Thursday, September 29, 2016

29 going on 30: My journey, my life, living the United Way

Loyalty, Baseball and Crakerjack. Or is it Crackerjacks?

by Pete Grignon, Chief Financial Officer, CPA 

“Son, we’re going to a baseball game.” Nap, my father, was a loyal baseball fan who took me to many a game at Cheney Stadium to watch the local home team, Tacoma Giants (1960-1965).  The memory of my father taking me to the ball park is the main reason why I still follow the game to this day.  He would quietly explain to me how the game was played while recording every play on a scorecard. He would cheer on the team and get upset with the umpire.  At five years old, the only thing I could think about was the food: popcorn in the first inning, followed by a hot dog with a hearty spread of mustard from a wooden stick and a dollop of relish in the third. I can still hear the booming voice of the hot dog man, “Hot dog, get your red hot, hot dog,” and see the steam rising from the large metal container he lugged up and down the stairs. The sixth inning was time to open that box of Cracker Jack, or what I remember as Cracker Jack(s). During the seven inning stretch we would belt out, “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.” I remember, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.”  For those of you born in the fifties and sixties, is that what you remember, the plural version?

A little history on Cracker Jack: In 1896, the first lot of Cracker Jack was produced, the same year the name was registered. It was named by an enthusiastic sampler who remarked: "That's a crackerjack idea!" (a colloquialism meaning "of excellent quality"). In 1916, mascot Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were introduced on the cover. In 1912, toy surprises were included in every box. In 2013, some prizes became codes for people to redeem "nostalgic" games on the Cracker Jack app through Google Play for Android-powered devices.

My dad remained loyal to our local baseball team until the day he died. Stuck with them through the winning AND losing seasons. He was also loyal to my mom and his children.  Some of his reliability must have rubbed off on me when I went to work with United Way over 29 years ago. I still believe United Way is the best way to help the most people as we work with others to solve our community’s toughest challenges. What are you loyal too?

Monday, September 26, 2016

SNAP Challenge - Challenge Complete

by Nicole Milbradt, Director of Marketing

As the weekend came, we finished out our SNAP week with more of the same. The kids loved the syrup we purchased for the pancakes. Probably because the top two ingredients were sugar and more sugar. 

The boxed mac and cheese made for some interesting conversation. As I opened the packet that came in the box and poured it into my liquid my youngest said, "!?!" I explained that I was making the cheese sauce. Her curious little mind went wild... 

"So that is cheese powder? How do they make cheese powder? Why is it that color? Are you sure they used actual cheese in there? Are you sure it isn't radioactive? Stuff that color is usually radioactive."

For the first time since having children, they had mac and cheese left on their plate. During this process, I confess there were times I thought "Man, my kids are spoiled." But I realized that they are just used to eating foods made with natural ingredients and lean meats and having fresh fruits and veggies. All kids should have that same opportunity. Yet one in four children in Pierce County are hungry. 

My family learned a lot from this experience. We learned:

  • Eating on the SNAP budget did not provide enough food for a family of four.
  • We were often distracted by either our empty tummies or our anticipation for the next meal.
  • Being hungry made it hard to concentrate and made us pretty cranky.
  • The foods we were eating caused us to have digestive issues we didn't expect.
  • Parents in SNAP families likely have to give up their own food to feed their kids.
  • Shopping on such a tight budget was extremely stressful.
  • Having to settle for less-healthy options to stay on budget was very discouraging.
But there were positives too. We learned there were many things we could do to help - food drives, volunteering, donating food or money. But if we are really going to make a difference for the families experiencing hunger, it's going to take all of us. I challenge you to try to live on the SNAP allowance for just one day. That's four dollars for the entire day. Can you do it?

Learn more about United Way of Pierce County's work to resolve hunger in Pierce County by visiting

Friday, September 23, 2016

SNAP Challenge DAYS 4 and 5 – Finishing out the week

by Nicole Milbradt, Director of Marketing

This morning I had to break it to the hubs that he had to go back down to one muffin in the morning or we wouldn’t have enough to get through the week. I also had to break it to him that we were out of bananas but we could each have another apple instead. Tomorrow, however, would be a different story.

