Category Archives: SNAP Challenge

Feed My Starving Children

FMSCToday, my son and I, together with a group from our church, Christ Lutheran Church On Capitol Hill, spent a couple of hours packing meals at Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Christian relief organization which prepackages meals for distribution to malnourished children distributed by partner organizations around the world.  We were at the facility in Eagan, Minnesota, and the organization has similar facilities in Minnesota, Illinois, and Arizona.

The meals we packed consisted of roughly equal quantities of rice and soy, along with dehydrated vegetables and a “vitamin” component which is essentially dehydrated chicken broth.  It’s designed to be a palatable and nutritious food source.  We were given a small sample at the end of our shift, and it is quite good, although it understandably has a bit of a “dehydrated” taste to it.

FMSC also provides other similar packaged food suitable for infants and small children.

Volunteers are usually told exactly where the fruits of their labor are going to be sent, but in this case, FMSC had the good problem of having an excess of product at the moment.  But we were told that the most likely countries to receive our shipment would be Haiti, Nicaragua, or the Philippines.  We were told that our food would probably be in the hands of the intended recipients in July.

While FMSC is not primarily a disaster relief agency, since Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, they have been involved in disaster relief, they have a readily available supply of suitable food available.  After Haiyan, FMSC food was in the hands of refugees within 48 hours, and many of them had only this food to eat for a month as they concentrated on rebuilding.

Today, there were about 80 volunteers from our church and from other churches and organizations.  We worked in a very efficient assembly line operation, in teams of about 10.  I spent most of my time scooping ingredients into the packages, while other volunteers got the packages ready, sealed them, boxed them, and put the boxes on pallets.  Shown above are two of the pallets we completed.  Each pallet contains 27 boxes, with 36 packages inside each box.  Each package provides six meals.  So the picture above shows enough to feed 5832 people for one meal.  We went through one bag of rice.  I glanced at the label, and it said 2000 pounds.

We were shown the photo of an emaciated infant, and then the photo taken only four months later of a healthy child.  We were also shown his picture taken a few years later, of a happy kid indistinguishable from any other kid you would see anywhere in the world.  When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he says he wants to be the president of Haiti.

But it was pointed out to us that for millions of kids around the world, the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” is an alien concept.  They’re so worried about the next meal that it never even occurs to them to think about the future.

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Fare For All: A Nonprofit that Makes Cents

Review of Fare For All

For those of you who were following me during the SNAP Challenge, you recall that I ate for a week with less than $31.50 per week in groceries, the average amount received by SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamp) recipients.  It wasn’t particularly difficult, but you undoubtedly noticed that I didn’t have much in the way of meat, and I didn’t have any fresh produce.   This year, that was even more true, since I relied almost entirely on foods that could be used for emergency food storage.  But even the previous year, when I had the run of the supermarket, these items were mostly lacking, simply because they were too expensive.  People having to feed themselves on a tight budget often can’t afford these items.

FareForAllI recently became aware, however, of a non-profit organization called Fare for All.  They are part of The Food Group,  formerly known as Emergency Foodshelf Network.  But Fare for All is not a foodshelf.  They are more like a cooperative that purchases food wholesale and sells it to the public.  They rely on volunteers, and they have distribution locations at neighborhood locations such as churches and community centers.  Each month, they put together pre-packaged baskets of food which they sell at a fixed price.  The exact contents of these baskets vary from month to month.  They have two main products.  The first is a produce package consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, which sells for $10.    The second is a meat package consisting of about four meat and fish items, which sells for $11.  If someone buys both packages together, the total price is discounted to $20.

Here are the two packages that were for sale this month.  First, here is the $10 produce package:

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I didn’t price this at the supermarket, but it seems like it would cost considerably more than $10.  (The large loaf of bread shown to the right is also included for those purchasing both packages together.)

The $11 meat package is shown below.  It consists of turkey sausage (about 13 ounces), frozen fish, chicken breasts, and frozen meatballs.

