“I want spaghetti for dinner,” said a young friend who was visiting me Tuesday.
“We don’t have any.”
She just looked at me and rolled her eyes. So we got in the car to spend the last $5.22 remaining from my $31.50 grocery budget for the week.
So far I’ve managed to feed myself well on the basic, staple items I bought for the SNAP* Challenge. But how do you explain to a child that tonight’s dinner will be cereal or soup again?
Returning to CVS was my clever solution. The Ragu spaghetti sauce and Barilla pasta rang up at $4.24. But I had $3.50 in the store’s “ExtraBucks” rewards, so we spent only 74 cents (75 with sales tax).
That $31.50 is the amount each person eligible for SNAP can obtain to spend on food each week, and if my young friend were my child or dependent, I could combine our allotments for a total of $63. But what if I were her grandmother or aunt without that additional amount to spend? What if we couldn’t get to a grocery store and had to shop at convenience stores where, overwhelmingly, the least healthy foods are also the most expensive?
Food banks, emergency food pantries (such as Charlotte’s Loaves and Fishes), houses of worship, and regional agencies help to bridge the gap. Still, across the U.S., millions of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price meal programs at school face worsening hunger, especially in the summertime when school is out.
“You have to put hamburger meat in the sauce,” my young friend said. It’s a reasonable request. Growing children need protein.
The least expensive package of ground beef at Harris Teeter was $4.34.
Tomorrow, I can return that $1.79 bottle of soy sauce to the store, maybe even those tea bags I forgot to count in my budget earlier in the week.
But tonight, we’re eating spaghetti with hamburger meat.
*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.
Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.