Hunger Awareness Project

SNAP Challenge All For Naught. NOT.

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By Ellen Hattenbach

November 4, 2013


While my friends are training for the Chicago Marathon, an admirable feat to say the least, I undertook a different type of challenge: "The SNAP Challenge".

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as Food Stamps, enables nearly 47 million low-income Americans to access food they otherwise would not be able to afford.

This past September, which was Hunger Action Month, I decided to take The SNAP Challenge, which gives participants the unpalatable taste of life that thousands of low-income Chicagoans endure. The average SNAP benefit for an individual in Illinois results in living on just $35 worth of food and beverage over an entire week. Yes, $5 a day. That's what most of us spend on our morning venti skinny lattes. So like any conscientious citizen, I thought the SNAP Challenge would be just that…a snap. And away I went.

But just like the enthusiast who signs up to run a marathon and thinks he/she can complete 26.2 miles on Day 1 of training, I fell short of reaching the finish line. Sure, I started out strong and determined, but quickly hit some unanticipated bumps and stormy weather. I discovered that taking the SNAP Challenge requires advance training and conditioning, a luxury that 1 of 6 hungry Americans don't have.

So where did the hurdles arise? Not with the grocery shopping. For a family of 3, I spent only $95 ($10 under the Challenge allotment). I even resisted stopping at Panera for my daily coffee. So how could I not cross the finish line?

When I made the decision to take the SNAP Challenge for one week, I did not build into the calendar my already-scheduled business lunches and dinners, a rare and precious visit from out-of-town cousins, and the Break Fast I had planned for 14 people (the lox alone put me well over the daily stipend). So, the SNAP challenge beat me 3 out of the 7 days.

But on the 4 days I could comply, I will confess that living on $5 opened my eyes in way even fasting on Yom Kippur could not compete. Stomach burning, light-headedness, shaky and irritable before my next meal…my first attempt was ­not "all for naught". It may not have been marathon training, but it certainly was sensitivity training for what a hungry child or yearning mom or humiliated dad feels like living on a mere $5 per day.

So now what? Well, just because I did not accomplish this round of the SNAP Challenge does not mean I won't try again. I am committed to live on $35 for one week. However, I will have to plan a week when I don't have to schedule business meals, host holiday dinners, or entertain guests in my home. Wouldn't it be great if our hungry neighbors could schedule their hunger too?

Please join me in taking The SNAP Challenge (formerly known as the Food Stamp Challenge) on Nov. 20-27, 2013 and March 7-14, 2014 which gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans living on a food stamp budget of less than $5 per day. As part of the JUF Hunger Awareness Project, a year-long initiative to raise awareness and mobilize volunteers in the area of hunger and food insecurity, the Chicago Jewish community is committing to taking on the SNAP Challenge. Join us to today and sign up at

Ellen Hattenbach is the JCRC Vice Chair for Domestic Affairs and is the Director of Strategic Marketing at Frost, Ruttenberg & Rothblatt, P.C. This article also appears in the November issue of JUF News.

Feed Chicago

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By Adam Hyman

October 9, 2013

Hunger Awareness

What was I thinking? It is 7:00 am on a rainy, overcast, Sunday morning. I manage to drag myself out of bed, doubting the wisdom of the commitment I made weeks prior to participate in a noble, city-wide hunger relief campaign coordinated by JUF, yet at the same time, determined to resist the seductive beckoning of my oh-so-soft mattress, urging me to remain horizontal, luxuriate under the covers, and outright flake. What impact will my presence and small contribution to this effort really have, in any case? Will it matter one iota that I'm there?

I try to dispel these second thoughts while in transport to the location where I join two other volunteers to cook breakfast and serve the occupants of a local homeless shelter. It would be the grossest of understatements to say that my repertoire in the kitchen is limited. In all frankness, even in my own kitchen, I'm quite simply out of my element, highly likely to botch any dish that cannot be cooked by toaster or hot water, and in need of Google maps to navigate my way around and locate the necessary utensils. But, fate smiled upon me this morning; I was to be on egg duty! That I could handle. After all, as a perennial bachelor, I'd subsisted on eggs for years, made them not only my breakfast, but even dinner on countless occasions. I think I have a pretty good way with a spatula. Buoyed by my capacity to contribute something of actual substance, a sense of calm settles over me as I don my apron, and get to cracking those shells. I feel my participation is now justified.

Mission accomplished, my fellow volunteers and I cheerfully begin serving the occupants, each one of whom expresses appreciation for our modest effort. Each has a story and I'm curious to know it. I want to relate. Have a meaningful interaction. Make a human connection of some sort. Move beyond the formalities. Attempting to do just that, after everyone is served, I help myself to an apple, sit down at one of the tables and strike up a conversation with the others around me. The three of them share remarkable and poignant personal stories and when they conclude, I say to them – quite sincerely, that I had not expected to meet such interesting people this morning. On the heels of my comment, a man behind me at one of the other tables utters something to the effect of, "There's plenty more where that came from." Then he proceeds to supply that plenty. Without disclosing any details that could reveal his identity, let's just say he is highly educated and considerably accomplished in the realm of academia - a former volunteer himself, who recently experienced a severe health crisis and consequently, found himself in dire straits.

As I finally take my leave that morning, it is with the acute awareness that under different circumstances, I could be in his position; that sometimes all that separates the well-off from the indigent is the impact from the unpredictable winds of misfortune.

It did matter I was there. To me.

Adam Hyman is an entrepreneur who, in addition to his involvement with JUF's Young Leadership Division and Feed Chicago, participated in the first TOV Hurricane Sandy Relief Mission this past December.

Feeding the Soul of Chicago

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By Erin Esko

October 17, 2013

soup kitchen

It was an exceptionally rainy night in Chicago. Guests sought shelter from the weather in the lobby or doorway. Ten volunteers from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago arrived at the Marquard Center soup kitchen, a Feed Chicago volunteer activity, part of the JUF Hunger Awareness Project. This project is a year-long initiative to raise awareness and mobilize volunteers in the area of hunger and food insecurity. The JUF Hunger Awareness Project not only includes volunteer opportunities at soup kitchens, but also offers a variety of activities at various agencies throughout Chicago and nationwide.

We, the volunteers, committed our time because we believed in the project's cause. We wanted to make a difference. If 1 in 6 Americans go to bed hungry each night, then perhaps tonight we could devote some of our time to an organization committed to changing that unfortunate statistic. The Marquard Center in Bucktown, as part of the Franciscan Outreach Association, offers dinner service 365 days of the year. That rainy night was no exception. We served around 100 guests. The staff at the Marquard Center welcomed us with open arms, smiles and grace. They had prepared all of the food and we were prepared to serve it, clean the tables, reset the tables, greet guests and fill water glasses. Each guest was treated with respect and the guests treated us in the same way. Just as the center opens its doors to guests from all over, the volunteers were from all sides of the Chicagoland area.

We did not know each other before that night. However, by the end, we were bonded: laughing together, telling stories, helping one another. As the night came to a close and the last guests receded back into the night, so too did us volunteers, surprised to find that the rain had passed. We felt good about having done our part, but understood there was more work to be done.

Erin Esko is currently in nursing school and is working with TOV to plan a volunteer project for her fellow nursing students. Feed Chicago was actually her first JUF event!

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