A Rabbi Takes The Food Stamp Challenge

It is my desire to see Renewal get involved in this important work. Here’s a report from Rabbi Shawn Zevit. -JL

I am writing to share with you my experience as the national steering committee representative to this fall’s JCPA/MAZON Food Stamp Challenge.

As Jews, and as Americans, we are guided by a moral vision of how we must treat the most vulnerable members of our society. We cannot stand idly by. As the prophet Isaiah teaches, “If you offer your compassion to the hungry and satisfy the famished creature, then shall your light shine in darkness.” (58:10)

In the midst of economic turmoil and threats of severe cuts to government programs to address our nation’s debt and deficit, hunger in America has reached historic levels with no relief in sight. Recent studies by a number of agencies and organizations highlight this disturbing trend: between 2007 and 2009, the number of households struggling with hunger increased more than 33%, with nearly one in four U.S. households with children unable to afford enough food. And the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1% in 2010, with one out of every six Americans, or 46.2 million, living in poverty.

Not surprisingly, enrollment in federal food and nutrition programs is dramatically on the rise.  In April 2012, SNAP/food stamp participation rose to a record level of more than 46.2 million Americans – an increase of more than 1.5 million people compared with one year before. Yet even as the number of Americans enduring the gnawing pain of hunger increases, proven federal hunger relief programs such as SNAP are being targeted for significant cuts and potential restructuring that would irreparably limit the government’s ability to bring relief to millions of Americans suffering from hunger. Sadly, there is a deafening silence when it comes to protecting programs that serve the poor, the hungry, and the downtrodden.

This fall the Cantors Assembly, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism are organizing the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge to demonstrate our collective and personal commitment to this essential cause.

Rabbis & Cantors across the country from all denominations will join together to take the Challenge and for one week live on the average food stamp allotment of $31.50, or just $1.50 per meal. I strongly encourage you to join us in this effort.  The Challenge began prior to the high holidays in September and will last through the month of November, with participants encouraged to take the Challenge during one of two suggested times –the one remaining being November 11-17, 2012 in advance of Thanksgiving.

To multiply the impact of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, ask your congregants, family, and friends to make a contribution to support the JCPA’s anti-hunger advocacy work and denominational anti-hunger efforts in honor of your participation in the Challenge.  We have created a participant handbook, the Food Stamp Challenge website , and other resources to make it easy for you to participate in and contribute to this meaningful anti-hunger effort.  Your engagement makes a difference!

I took the challenge and lived off of $31.50 for the week preceding Rosh Hashannah. Here are some of my postings in that week:

8/31/12: Shopping in advance of my week taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Energy and commitment, sadness and disbelief as I move through the aisles, trying to make all breakfasts and lunches work for $18 leaving me $13 for dinners for the week. This  is the norm for tens of millions of people in this country EVERY week.

9/5/12: New Info on 15% of Americans on Food Stamps

9/10/12: Day 3 of the Food Stamp Challenge. Already I am down to $2 of my $31.50 left for the week after finding a sale on $1 cans of Tuna and Kidney Beans and buying the cheapest kosher chicken legs I can for chicken soup to last the week. I am finding I am hungry much of the time, but did not want to purchase and eat junk food, rather get creative with healthy meals. Pasta and frozen veggies on sale figured prominently as well. And I have the escape clause of doing this voluntarily at week’s end.ding I am hungry much of the time and did not want to spend on junk food, as well as getting creative with meals and increasingly aware of the 30% of food the average household throws out, not only what we spend on food. And I have the privilege of doing this voluntarily.

9/14/12: The sun is setting as is 5772. My week of taking the Food Stamp Challenge is over. I have the privilege to do so. Millions do not. I want to hold on to this awareness. I don’t want to be contributing to the average household that throws away 30% of their food purchased in this country. purchased in this country, and someone who buys on impulse as I have. I want this year to work for sustainable living and food justice. I want to avoid going unconscious again and eating out of emotional pull and not because I need to. My week is over- but the challenge continues, I want to work this year for sustainable living and food justice. I want to avoid impulse buying. I want to avoid eating out of emotional distress and not because I need to. My week is over, but the challenge continues.

9/17/12- Spoke of Food Stamp Challenge as part of my RH sermon at T’Chiyah in Detroit. Inspired to help T’Chiyah in our work towards pursuing tzedek (justice) and spiritual, social, economic and ecological renewal in downtown Detroit

9/21/12- Connected with Cleveland CRC to support November 12th week campaign

I am 88% of the way to my goal is $3,600.00. I hope you will consider sponsoring me  and/or joining me yourself by setting up your own page in this extremely important initiative. How the money is used by the JCPA and MAZON is described on the Food Stamp Challenge pages.

If you have any questions about taking the Challenge or would like assistance with ideas or resources, please do not hesitate to contact me, SZevit@comcast.net, or Robin Rosenbaum (rrosenbaum@thejcpa.org), Poverty Campaign Coordinator at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Thank you in advance for your support and involvement.


Reb  Shawn