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Some months, additional items are available.  For example, in November and December, they have holiday packages containing a turkey or ham, as well as other items, for $30.  They apparently had some left over, and were selling them this month for $27.  In addition to the ham, they included a whole chicken and some other items.

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I decided to check them out today, so I visited one of their distribution sites to buy some of their food.  Of course, I was already thinking the question that they probably get asked a lot, since it’s on their FAQ’s:

Q: If I purchase food through this program, am I taking away food from someone else who may need it more than I do?

A: Absolutely not. The more people who participate in Fare For All, the more purchasing power the program has. This means that greater savings will be passed onto our customers.

Emboldened by this reassurance, I decided to give them a try.  I purchased the items shown above:  One produce pack, one meat pack, and one holiday pack.  The total was $47.

The process is quite simple.  Their website lists their sites and gives the dates and times.  Most of the locations are open one day a month for about two hours.  Most are during the day, but some are evenings.  They have about 30 sites in the Twin Cities and outlying areas.  The closest one to me was Real Life Church in Roseville, although there are others that are conveniently located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and suburbs.  That church appears to be affiliated with the Assemblies of God, but the distribution event was not in any way geared toward proselytizing.   In fact, the volunteer I spoke with wasn’t affiliated with the church himself.  The church appears to serve mostly as a location for the distribution.

The event began at 3:00, and I arrived at about 3:30.  There was a short line, but I only had to wait about five minutes.  Samples and photos of the various baskets are displayed, and you pick out which package(s) you want.  At the end of the line, you pay, and you’re given a ticket which you hand to another volunteer.  (They accept cash, credit and debit cards, and EBT cards.)  The volunteer then loads up your cart, and another volunteer helps you take it to your car.

You get your food in a sealed box, so I was slightly skeptical that the produce inside might be blemished somehow.  But it wasn’t, as you can see from the photos above.  They look like the same ones I would have picked out from the display at the supermarket.  The only difference seems to be the price.

On the way out, those making a purchase above a certain amount pick out a free loaf of bread.

Overall, this program performs a very real service to the community:  It makes high-quality food available to all at a reasonable price.  Furthermore, I’ve only been able to find one negative thing said about Fare For All.  A 2012 Pioneer Press article contains reports from a few naysayers who believe that this is unfair competition to retailers.  They don’t mind poor people buying food from a nonprofit, but they think that people should have to qualify by being poor enough.

I don’t think that criticism is well founded.  Fare for All does have a clear price advantage.  But retailers can still compete easily, because of wider selection, more convenient hours, and any other advantage they can think of.  For-profit corporations are quick to point out that a nonprofit such as Fare For All is tax exempt.  However, a for-profit corporation pays income taxes only on its profits.  If a cooperative organization voluntarily decides to operate on a non-profit basis, there are no profits to tax.  Grocery stores pay property taxes, but since Fare For All is operating from its locations only a few hours a month, any lost property tax revenue is minuscule.

It seems to me that there are some great advantages of having this program open to everyone, regardless of need.  First of all, there is absolutely no stigma associated with it.  I have no idea whether the other people in line were low income persons who desperately needed the food, or whether they are simply taking advantage of the reasonable price.  I assume most were in the latter category.

And more importantly, having the program open to all makes the program more economical for everyone.  As the Fare For All website points out, the additional buying power benefits everyone.  If nonprofits were required to “stick to helping the needy,” as one critic said they should, this would actually add more costs, as the nonprofit would have to verify need.  The end result would be that the truly needy would receive less and pay more.

With its current model, it seems to me that Fare For All is a win-win situation for all.

 

SNAP Challenge 2015: The Final Day

Leftover staple items.

Leftover staple items.

Today marks the seventh and final day of my 2015 SNAP Challenge, where I’ve eaten for a week on less than $31.50, the average amount received by recipients of SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. My actual expenditures were $27.99, which was up a bit from last year, but still well within the guidelines. As an added challenge this year, I concentrated mostly on foods that are suitable for emergency food storage.

