To mark National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Nov. 16-24, Just Food is encouraging people to live off the average food stamp benefit in Kansas for their per-day grocery spending, and reporter Chad Lawhorn is taking on the challenge. His family of four will chronicle its experiences planning meals and grocery shopping on the average food stamp budget for their household. Check back often for updates through the week and be sure to check the paper for a final wrap up in Sunday's Lawhorn's Lawrence.
Strolling down the produce section of Checkers Foods grocery store Monday night, Kristie Adair's two young daughters bolted ahead out of excitement at the sight of oranges and clementines and began lobbying for their purchase.
For these edibles, Adair didn't even have to consult her trusty notebook that detailed what she could and could not afford. She knew right away the citrus fruits weren't a possibility.
This isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds. Normally, Adair, co-owner of Wicked Broadband in Lawrence, can provide such items for her family. But this week she and her two daughters — Maurene, 4, and Audrey, 5 — are participating in the Just Food Stamp Challenge, a simulation of living off food stamps for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
So, Adair can only spend $59.40 on grocery items to feed herself and two daughters for five days.
"It's very challenging," said Adair, whose notebook detailed what to buy, where to buy it and when to eat it. "I've never been very price-sensitive."
Just Food, the organizer of the simulation, held a kickoff event of sorts Monday at Checkers where participants could mingle and shop. The awareness week lasts from Nov. 16-24 and contestants are encouraged to take part for two to five days.
Jeremy Farmer, chief executive officer of Just Food, said more than 70 people have signed up. About 20 people showed Monday night, including elected officials like State Rep. John Wilson and Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan.
As part of the 2009 Recovery Act, Congress temporarily increased the amount of aid delivered to those who subscribed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. In 2012, the average Kansan in the program received about $4.17 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But that increase expired Nov. 1, affecting about 11 percent of the state population.
Farmer said those average funds have now been reduced 5 percent, so he chose to allot each participant $3.96 per day to spend on food.
He said the event was organized to bring awareness to what many Just Food clients go through. Participants are encouraged to blog about their experience at Just Food's website.
"Do you be healthy or do you go hungry?" said Farmer, to illustrate the difficulty in purchasing healthy food on such a budget. "That's a question people face every day."
Monday, Adair twice was forced to buy a less healthy brand of food. She said she planned to use salt as her only seasoning for the week ahead.
In the middle of his shopping spree, Gaughan, who is participating for three days, had a half-gallon of milk in his basket, among other things, and said he might have to give it up if he wanted meat.
"I'll try to get by on some pretty basic things," he said.
Dennis "Boog" Highberger, a Lawrence attorney, said he chose to take on the challenge for educational purposes. He said that for a society to be fair and equitable, everyone needs to understand the obstacles some people are faced with.
Adair and Gaughan said they were motivated by spreading awareness.
"I don't think they're thinking about the people in our community when they make decisions about SNAP and other programs that people need in this economy to get by," Gaughan said of state and national legislators.