature in getting the food I would need for the week.

Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository and president of the Illinois Food Bank Association, posted a message that suggested that we buy our food today at today's prices. With inspiration from my wife and admiration for Kate, I decided to start over in my purchase of food for the week.

I will NOT be having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as I mentioned earlier. I will be having a lot of chicken, tuna and pasta. I was able to get a real good deal on 40 ounces of frozen chicken breats and some canned tuna. I will even have some frozen vegetables...although, if I were not from South Carolina, these vegetables would not be very appealing. However, I like Okra, Black Eye Peas and mixed Vegetables that were on clearance price at $1.00 per package...and the Okra is a family sized pack which will be three or four meals for me.

It was revealing to shop the paper for sale price items and let the lowest prices dictate my menu. I found four cans of tuna and one can of salmon in a Drug Store's ad and went there to buy the food. Fortunately, that store was on the way to my regular grocery store where I spent the rest of my money except for 81 cents. I will look for a bargain on something as the week progresses.

I am going to have oatmeal tomorrow morning for breakfast and a hard boiled egg for lunch. I have to decide on chicken or seafood with pasta for dinner.

The challenge is on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Loosing Hope

I spent two days this week walking around my local Jewel. I had a speaking engagement on Wednesday and decided to buy a 2.5 gallon gas container to show that it would cost $10.00 to fill up. Then, my idea was to buy the same amount in food. I thought that I could get a lot.
I got the Peanut Butter, one jelly, one box of Mac and Cheese, one can of Tuna, one small loaf of bread, one dozen eggs, one half gallon of milk...and I spent almost $14.00.

NOW, I have to decide how to live next week on PBJ, Tuna Casseroles, Water...and, I am afraid to spend my next $11.00 because it will not go far.

I think the worst part of my experience so far is that I realize that I am doing this as an attempt to make people aware of the challenges that people who are hungry face...I am now realizing that you can lose hope real quick when you can not feed yourself.

share your thoughts. save your money, by dieting. give the difference to a hungry neighbor.

Getting Ready....

When I think about starting the $25 Challenge, I begin to realize how much I take for granted being able to eat the kinds of food that I enjoy and can afford. I think I'm going to have a greater sense of appreciation for the pure stress that food insecure families must go through not only when they go to the grocery store but also when they face issues such as child-care, transportation and medical expenses.

$24.70 and counting...

I just came back from the grocery store where I did my "reconaissance". I went down the aisles with my notebook in hand and recorded prices. Then I came home and added it up. I'm at $24.70 without tax - and with no fruits and vegetables.

While I was at the store I ran into my State Representative. She's taking the challenge with us - and we compared notes standing the aisle. She told me that oatmeal is 2 for1 - but only through today. I pointed her toward the big bags of pasta that are 88 cents. We agreed that fruits and vegetables will be a luxury.

Here's a cruel twist - I don't think I have ever thought so much about food as during this time period where it is clear I will have to go without.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spending only 25 bucks in a week for food sounds like a good way to become irritable and tired the whole time. The week hasn't even started and I'm already dreading it. I have no doubt I'll go over $25 unless I buy a few staples in bulk and eat the same items all week like rice & oatmeal.

I'm consideraing fasting all week and drinking nothing but water and fruit juice.

The water will be free but will $25 buy enough fruit juice to get me through the week?

Frank Finnegan
Exceutive Director
St. Louis Area FoodBank

A revelation!

Reality is setting in with me. I am feeling sad that I have only $25 to spend on groceries for the coming week. The sadness begins with not being able to prepare my weekly Sunday dinner for my kids and grandbabies. We certainly don't have a feast; however, it's wonderful therapy for me to cook for my loved ones and a fantastic treat for the little ones to see what gram's going to surprise them with for dessert!! Food has always played a huge part in our family gatherings and socializing. Even though I come from a large family, we have always been blessed with enough to eat. This morning on my drive into Peoria my thoughts about the week ahead made me realize, WOW, it's just not about having enough money to buy food. Hunger robs families of many things. When I visit the store with my $25 in hand on Sunday, I will remember all the people in the world, many of them with much less than $25 to spend, with great compassion and vow to continue to help all who fall on hard times.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Sunday's newspaper, there was a menu that took into consideration rising food costs. The goal was to provide readers with a menu that would make it possible to provide an entire meal for 4 people for just $25. I read through with interest - and remembered that one week from today I start the "$25 challenge." $25 is the average weekly benefit that an individual on food stamps receives in the state of Illinois. In other words, your $25 needs to last a week - as in 7 days, 3 meals a day -- 21 meals.

If you are reading this, you already know there is a group of us representing the eight food banks across the state that will attempt the challenge. Next Sunday, we'll each take $25 and go shopping. And rather than buying food for a lovely, albeit thrifty, meal for 4, we will attempt to buy enough food to last for an entire week. The whole wheat linguini, olive oil and fresh green peppers from the menu in the newspaper are all out of the question - as are many of the things I consume, starting with the cup of French roast coffee that I always begin my morning with. Needless to say it will be tough - maybe even impossible. Which is, of course, part of the point. How on earth can $25 spread across 21 meals??? The answer is that is doesn't - which helps to explain why so many of the food pantries across our country are seeing record numbers of visitors.

In the week ahead, along with my colleagues, I will begin plotting - sharing advice on just how we can stretch 21 meals out of $25 dollars. Along the way, we hope you will join us as we think about what it means to be hungry in America.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thinking in Central Illinois

It's been a long time since I've had to think about stretching my dollar so thin for my food budget. The last time was nearly 20 years ago when I went through some dramatic life changes that included changing jobs, ending a long-term relationship, and moving. At that time I wasn't sure how I was going to make ends meet. I remember eating a lot of ramen noodles, pasta and peanut butter. Eventually I got my life back together thanks to a great support network and the wonderful education that my parents had made sure that I received. I never wanted to eat peanut butter on a regular basis again.

Well, here I am thinking about how I'm going to make my $25 stretch for the week. I'm humbled by that fact that there are so many people out there that do this, who use their food stamps, frequent the food pantries and don't complain. Although I haven't quite figured out whether I will use the sample shopping list or make a list of my own, one thing I'm fairly certain of is that one of the items will be peanut butter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I am on the way...I am planning a menu of free water, one big piece of cheap pork that I can cook on the grill and eat from all week and a discounted loaf of bread. But, I now realize that the food store with the lowest prices is 10 miles farther from my house than the local Jewel. Should I spend $4.09 on gas to save a little on the food. I must plan the entire week to know...what a tough thing to do.