20150124_180632Breakfast today consisted of oatmeal. For lunch, I finished the nachos and had another serving of biscuits and gravy.  Supper, shown here, consisted of the remaining burritos, and a quesadilla made with the remaining cheese sauce and tortilla.

Most of my leftover food is shown above. I still have at least a pound each of the flour and sugar, half a pint of the cooking oil, and half a pound of margarine. So I could easily subsist a few more days on what I have. But since the challenge ends at midnight, I’ll just rotate those remaining items back into our normal household pantry, and think about what I can do for future challenges.

20150124_180008As I did last year, I celebrated the end of the Challenge by baking a cake, shown here, using  this recipe.  About the time I was supposed to take it out of the oven, I realized that I had forgotten to include the margarine called for in the recipe.  Even though the cake wasn’t as good as last year, it was surprisingly good despite this omission.

I should note that the recipe called for two eggs, and I only had one.  Over the last year, there has apparently been inflation in the price of eggs.  Last year, a dollar bought eight, but this year, I only had six eggs.  Therefore, I had to include one egg from the normal household supply.  But I’ll be sharing more than half the cake with the rest of the family.

I have five hours to go, but there’s no question that I’ll survive.  I still have about a dozen cookies to tide me over, as well as several biscuits.  I also have about a fourth of my can of coffee remaining.  In normal use, my 10.5 ounce can wouldn’t have lasted the week, but with a bit of rationing, I had plenty.

I’ll probably have some concluding thoughts in a few days, but this concludes my SNAP Challenge for the year.  Tomorrow, we’ll resume our normal programming, and look at why a Boy Scout a hundred years ago took it upon himself to have a Merit Badge requirement changed.

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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 6.

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As you can see, today’s photo is rather blurry, which demonstrates that I’m not very good at using my wife’s cell phone camera. But I ate well on the penultimate day of the SNAP Challenge.

Breakfast consisted of instant oatmeal and milk, along with coffee. For lunch, I had more of the nachos from yesterday, along with more burritos. I had a few more nachos for an afternoon snack, and I still have enough cheese and chips for one more small serving.

Supper is shown above. It was quite simple, consisting of the pasta shown here. In addition to the pasta, it contained a small amount of margarine, most of the remaining pasta sauce, and a couple of slices of the Treet, browned. I served it with vegetables, two of the biscuits, and Kool-Aid.

I think I have plenty for tomorrow, even without any further cooking. I believe I still have in the refrigerator multiple servings of biscuits and gravy, burritos, pizza, and pasta. I also made about 20 cookies last night, and most of them are still left.  And most importantly, I still have plenty of coffee, more than enough for one day.

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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 5

20150122_160043I didn’t really have breakfast this morning, other than coffee.  Lunch consisted of leftover Ramen noodles, with some of the mixed vegetables mixed in, along with the leftover pig in blanket from a couple of nights ago.

Since I didn’t have much of a lunch, I also had an afternoon snack consisting of the nachos shown above.  I’m concentrating on storage food for my challenge this week, and the chips aren’t a particularly good long-term storage item.  But they do have a reasonably long shelf life, and they’re the kind of thing one might find around the house in an emergency.  For long-term storage, they could, of course, be made with stored ingredients.  Yesterday, I discussed how tortillas could be made from Maseca and water.  The tortillas can be cut into chips and deep fried to make tortilla chips.

Canned cheese sauce.

The  canned cheese sauce, on the other hand, is an excellent storage item.  A few days ago, I used it to make a passable pizza.  It wasn’t intended for that purpose, and although it made a fairly good pizza, the result was unusual looking.  But today, I was using the sauce for its intended purpose, and it made a very good snack.

