By Ellen Hattenbach
Hunger is everywhere, from grocery stores desperately trying to fill local food pantries, to victims of natural disasters with nothing to eat, to those down on their luck with no income and children to feed, to the elderly who desperately need our help. Hunger transcends geography, race, religion, gender, education and even class.
But while hunger is everywhere, the solution is right here too. There is sufficient food in America and in Chicago to feed all. As Jews, we are commanded to let all who are hungry come eat. We are commanded to end hunger.
As Chair of the JUF Hunger Awareness Project, I agreed to take on the Jewish Community SNAP Challenge.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I had to radically change the way my family ate. Grocery shopping for three of us for under $95 to last a whole week was not easy. Scouting for on-sale items and using coupons was a must, but we still couldn’t afford meat or Kosher products. To meet the budget restriction, I skipped breakfast altogether.
Lunch posed a different set of challenges. While business lunches were usually quite lavish, the SNAP Challenge denied me this luxury. Instead, I browned-bagged my lunch and drank water.
For dinner, my family ate small portions with no seconds. Needless to say, our pantry felt paltry.
Socially, I felt more isolated. No Shabbat dinner with friends. No dinner out on Saturday night. No girl-talk over lattes at Starbucks. I attended an event at Spertus but I couldn’t eat. I imagined what a mother on food stamps would say if she were there, “May I have a container to go? I need to feed my child.”
And then came Thanksgiving. How can anyone serve a Thanksgiving meal for under $15? I knew that if I were on food stamps, I would have had to seek out free food at a food pantry, such as EZRA Multi-Service Center or The ARK. People who look just like me must do just that.
Participating in the SNAP Challenge left me with a heightened sensitivity to the hunger pains, isolation, humiliation and sadness that those who are hungry experience daily. Taking the Challenge is only a start to understanding a situation that must end. First comes understanding, and then comes action.
Let’s set the table together, keep our hungry neighbors nourished, and let all who are hungry come eat.
Ellen Hattenbach is the Chair of the JUF Hunger Awareness Project, a JCRC Vice Chair for Domestic Affairs and is the Director of Strategic Marketing at Frost, Ruttenberg & Rothblatt, P.C.