IUPUI SNAP Challenge to give campus participants a taste of hunger

  • Oct. 18, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS -- What is it really like to live on a food budget determined by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamps program?

The Office of Student Involvement and the Center for Service and Learning at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis have organized the campus's first IUPUI SNAP Challenge beginning Sunday, Oct. 20. Participants agree to live strictly on the equivalent of the current food stamp allowance for a week, about $1.50 per meal per person.

The campus challenge is a prelude for the annual IUPUI Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week being observed Nov. 18 to 22. 

While their self-imposed budget restrictions will be short-lived, faculty, staff and students signing up for the IUPUI SNAP Challenge will experience what for many low-income individuals and families is a long-term reality, said Joseph Spaulding, the IUPUI Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week coordinator. 

"As of late, 'food stamps' and receiving aid from the government have been given a bad rap. ... We want to put poverty in a new light and encourage students, faculty and staff to step in the shoes of someone who is living in poverty or who might be on the brink of going into poverty," said Spaulding, a mechanical engineering senior. "However, we realize that participating in the SNAP Challenge will give people (only) a very small taste of what it's like."

The IUPUI SNAP Challenge is modeled after Feeding America's SNAP Challenge, which encourages participants to get a sense of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, a nonprofit organization, networks 200 food banks across the U.S.

Participants in the IUPUI challenge are to spend just $31.50 for the entire week's food supply and document their thoughts throughout the week with videos and photos. Submitted videos will be compiled into a short documentary that will be shown on campus during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Showings of the documentary, location to be announced, are scheduled for noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, and from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22.

SNAP Challenge participants will receive daily emails just before, during and after the challenge to remind and encourage them during the week, Spaulding said.

The emails will also provide facts about homelessness and hunger in Indianapolis. For example, 83.9 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools students are on the free and reduced-price lunch program, and almost 20 percent of Marion County residents, roughly 174,000 people, may not know where their next meal is coming from, according to KIDS COUNT and Feeding America, respectively, Spaulding said.

The availability of affordable food also compounds the challenges that low-income families experience. "Marion County is filled with food deserts ... portions of the city where a significant number of residents live more than a mile away from an affordable grocery store," Spaulding said.

"Also, what most people don't know is that SNAP participants will be getting their benefits cut as of November of this year," Spaulding said. "Instead of the average benefit being $1.50 per person, per meal, the average SNAP benefit will be cut down to $1.40 per person, per meal. The fact is, SNAP helps out many low-income Americans each year."

Registration for the SNAP Challenge is available online.

Marion County Food Deserts, Source: US Department of Agirculture, 2013

Marion County Food Deserts, Source: US Department of Agirculture, 2013

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Diane Brown