The cheese sauce is relatively expensive (about $2.50 per can), so it’s probably not an economical option if you plan to use it regularly on a long-term basis.  However, having a few cans in your pantry can allow you to make some good comfort food in case of emergency.

For long-term storage, a very good option for some of your dairy needs is Honeyville powdered cheese.  This product appears to be very similar to the cheese powder that comes with boxed macaroni and cheese.  For about $21, you get a lot of this powdery substance, a can containing 41 servings of 140 calories each.  It can be used for things such as macaroni and cheese (although the boxes of macaroni and cheese are probably cheaper), and also makes a quite good cheese sauce.  I’ve found that the consistency is thicker than cheese sauce, so it actually makes a better dip.

According to the instructions on the can, you simply add hot water.  It’s not salted, so you will want to add salt.  And I’ve found that the final result is better if you add a little bit of milk and butter or margarine.

A few cans of the  cheese sauce are certainly helpful for emergency storage.  But over the long term, the Honeyville powdered cheese would allow you to augment your dairy storage with something with an essentially infinite shelf life.

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Supper is shown above.  I made another batch of biscuits and had biscuits and gravy, using the gravy mixicon and water.  I also had some of the canned vegetablesicon and a couple of slices of the Armour Treet.  I washed it down with coffee and Kool-Aid.  I am very full after this dinner which consisted entirely of canned and dried ingredients.

I also have plenty of leftovers, such that I don’t think I’ll need to do much cooking for the final two days of the SNAP Challenge.  I have leftover burritos, pizza, and biscuits and gravy in the refrigerator, but I also have additional ingredients in case I want to try something else.  I’ve almost finished my second batch of cookies, so I’ll probably make one more batch.  The largest downfall for most SNAP Challenge participants seems to be the failure to recognize the people often eat between meals.  And having the cookies available makes the challenge much more manageable. icon


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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 4

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My 25 cent oatmeal.

For breakfast this morning, I departed somewhat from my previous shopping list. Instead of using the groceries I purchased this weekend, I had some oatmeal. Oatmeal is a good storage item, and it’s certainly within my budget, so I don’t consider this to be “cheating.” The particular oatmeal I ate was Quaker Pumpkin Spice Instant Oatmeal . I had it in the house, and had actually purchased the 8 pack about a month ago at WalMart as a closeout item for only 25 cents. So my total expenditure for the two envelopes as 6-1/4 cents.

But since I didn’t buy the oatmeal during the SNAP Challenge period, it’s not fair to use 25 cents as the price. Instead, I’ll treat it as an expenditure of $1, since oatmeal (both instant and regular) is always available at the Dollar Store. Therefore, my total expenditures are now up to $27.99.

For lunch, I finished the chili from yesterday.

For supper, I used the tortillas and can of refried beans for burritos. I made seven, four of which I saved for later. After viewing my unusual looking food, my wife took pity on me and prepared the burritos. I could have done it, but they wouldn’t have looked nearly this good. As you can see, I finished up the blue Kool-Aid and am now working on the pink Kool-Aid.

The canned beans and prepared tortillas are certainly suitable items for medium-term storage, since the tortillas had an expiration date a few months away. So they’re both good items to keep around the house. But for long-term storage, there are even better options.

First of all, normal dry beans are cheap and will keep basically forever if properly stored. The disadvantage, of course, is that they require a fair amount of preparation and actual cooking. Another excellent option is the Honeyville refried bean flakes. These are dehydrated refried beans. You simply add hot water, and the result is refried beans which are indistinguishable from (or even better than) the canned variety. The cost is basically comprable to canned beans.

While tortillas will last a long time, the basic ingredient for corn tortillas, Maseca, will last basically forever if stored properly. The only other ingredient necessary to make tortillas is water, so this is a good choice for emergency food storage. It should be available in most Supermarkets, including WalMart.
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Of course, one must know how to make tortillas. It’s not particularly difficult, but it does require some practice. And it’s made much easier by having the proper tool, namely a tortilla press such as the one shown here. They’re available at Amazon, WalMarticon, and many other places. If you can’t find one locally, you can order at WalMart online and pick it up at your local store.

