Guest editorial: an alternative to food stamps
The economy is bad. What do you think of when you hear this? That's easy, right? It means fewer jobs, rising unemployment, a mortgage crisis this time around and people shopping less. Maybe you've been shopping less, too, but for those who are financially secure, these notions fail to convey the real struggle that a bad economy creates for Americans who were having trouble making ends meet before things got worse.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36.5 million people were living in poverty in 2006 while only 27.7 million were participating in the Food Stamp Program. While it is true that many people who could receive food stamps do not apply, still millions who don't know where their next meal is coming from don't qualify for federal aid. According to the USDA, for a single mom with two children to qualify for food stamps, her gross income would have to be less than $1,861 per month. Using calculations from the Economic Policy Institute, if she lives in New Orleans, she would need about $2,260 per month to cover housing, health insurance and other basic needs, not even including food. If she lives in New York City, this number goes up to $3,460 per month. These are staggering costs for a low-income family even with the average of $73 a month provided by food stamps
When the leading food assistance program costs the government almost $30 billion a year and doesn't even reach everyone in need, it is clear that people need alternatives. The clichÃ¯Â¿Â½d proverb about teaching a man to fish taught us long ago that aid like a food stamp program is only a tiny band-aid for a gaping wound in our society. How about a program that promotes self-sufficiency, saves people as much or more than they could gain through food stamps, and helps build communities?
Currently, about half the states are home to some form of Self Help And Resource Exchange, or SHARE, program. These schools, churches, and community centers buy groceries in bulk and then enlist the participants themselves to do the packing and distribution work, reducing the final cost to less than half a regular grocery store. Participants, individuals from all income brackets, commit to a mere one or two hours of volunteering per month, either repackaging food at a host site, or helping in any other way in their community. As explained by Mother Teresa the founder of Serve New England, the idea is to address spiritual hunger as well as physical hunger by encouraging community participation. There are currently seven major SHARE networks working in a total of 34 states. All were founded in the late 1980s or early 1990s as subsidiaries of World SHARE, an evangelist organization, or under the leadership of the Catholic Diocese. Over the past 20 years, they have left their backers to form separate non-profit organizations, and have grown to make up over 2,450 host sites, but some areas of the country, including the South, the West Coast, and many rural areas, are still left out.
Many of the calls that come in to the National Hunger Hotline are from people who begin by explaining that they were denied food stamps or are not getting enough help from food stamps, and are looking for other options. More often than not, SHARE is far more appealing to them than another handout. Just as often, though, the networks do not reach their community. If you would like to join a SHARE program or start a new site, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3HUNGRY for more information.
Alice Henderson works for the WHY (world Hunger Year) National hunger Hotline.Founded in 1975.