This is my second time doing the CalFresh Challenge but this year, the challenge has taken on a completely different form. “There could not be a worse time for me to do the challenge!” I brashly commented to a friend a week ago. The Challenge’s dates just so happened to land on a week that I am floating around, staying at different people’s homes. It’s only 2 weeks as I wait to move into my new studio but it sure is exhausting not having more than a few days’ worth of clothes in my car and sleeping on different friend and family’s couches each night. The idea of adding huge budget restrictions to my eating and not being able to eat out at my convenience instantly added an enormous feeling of stress. I even contemplated not taking part of the challenge this year.
But, of course, I quickly remembered what the challenge was about and remembered how deeply I empathize with the situation of those I assist with CalFresh applications. Many of my clients are technically homeless, not having a permanent resident for at least 90 days. Some sleep in the streets, some in cars, some in shelters, and some at their brother or aunt’s house until a family member can find work again after being suddenly laid off. These situations are, of course, incredibly stressful. And then, on top of negotiating housing and working or looking for work, there comes the very fundamental need to feed ourselves, to sustain ourselves and our families. Cooking big meals to eat over a few days is a great way to stretch a dollar but can be very difficult to do in transitory times. I found myself bringing home my very well thought-out grocery items from the store last night and as I put them away in small gaps in the fridge and cupboard, I suddenly got nervous and anxious at the idea of the friend I am staying with eating something without knowing what the consequences are for me. Really, I would like to share a meal with her to hank her but with this budget, I simply can’t. Stacking the cans in the kitchen nervously, I remembered a recent client in my office crying. “And then my son comes home to visit and he eats all the pasta I make. And I don’t know how to tell him to stop”.
The CalFresh Challenge is only week. My unstable housing situation is very temporary. Feeling nervous and anxious just for a few moments, however, vividly reminds me of how vital this program is to those who struggle with food insecurity due to a plethora of reasons including high rates of unemployment, an economic recession, low-paying jobs, age, disability and the high cost of living. 76% of SNAP households include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. With proposed cuts for this essential nutritional assistance program, our most vulnerable population suffers. Unfortunately, food insecurity isn’t a mere week for them but rather a greater reality that programs such as SNAP aim to solve and are essential as we continue to find solutions to poverty and hunger in our society.
Submitted by: Jennifer Seneor, CalFresh Outreach Manager with Feeding America San Diego