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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 3

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I have to admit that this year’s SNAP Challenge is proving to be a bit more challenging than last year, since I’m relying this year on food that is suitable for long-term storage (or, to put it another way, the so-called “non-perishable” items that people are asked to donate to food banks).  My menu is about the same as last year, but I don’t have any bread, hot dogs, sausage, or hamburger.  The overall cost is about the same, but the substitutes aren’t quite as good.  In particular, the canned meat is starting to get old.

For breakfast this morning, I had pancakes and some of the Armour Treet.icon  For lunch and supper, I made chili, using some of the Treet, one can of Chili beans, and one can of tomatoes.  I’ve been grazing on the peanut butter cookies, so I made another batch.  (I forgot to flatten them with a fork, but they taste OK.)  Both are shown above.icon  I had one biscuit for lunch, but I’m starting to tire of them, so I had cookies with my chili for supper.

 

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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 2

Tonight's Supper.

Tonight’s Supper.

Day 2 of the SNAP Challenge was again uneventful.  I’m subsisting this week on less than $31.50 in groceries, and I’m concentrating on items that are easily storable.

After my initial failure with pancake syrup, I tried again last night and was somewhat more successful.  Since I don’t have any brown sugar to work with, I used two parts sugar and one part water and let it simmer until it was the right consistency.  Last year, my syrup was too watery, so I tried simmering it longer, taking care not to set off the smoke alarm as happened a couple of nights ago.  I still don’t have the knack, since it was excessively crystallized.  But I managed to get enough for my pancakes this morning, and for a couple more meals.

For lunch, I finished the tuna salad from yesterday, and had a couple of biscuits.

Supper consisted of the experimental pigs in blankets shown above.  I simply made the biscuit dough, wrapped it around the remaining Vienna Sausagesicon, and baked for about 15 minutes.  I also made one package of the Ramen noodles.  I washed it down with windshield washer fluid–er, I mean blue Kool-Aid.

With the exception of a couple of pats of margarine that I put on the pancakes, everything I consumed today is suitable for long-term storage.

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SNAP Challenge 2015: Day 1

The SNAP Challenge got to an uneventful start today. For breakfast this morning, I had two of the pancakes.  Because of the failure with the syrup last night, I put peanut butter on them.  On the way to church, I put an extra pancake and a couple of cookies in my pocket, which I had as a snack on the way home.

20150118_140044For a fast lunch, I made some tuna salad, consisting of pastaicon, one can of tuna, and some mayonnaiseicon.  I had about half of it for lunch and saved the rest for later.  I also had two biscuits and a couple of cookies for dessert.  I didn’t resort to drinking windshield washer fluid.  The blue liquid was actually Kool-Aid, since it turns out that the first batch was that color, undoubtedly with all-natural coloring.  I also had coffee.  For some reason, many SNAP Challenge participants add to the suffering by erroneously concluding that coffee is out of their budget.  I have plenty for a week, and it cost only about $2.  I am conserving somewhat, however.  Normally, I would go through the 10.5 ounce can in a little less than a week.  Therefore, I’m making it one cup at a time, and I should have plenty for the week.


For supper, I made experimental pizza.  Since one focus during my SNAP Challenge is the use of food appropriate for emergency storage, I decided to work with cheese.  Storing dairy products can be a challenge for some, but there are many options.  One of them is canned cheese, such as shown here.  At WalMart, it cost about $2.50 for a 15-ounce can.  It’s available in many supermarkets in the Mexican aisle.  This one is called “condensed,” and for use in things like nachos, the instructions call for water to be added.  We normally buy the uncondensed version, which sells for about $2 for the same size.  It was out of stock when I made my shopping trip.

