SNAP Hunger Challenge 2011 Kickoff Post!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

(Hi! I'm Terri, and Michelle has been kind enough to let me hijack blog space for the next week and a half or so as I get geared up for the Feeding Illinois SNAP Hunger Challenge 2011. Read on!)
I am a person that gets angry and choked up when I don’t have any change in my pocket or room in my paycheck to donate to people less fortunate than me.
I am a person that gets angry and choked up when I hear statistics such as 1 in 8 people in Cook County, Illinois are “food insecure.”
I am a person that gets angry and choked up when I am told by a child that their lunch today was a bag of potato chips, and they don’t know what they will have for dinner, if anything.
I was the kind of person that let my anger and frustration stop me from doing something about these sorts of problems, before I took my current job at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Working at the food bank for Cook County has not only given me a steady paycheck in an unsteady economy, benefits in a country full of more sick people than healthy, and amazing coworkers who are also motivated by these issues, it gave me a cause. I know that when I get up at 5:30 in the morning, stumbling bleary eyed and grumpy to my shower, that I *have* to get up. There is more than just my “job” to get done today. My job is making sure that every person that shows up to a soup kitchen, a food pantry, an after school program, a shelter, a church, or a community center affiliated with the GCFD gets enough food to fill their bellies. My job is teaching people job skills so that they can find work in this challenging economy. My job is ending hunger.
Enough with the lofty ramblings, let me get to the nuts and bolts of who I am, what I do, and why you should care about what I’m doing here. My name is Terri, and I’m a chef instructor at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. My program is called Chicago’s Community Kitchens, and it is a job training program that teaches unemployed and underemployed adults how to get (and keep) an entry level job in the foodservice industry. The food that we, along with an amazing production team that I couldn’t live without, make every day goes to serve after school meals at hundreds of sites around Chicagoland. If it weren’t for us, teachers, chefs, and students, children wouldn’t have a hot meal for dinner.
The GCFD is part of a group of food banks in Illinois called Feeding Illinois, which is part of a larger organization of food banks called Feeding America. In September, Feeding Illinois organizes a SNAP Hunger Challenge. All of the details of this challenge can be found on their website at , but I’ll break it down for you here. The official challenge runs from September 18th-24th, but I’ll be participating from the 20th-26th for personal reasons. For 7 days, I will be endeavoring to live on an average individual’s amount of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) budget. This is a grand whopping total of $5 per person, per day. The only pantry staples I am allowed to utilize in this challenge are salt, pepper, and water. I can’t accept food from coworkers, friends, family members. I have to try and get food that is of adequate nutritional value to keep me healthy and sane throughout the week.
I have my doubts. I’m fairly certain that even with my culinary degree and 7 years of kitchen experience under my belt, I’m going to be pretty limited on what I can produce that will satisfy me either physically or mentally. I love to experiment with new ingredients, and I rely heavily on my well stocked pantry to liven up kitchen staples. I predict long moments spent staring at a skillet, whimpering, “What do you *mean,* I don’t have an onion to put in my dinner?” Living above a grocery store, and working in a professional kitchen will also present plenty of opportunity for cheating and mindless eating. However, I’m promising you (the faceless hoards of the internet) that I’m going to stick to this. I am going to try and create recipes that are affordable, accessible, and simple for people who do not have the option to order a pizza after a long day of work. I am going to try writing about it, talking about it, explaining what I’m doing to anyone who will listen even if I’m hungry and tired.
I’m going to do this because I can. I’m going to do this because too many other people don’t have any other choice.
Here are a few statistics about hunger in Cook County, summarized from research done by the GCFD and published in May 2010. The entire fact sheet can be found at:
- Each week, the Food Depository and its member agencies serve 142,400 men, women and children.
- 47 percent of households say they have to choose between paying for food and utilities

- 60 percent of food pantries are completely volunteer-run and have no paid staff