It occurred to me that in a SNAP household, that fruit would probably have been gone long ago. If the kids hadn’t opted out, I was planning to give them my fruit as an afternoon snack. I suspect SNAP parents often give up their own food to feed their kids.

We didn’t end up having as much left over at last night’s dinner so that gave us no other option but good old PB&J again. I was so hungry but the sandwich just wasn’t cutting it.

My body was also revolting. The processed foods, higher fat content and lack of fresh veggies was taking it’s toll (TMI?) and I wasn’t alone. I was tired and cranky and hungry. Really hungry.

After our discussion, the family was all back in on the challenge. But that night we agreed that if they were feeling too hungry, they could supplement our SNAP food with things we had on hand. After all, that’s what the program is supposed to do… supplement. It’s right there in the name Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – SNAP. More than 45 million people participate in the SNAP program and 76 percent of them are families with children.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many families live just like we were attempting. They use the SNAP funds to buy most of their food and “supplement” out of their own pocket when the can. Many rely on regular visits to the food bank because funds aren’t there. It’s a trend our partners at local food banks are seeing far too often. What used to be a service to get people in crisis through the rough times is now as important to feeding their families each month as the SNAP benefits.

It needs to change.

SNAP Challenge - DAY 3 – Lessons Learned

by Nicole Milbradt, Director of Marketing

Today is Day 3. It is also a late start day. I did not prepare for that. Late start means no breakfast for free-and-reduced lunch kids. Luck for us, there is enough pancake mix for this weekend’s family breakfasts to make a few servings for today.  But I have to work so the teenager gets to try her hand at it. She’ll be in college in less than a year so I like to think of it as a teaching opportunity.

I showed her how to make the first one. The other five were hers. She learned a lot from her teaching opportunity. She learned that if you flip too soon, you slop mix all over the side of the pan and if you are really talented, the stove top. After she cleaned it up and tried again, she learned that you can’t have the pan too hot or you burn the pancake (who burns pancakes!?!). She also learned that when you throw out two of your six pancakes, you have less to eat and you aren’t full when you finish breakfast.

Since I was off to work, she also learned that she could make herself and her sister their normal lunches and opt-out of the SNAP challenge. Traitors.

At dinner, we had an interesting conversation…

“Mom, why are you doing this again?” asked the little.

“I’m trying to help people understand what a family who is like ours but is struggling to put food on the table has to go through.” I continued, “We are lucky. We only have to do this for a week… or a few days for you. But what if you had to do this every day?”

“I was hungry all the time. Does that mean that those kids are hungry ALL the time?”

Thankfully, I knew that there are a lot of people working on the problem and that those people are helping families in need with access to food at food banks and hot meal sites. I explained to her how those services worked. I told the family how, even though extra food from food banks helps, many people have to visit those food banks every chance they get, just to get by.

I was worried that my kids’ decision to opt-out of the challenge meant that they didn’t get it. I was glad to be wrong.

The youngest started naming off friends at her school she was scared might be facing hunger. Kids who came to school without lunches. Kids who talked about being hungry.

“Momma, how can we help?”

With a full heart, I told her there were a lot of things we could do. We could volunteer at a food bank or meal site. We could donate food to drives like the Letter Carrier’s Drive each spring or drives at her school. We could donate money to organizations like United Way of Pierce County that had made ending hunger a priority.

She immediately threw out some ideas of her own… “I can take extra snacks to school each day and share them. And I can share things in my lunch with people who don’t have one. We can share the food from our garden and our apple tree.”

In just three short days, their empty tummies had helped them realize just how fortunate we are and how important it was to help others who don’t have the same opportunities. Even though my tummy was still growling , I knew right there that it was totally worth it.

SNAP Challenge DAY 2 – The questions continue.

by Nicole Milbradt, Director of Marketing

Day 2 was going to be better.

Hubs and I had leftover soup to take for lunch and we made him two muffins today.
The kids were having Sloppy Joes for lunch. Sloppy Joes! All kids love Sloppy Joes… right? My kids have rarely ever had them so I thought this would be a treat!

As lunchtime approached, my phone started going off. First up… hubby. “I forgot my lunch. Can I just buy something?” Well of course, I thought. But wait… what happens when a SNAP family forgets? Do they have the extra money to run down the street to the sandwich shop? Or do they just do without?

