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September 17, 2013

Eating on less than $5 per day

Annual Hunger Challenge shows participants what it’s like to live on food assistance

TERRE HAUTE — Feeding one person for seven days on just $31.70.

That’s only $4.53 per day, which is the average amount of assistance given to Vigo County participants in SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

In recognition of Hunger Action Month, the United way of the Wabash Valley is conducting its third annual United Way Hunger Challenge to bring attention and support to the reality of hunger in the area.

“It’s an honor system,” said Troy Fears of this year’s challenge, in which participants purchase what food they can for $31.70 and eat nothing other that that food for the seven days of the challenge. “People can participate or follow the progress of the challenge by going to our Facebook page. Or people can pick a seven-day span when it is convenient for them to do the challenge.”

Gail Loehmann and her Old National Insurance co-workers Somer Thomas and Tina Dean agreed to take the challenge this year, and after just one day, they have experienced a major change in their eating habits.

“It seemed to be a little more difficult than I expected,” Loehmann said of grocery shopping, “and I am diabetic. But diabetic food is not exactly on the menu. I found that I couldn’t follow my diabetes diet really at all. I got canned veggies and a few fresh fruits, but not a lot. Most of what I was able to purchase is high in starch content and carbs.”

One thing that Loehmann said she couldn’t get was fresh meat, and she’s not a big fan of processed meat such as bologna and hot dogs, which are high in salt content.

She said she took the Hunger Challenge to raise awareness that low-income people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes may not be able to find affordable food and follow the recommended diabetic diet if they rely on SNAP.

Her co-workers are a support group as they participate in the challenge.

“I felt like it was something I needed to do,” Dean said, “to see if I could make it through the week with that amount of money for food.”

Like Loehmann, she shopped at Kroger in Terre Haute for her groceries.

“I’m finding things I can get by without,” Dean said, though she does miss ice cream. “I’ve been to the point where I had to eat macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles when I was in my 20s.”

But it was hard on Sunday when she was with football fans watching the Colts game, and she was limited to crackers and cheese while everyone else had game-day food.

Thomas said she purchased her groceries at Sav-A-Lot in Clinton, and she found that she couldn’t buy sweets and junk food with her challenge money.

“I did the challenge so I can get a feel for how a lot of the people around here have to live. They have to scrimp and save and feed their families every day,” Thomas said. “It’s do-able, but if it’s a day that I forget my lunch, it’s not like I can run through a drive-through to get something.”

A three-time participant in the Hunger Challenge is Mel Burks, chief executive officer at Hamilton Center in Terre Haute.

“Doing this keeps me anchored in where I come from,” Burks said of the challenge. A native of Terre Haute, he said he had 10 siblings and lived in poverty growing up with a mother who provided for her children the best way she could. That didn’t always mean healthy meals.

Burks said he gets through the challenge by starting off his day with three bottles of water. Lunch will be yogurt with some granola mixed in. His evening meal is also sparse.

The challenge is an exercise of empathy — to live in someone else’s shoes for a week and to learn how to help fight hunger in the community.

As in the past, the Catholic Charities Food Bank is a supporter of the Hunger Challenge. To learn more about fighting hunger in the Wabash Valley, visit www.Facebook.com/ CatholicCharitiesTerreHaute or to www.uwwv.org.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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