I felt surprisingly confident on the first day of the Challenge. I had coffee and oatmeal in the morning, something I will be having every morning this week. For lunch, I had pasta with peppers and chicken jalapeno sausage from Trader Joe’s. Since most of our office is participating in the Challenge this year, we got to share stories of our shopping experience prepping for the week. It was interesting to hear about their anxiety and stress at the store as they planned out their meals this week and it was even more fascinating comparing it to my non-stressful shopping experience.
At around 1pm I realized I need to budget more coffee into the Challenge. My coffee addiction started in high school and it has fluctuated quite a bit. I have tried to quit, to cut down, to replace coffee with tea but it never works out. I probably should have accounted for how much coffee I drink a day a bit more. Luckily, I have some leftover money to account for my coffee addiction.
Dinner went pretty well as well. I cooked a staple for me: ground turkey with spices, potatoes and tomatoes with some basmati rice. I love this because it’s a quick and easy recipe and I can always have some leftover for the next day.
For day 2 of the challenge, I had leftovers for lunch and for dinner I had some lentils and rice. During the second day we also discovered that this month Whole Foods is having 25 cent coffee! It might be the best news of the week so far.
Overall, it seems like I’m having a relatively easy start to the Challenge but I attribute it to the fact that I’ve been on benefits before and I had to learn to master meal planning with a limited budget. Taking the Challenge this week has made me think a lot about my AmeriCorps experience. As an AmeriCorps member, my stipend was not considered income so when the county calculated my benefits, I was eligible for the full benefit amount: $200 a month before the cuts to SNAP funding and $189 a month after the cuts to SNAP funding. My monthly stipend came to roughly $1,547 a month towards the end of my term. If my income was calculated to determine my CalFresh benefits, I would only be eligible for $16 a month.
I often found this disparity challenging, especially since my work as an AmeriCorps member meant I was meeting with clients on a daily basis that were living on similar incomes yet they were not eligible for the same benefit as I was. What made it more difficult was knowing that the individuals I worked with were actively searching for higher earning jobs without any success. Some went back to school to improve their chances and ended up with high student loan debt and limited options for advancement, others battled with debilitating mental health issues while attempting to maintain their jobs, while others strived to make a better life for their children in positions with highly fluctuating work schedules.
For me, having access to the full CalFresh allotment not only gave me access to more nutritious meals but it gave me peace of mind that I knew where my next meal was coming from and that I had one less thing to worry about. For the clients I worked with, CalFresh was a lifeline but it was not always enough. They understood that the benefits were a temporary safety net and they were never proud to be receiving CalFresh. Contrary to what some of the myths about CalFresh recipients are, the clients I worked with all looked forward to the day that they would not to rely on CalFresh to make ends meet.
Now that I have moved away from doing direct service, I feel like doing the CalFresh Challenge this week is a good reminder of why I focus on fighting hunger and food insecurity. It's a good reminder that the work we do in raising awareness and limiting the barriers to accessing this much needed resource is great but also that by talking about public benefits in a more open setting, we are also hopefully working towards de-stigmatizing CalFresh.