Local politicians will shop and eat on austerity budgets as part of a food aid awareness campaign organized by local Jewish organizations.
The Food Stamp Challenge — organized by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ together with Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest — has drawn dozens of state and local legislators and community members, who have all pledged to feed themselves on $4.20 a day for the week of Sept. 8-14.
The challenge is part of the GMW federation’s year-long End Hunger campaign, designed to raise awareness of hunger in New Jersey — where more than a million people suffer from food insecurity. Organizers say it is a bipartisan effort to restore federal and state funding for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly known as food stamps.
At the Sept. 8 launch event at the Elizabeth headquarters of JFS of Central New Jersey, participants described the difficulties they faced on their first supermarket shopping trip, trying to fit nutritious staples into such a limited budget. They gathered in the agency’s vegetable garden, whose produce — 850 lbs. already this summer — helps stock the JFS Kosher Food Pantry, which has experienced a doubling in demand for its services over the past year.
State Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D-Dist. 20) and Tom Kean Jr. (R-Dist. 21) are the prime movers behind the Food Stamp Challenge. Lesniak said he’d started the day with two eggs and a banana. “I warned my staff that my temper might be somewhat shorter than usual with no coffee,” he said. “Everything is more expensive near low-income housing. Low-income folks work hard and they shouldn’t have to struggle just to subsist and to get the calories they need.”
Kean said his breakfast consisted of a peanut butter sandwich and a granola bar. In the supermarket he was frustrated by the fact that more nutritious whole wheat bread was twice the price of white bread. The challenge, he said, “really focuses all our minds, not only to lead by example as individuals but also as a state” to lead the effort to end hunger.
To find out more about the End Hunger Campaign and follow the experiences of those taking part in the Food Stamp Challenge, go to jfedgmw.org/endhunger.