'Tis that time of year for many of us. The deadline of two months hence looms: Tax Day! And so I have begun the annual hunting expedition, trying to find all of the paperwork necessary to verify my income or justify my deductions. Spending time updating my Quicken records reminds me that it is easier to do the job in little bits, rather than leaving it to the end-of-the-year! "Hmmmmm. Why did I write that check to . . . ?"
And then, there's that moment of truth when I hit the "Return" button (oh, the irony of THAT!), and the annual Income/Expense statement appears on the computer screen. What a pretty mixture of black and red ink! (This is one of those occasions when shades of gray, or any other ink color than black, are not welcome!) And I'm faced with the hard evidence of choices I've made over the year as to where I spent (or sent) my money. And I'm shocked at the number for "Household Expenses: Groceries". Yes, there's a household of four to feed in my case, but . . . .
Normally, seeing that number would give me pause. I would sit back and consider whether we were being prudent. How might we cut back? And I start remembering and thinking about the amount of food that goes down the disposal, or into the garbage can. Gosh, if we only utilized that food, we could cut the budget by . . . ?
"Normally," I say. But today was the Friday of the month that I take DU folks toMetro CareRing. At the beginning of every day work-day at MCR, the staff and volunteers meet for the "Gathering". It is a time of connection, some announcements/updates about the day's work, and usually an educational piece. Today, we learned that many of the staff at MCR were going to take the SNAP Challenge (SNAP = "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan", or 'food stamps'). It is a one-week challenge to see how well one might eat on $4.56/day -- the average food stamp benefit in Colorado.* $4.56/day = $31.92/week, or, for a family of four, $127.68. I can tell you that MY numbers are WAY higher than that.
After learning that sobering statistic, we started the day's work. We stocked shelves with surplus groceries, food that had been on the shelves of Target or Whole Foods or King Soopers that would have gone into the dumpster. One of the food items of which we had an overabundance was Green/Swiss chard. It is an incredibly nutritious and delicious green, assuming you know how to cook it. Most people don't, and so it doesn't move off the shelves very quickly -- at the store or Metro CareRing. We needed to make room in the walk-in refrigerator, and guess what had to go? Yup, chard. And I was tagged as the person to take it to the dumpster. It was hard throwing that beautiful vegetable into the bin. (No, we can't compost it in Denver at this time of year!)
I, who write this every week, and most who read it, are so incredibly blessed that $4.56 is barely equivalent to our daily coffee consumption, and that throwing edible veggies away is hardly noticeable. And so the idea of taking the SNAP Challenge is pretty intriguing, yet incredibly daunting. I wonder if I could do it? What changes would I have to make to my diet, to my lifestyle? How much would I find myself relying on the kindness of strangers -- like organizations such as Metro CareRing. How would I explain it to my family as a discipline? What blows to my pride or self esteem might I suffer if it were my reality?
Many Christians, including me, just began observing the fast of Lent, a (roughly) 40-day period of prayer, study, self-discipline, and penitence leading up to Easter. The question of "What are you giving up for Lent" rings a bit differently for me now. The SNAP challenge doesn't require 40 days. Nor is it associated with Lent, or any other religious observance. On the other hand, considering the issues of hunger and how to address them does have some Lenten resonances . . . and those food-justice issues are of concern to every religious tradition.
*As a contrast, the per diem rate allowed by the IRS for food expenses (and incidentals, like tips) while traveling in Denver is $66 per day!