As we know, 34 percent of our Pierce County families live in poverty (12 percent) or are ALICE®(22 percent). ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It means 22 percent of our families are working and doing the best they can to make ends meet but they still struggle to provide for their families. Every penny they have is spoken for. That can make picking up a sandwich when you forget your lunch seem like a much bigger deal than it had been to me in that moment.

Next up, the teenager. First came the photo of the student eating hot lunch with the caption “I’m not eating that.” Sigh. Then came the photo of a pretty good looking salad and the caption “I’m eating this!” Add Smiley emoji! But wait… how did she get that? She used the money I put in her account to eat at the salad bar instead. It cost more than her lunch did yesterday but it was more her speed. So how does that work? Do students in the free-and-reduced lunch program have access to the salad bar? I sure hope so.

At the end of the day, the youngest came off the bus and immediately greeted me with “I’m hungry.” She did have the hot lunch but it turned out that the Sloppy Joe was not all I had made it out to be. She didn’t really like it and only ate about half. The side dish was also not made the way she preferred so she didn’t eat it. She actually liked the options at the fruit and veggie bar today so she had some apples and some carrots but that was it. Are my kids spoiled? Why do they act like eating the school lunch is the end of the world?

Because her class has the latest lunch, they have a snack time to hold them over. We didn’t have snacks in our budget so to make the challenge real, she went to school without one. On Day 1, her teacher had some extras. Today she was not so lucky. And sadly, she wasn’t alone. Parents often send in extras and the teacher buys some too but how long does my 12-pack of cheese crackers last when there are multiple kids without a snack? Are there kids who are never able to bring one from home?

I was relieved to get to dinner tonight. That was until I started making it. My plan was to use four chicken breasts, as I always did. However, when I opened the bag of chicken, I was a little surprised.

What the…?

The photo is the chicken breast I bought for the challenge. The size difference compared to what I usually bought was significant. There was no way I could get away with using four breasts for this meal. I had to use all six, taking away the extras I was going to save for a meal the following week. The meal was prepared with a slightly different dressing as the store brand didn’t make the flavor I needed. I picked something I thought would work but we could all taste the difference. Even though we ate it all, I didn’t feel full. And I was missing my daily salad.

Is this how SNAP families feel everyday?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

SNAP Challenge - Day 1, And so it begins

by Nicole Milbradt, Director of Marketing

When I made up my mind to do this, I enlisted my family. They all listened as I explained the plan and without hesitation (okay maybe there was a little hesitation) they agreed. I even talked the kids into eating the school hot lunch a few days to really make it real.

Hubs and I got up on Day 1 and made our sausage muffins and packed our sack lunches. The kids were satisfied with the hot lunch option – chicken nuggets and tater tots. And dinner was one of our favs, Taco Soup.

As I was making my way through my morning at work, I noticed a text from the hubby… “I’m going to need two of those muffins. Already pulling stuff out of my lunch.” Okay, I thought. We can swing that.

At lunch time, I pulled out my PB&J… and realized. I actually prefer just the PB. I ate about half of my sandwich and finished the other items. It was clear to me that the bag of apples I bought were intended for kid lunches because they were pretty small. I felt like I was done in about five bites.

As I finished up, I noticed another text from the hubby… “I may need two sandwiches too. Or more chips.” Okay. We can do this.

Later that day as kids came home from school, I was expecting to hear how awesome lunch was. Yeah… not so much. The teenager was disappointed with her nuggets because they weren’t like the ones you get at the fast food joint. In her words, they were “weird.” They youngest thought they looked a little weird too but she ate them anyway. For her it was the fruit and veggie bar that was not up to par. She stuck to the nuggets and ate a few tots.

Both came home hungry and looking for an after school snack. Both ended up hangry when I told them snacks weren’t in the budget. This could be a long week.

Thankfully, there was still dinner. A family fav. They eagerly dished up, sprinkled on the cheese and then started in with their questions…

“Where is the sour cream?”

“Did you make quesadillas?”

My hubby tried to stay positive… “There’s no sour cream? That’s okay. Where are the tortilla chips?”

“Uh sorry. We are going lean tonight.”

No one complained but I could tell, this was going to test us more than we may have realized.