Laura’s Snap Challenge 2017

Yesterday was the last day of my SNAP challenge, so I officially made it through the week on $5 a day.  I can certainly say that I’m relieved to be back to the option of supplementing my SNAP allotment with additional funds.

Working at the Montana Food Bank Network, I’m among a group of people who know a lot about SNAP in Montana, and who are truly passionate about food insecurity—and most of them thought I was crazy for signing up for this challenge. I knew it would be an adventure, but I didn’t know quite how hard it would be—or quite how eye opening.

Starting out the week, I felt confident and prepared with stockpiles of rice, beans, and lentils. By the second day, however, I was eating raw oatmeal and peanut butter on a spoon because I had promised all of my food budget to meals and didn’t allot enough for snack foods.  I was cutting apples in half to make sure I wasn’t completely out of fresh produce by the end of the week. By Saturday, being able to use double SNAP dollars for snap peas and potatoes felt like a miracle. I walked around the market grinning, suddenly feeling as though I would make it.

There are a few things I hope people will be able to take away from my SNAP challenge experience. One is that although it is true that one can eat enough food, and even healthy food, on the SNAP budget, it is very time consuming. I created an excel sheet to track my every food expense and how it fit into my budget. I researched recipe after recipe to find the cheapest ones. I had to go to multiple locations to get the cheapest option of every food. This level of commitment is simply not available to the many people working multiple jobs or caring for children.

Secondly, the challenge was specifically aimed to support the Double SNAP Dollars Program. This aspect is genuinely what made the challenge possible for me.  Beyond my personal experience, the success of the Double SNAP program speaks for itself. The reason we had this challenge in the first place is because people are flocking at incredible rates to use this service at co-ops, CSAs, and Farmer’s Markets. People living on SNAP are absolutely elated to have the ability to choose fresh fruits and vegetables over less wholesome options. Eating well changes how we interact with the world and how we are able to move and think and live. It means so much to the beneficiaries of this program to be able to access the wholesome foods that so many of us take for granted.

Finally, I want to drive home that this challenge is relevant to all of us, more than you may realize. One of the most powerful parts of my experience was that as I publicly took the challenge, multiple people in my life came forward to tell me that they, too, had been on SNAP before. These are smart, kind, hard-working people who simply couldn’t afford to purchase adequate food without assistance for some period of their life.  I ask you to reflect on the fact that many of people you pass on the street, the people who you work with, and your own friends and family have likely used SNAP at some point in their life, even if you don’t know about it.

The SNAP challenge wasn’t easy, but if it allows more people to receive Double SNAP Dollars, and more people to reflect on the critical importance of this program to our city, our state, and our country, then it was certainly worth it.



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