Thursday, July 16, 2015

SNAP in Pierce County

by Clara Kerrone, Marketing Intern
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is our country’s biggest and most important food assistance program. Essentially, it is food assistance provided by the USDA for low- or no-income Americans. Those who qualify receive an EBT card that allows for an average of $4 per person per day in assistance. In 2014, more than 46 million Americans fed themselves with the help of SNAP; over 70 percent of these users were households that included children.
The card is designed to be supplemental in purchasing food- not the entire budget. But for many families, it ends up being the bulk of their funding anyways. And paying for food is not their only obstacle in getting food on the table. Many families live in areas called food deserts, which are areas without immediate access to fruits, vegetables, and other healthy whole foods. Further, many of these families also do not have access to a car and therefore end up having to walk to the store or take the bus. As a result, they can only purchase what they can carry back home with them.
Many families who qualify to receive SNAP are working minimum wage jobs, and often times they are working more than just one job in order to make enough money to provide for their family. An issue with SNAP is that it is based off of a food plan that intends for all meals to be home made from scratch daily. This would be a wonderful reality, to be able to home cook every meal, but there is just one problem with it: most of the families who are working more than one job do not have that amount of time for meal preparation. The time it takes to fully prepare a home cooked and well-balanced meal is just too much when juggling two jobs and a family as well. So there we have yet another obstacle with SNAP for these families.
Luckily, in Pierce County, we have many programs to help families who are facing these issues. FISH Food Banks is an awesome local food bank that is able to turn every $1 donated into $7 worth of food! More than 97% of funds raised go directly to putting food on the tables of people in need. Emergency Food Network is able to give every person that walks into their food bank enough food for 9 meals. Pierce Transit is also an awesome bus system that we have which covers a great deal of our county with tons of bus stops. Our community is working at great lengths to remove these obstacles from families benefiting from the SNAP program.
There are a number of ways you can give back to help these families that are struggling to put food on the table. Donating to your local food bank is a great way to help, as is volunteering at these places. For your own personal learning opportunity, you could even try the SNAP challenge. Compute the amount of assistance your family would receive for one week ($4 per person per day), hide away all the food that you own, and live a week with this lifestyle. Use the bus system to get to and from the grocery store and work. We could all benefit from living life in someone else’s shoes for a week, and gaining a greater appreciation for the world around us.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Back 2 School

by Clara Kerrone, Marketing Intern

As a twenty-one year old working a minimum wage job almost full time, I can barely make my pay checks stretch toward where I need them to go. Luckily I am somewhat financially supported by my parents, and I am thankful for that every day. So when I learned that families living in poverty in Pierce County are making an average of $1,327 per month, it really hit home for me. That is a paycheck comparable to what I am making; I can’t imagine having to support a child with that as well. And that would be without my mom paying my phone bill still! I looked into it more and learned that it is estimated that $968 of that money is spent on housing, leaving only $359 for the rest of the month to be spent on food, transportation, childcare, and other necessities. Tough choices are being made daily for these families- pay for groceries or get gas? Doctor’s appointment when your child is sick, or a new pair of shoes once the old ones are outgrown?

The fall can be an especially stressful time of the year for these families- the start of the school year brings tons of new required purchases for families with children of any age. School supplies and new clothes, backpacks, a winter coat, shoes, and more all need to be restocked. Some of these may not be yearly purchases, but most are. 

I wanted to find out approximately how much it would cost to send a child to school, living off the average low income budget, so I did a little research. I went on the website of a local elementary school and looked up the kindergarten school supply list. I followed it exactly, and if a specific brand wasn’t asked for I chose the cheapest available option. The total cost- $66.60. Then, I decided to buy my “child” an outfit. I went to Old Navy (because deals!) and picked out a complete outfit- shirt, jeans, shoes, jacket, socks and underwear. Once again, I chose the least expensive items that I could. The outfit totaled $93.64. And that was just one outfit! Ideally, I would want my child to have more than garment to wear. But with my budget, I had already spent $160.24, almost half of my monthly spending budget. That left me $198.76 for the month. My monthly wifi bill (I don’t have cable, to save money) costs $62.00 and my utilities bill is around $90.00. So the final amount of money I have leftover to put food on the table for my “family” and get gas in the tank is $46.76. Basically, impossible.

Having the real numbers right there in front of me, backed by my own real life work schedule and personal experience, made my heart hurt. I remember the first day of school being so exciting because of reuniting with friends, and being able to wear my favorite new outfit with pride. There are so many kids that don’t have that feeling on the first day- they could instead even feel like an outsider because of their clothes and lack of school supplies. This should never be the case.

Luckily, there are a lot of programs available to help these families out with back to school shopping. United Way of Pierce County’s Back 2 School program is one of them. We help more kids start the year with the quality supplies they need to succeed by allowing community members to help out in several ways. You can Build a Backpack to provide a quality backpack and supplies for a child of any grade level. You can hold a Supply Drive at your organization or make a donation of supplies. Or, you can simply make a Cash Donation and we’ll do the shopping for you. That way, when September comes around, household’s all around our county will be able to have one less burden to worry about- and maybe even celebrate the first day of school with a delicious dinner eaten together around the table as a family.