Could you live for a week on food stamps? Some people will be discovering that for themselves during the next several days as part of the 3SquaresVT Challenge.
This is the eighth year Hunger Free Vermont has put out the challenge. Hunger Free Vermont is a nonprofit that works with state agencies and local groups across Vermont to increase people’s access to healthy food, according to its website. 3SquaresVT is the state name for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
The challenge, said Phil Morin, food security specialist for Hunger Free Vermont, is to eat for a week on the average 3SquaresVT budget of $37 per week for one person — that’s $5.22 per day, or $1.74 per meal.
Bianca Zanella, of Rutland, is among those taking the challenge this year. A graduate of Green Mountain College in Poultney, she learned of the challenge through her work, which has put her in frequent contact with folks from Hunger Free Vermont. Zanella was an AmeriCorps VISTA worker assigned to NeighborWorks of Western Vermont. She now works at NewStory Center, an advocacy group for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and at Phoenix Books in Rutland.
“I’ve worked with people experiencing low income who utilize the 3SquaresVT program,” she said. “This, I think, was a really good opportunity to develop my role in the community as an advocate.”
Zanella and her partner, Akbar Abidi, are taking the challenge together, meaning their food budget for this week is $53. If they use items they already have, such as flour, salt or butter, they’re asked to determine what the cost would be and subtract it from the week’s food budget.
Zanella said she normally gets her food from a co-op and farmers’ markets. This week, most of the shopping is getting done at Price Chopper, and what’s being bought is simple and whatever is on sale. Other stores might be cheaper, she said, but she doesn’t own a vehicle, and Price Chopper is within walking distance.
Brunch plans this week also suffered, Zanella said. A friend had asked her out to eat, but instead they ate home-cooked eggs and pancakes.
“Those are the things you have to cut if you are going on a low-income budget,” she said.
Eating healthy can still be done, but it’s not ideal, she said. Meat, for instance, is out this week, as are some of the organic foods she enjoys. Fresh fruits and vegetables are still on the table however.
So far, she and Abidi have spent about $15. By the end of this, Zanella said she hopes to have increased her gratitude and be made more aware of her privilege.
Morin said Monday that failing the challenge is just as enlightening as completing it, as it’s aimed at showing people what it’s like to feed themselves on the 3SquaresVT program. More information about the challenge can be found at www.hungerfreevt.org/3squaresvt-challenge.