I used this cheese in pizzas, which are shown here.  SNAPpizzaAs you can see, they wound up looking a bit unusual, since the cheese didn’t completely melt.  Chances are a more skilled chef would be able to make the pizza look a bit more presentable, but it tasted good.  The crusts are flour tortillas which I first coated with a bit of vegetable oil.  On top of that was some of the spaghetti sauce.  For toppings, I used about 1/4 of the can of cheese and two Vienna sausages.

Despite it’s odd looks, this year’s pizza tasted much better than my first attempt last year.  Last year, I used plain tomato sauce, and I didn’t have many seasonings to work with.  As a result, it was rather bland. In fact, the pizza represented the one time that I threw away leftovers last year.  In addition, the canned cheese I used this year actually worked a lot better than the cheap cheese I used last year.  And ounce for ounce, the price was about the same.  I’ll be using the canned cheese in other recipes over the next few days.  Even though the can of cheese represented my single largest expenditure this year, I think it was a good choice.

The can of cheese had an expiration date of May 2016, meaning that it has a shelf life of over a year.  It does look like a good option for emergency storage.  Calorie for calorie, it’s more expensive than other options (about $2.50 for 700 calories), but it’s still a good choice for adding a bit of variety.

I washed down supper with another glass of blue Kool-Aid and, of course, coffee.

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SNAP Challenge 2015 Day 0: Cooking

I plan to start the seven-day SNAP challenge tomorrow.  I did the shopping yesterday.  I spent a total of $26.99 on groceries that should last me the week.  Most people who take the SNAP challenge seem to go hungry since they don’t think about their basic caloric needs, which for most people is in the ballpark of 2000 calories per day.

Most of my caloric needs are taken care of with $4.94 of my purchase money, in the form of the following, which make up a total of 17,510 calories, more than enough for seven days:  Five pounds of flouricon , four pounds of sugaricon, and 16 ounces of  cooking oilicon.  Those items are not, by themselves, particularly edible.  Therefore, my mission for today was to change some of those ingredients, along with a few others, into actual food.  Since this process takes about the same amount of time regardless of the quantity, I made enough for the next few days and put them in the freezer.

20150117_200705I started by making the pancakes shown here.  They are now in the freezer and can quickly be warmed up in the toaster or microwave for a fast breakfast or snack.  I used the same recipe as last year, except I used cooking oil instead of margarine, in keeping with my theme this year of using ingredients that can be stored for emergency use.

And since my use of storage food items precludes the luxury of 20150117_203434-1having bread, I’ll be relying more on the pancakes and biscuits.  I also made my first batch of biscuits, which are shown here.  I again used the same recipe as last year, but used cooking oil in place of the sausage grease or margarine that I used previously.

I also made a batch of peanut butter cookies.  The downfall of many SNAP challenge participants seems to be the lack of snack items.  The 18 cookies I baked should tide me over between meals for the next couple of days.  I used the same recipe as last year, but since I had more peanut butter to work with this year, I was slightly more generous.  I went ahead and used the margarine for these cookies, although I think the cooking oil would have worked just as well.

I also prepared two other items, or at least tried to do so.  Envelopes of Kool-Aidicon cost 20 cents, considerably less than the pre-sweetened variety.   It’s easier to prepare it by the glass, so I made my own pre-sweetened Kool-Aid by adding one envelope to a cup of sugar.  My first failure so far was with pancake syrup.  I mixed two parts sugar and one part water (equal parts of white and brown sugar work better, but I don’t have brown sugar) and left them to simmer on the stove.  I was reminded of this when the smoke detector went off, since I neglected to keep an eye on it.  Perhaps I’ll try again tonight, but I’ll probably just clean up the mess and leave my syrup making for another day.  In any event, I lost one cup of sugar, which was burnt to a crisp rather than delivering any food value.  But last year, I had more than a pound of sugar left at the end of the SNAP challenge, so I won’t go hungry as a result of my carelessness.

 

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