Just in time for the holiday season, Congress has made things a little less jolly for the nation's poor by decreasing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. A temporary increase that had been in effect since 2009 ended November 1st, which means that a family of four receiving SNAP benefits will see a decrease of $36 per month. As if that isn't bad enough, Republicans in Congress are trying to cut SNAP benefits even further.
According to "Hunger Hits Home 2012," a report issued last year by Community Link Capital Region, Sacramento Hunger Coalition, and Valley Vision, there are 220,000 food insecure residents living in Sacramento alone. Who are these hungry people? The report says: "Half of those who were found to be food insecure have children in the household; one-fifth were seniors or have seniors living in the household; and one-third have a disability that limits their functioning. These populations are prone to experience financial, mobility, and other limitations that make it very difficult for them to acquire enough food to meet their daily needs. People with health conditions also experience food insecurity at higher rates than the population as a whole. Two-thirds of survey respondents reported that they or someone in their household suffered from a chronic health condition."
One of the main reasons I went vegan more than eleven years ago was because of my concern about world hunger. All across the planet, millions of acres of crops are grown for the purpose of feeding livestock instead of people, which is a very inefficient way of producing food. I want to help Sacramento's food-insecure residents during this difficult time, but I don't want to do so in a way that goes against the very reason I became a vegan in the first place. What, then, can a vegan do to help the hungry in our society? Here are a few ideas:
• Give non-perishable food items to your local food bank. You don't have to donate food bank staples like canned tuna or packaged macaroni and cheese. Several vegan options are very much in demand: peanut butter, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, canned beans (black, refried, pinto, etc.), vegetable soups and chili, granola bars, and oatmeal. You might want to plan a holiday potluck with your vegan friends or family members, and ask everyone who's attending to bring cans or packages of vegan groceries to donate. If you live in Sacramento, you can check out the weekly grocery sales list on the River City Food Bank website to see what deals are being offered at local stores on frequently-needed items.
• Drop off food for the annual Thanksgiving turkey drive in your community. No, you don't have to donate a turkey, but there are numerous traditional side dishes made from vegan ingredients. You might consider donating cans of yams, green beans, or cranberry sauce. In addition to these items, organizations that provide Thanksgiving meals for the homeless need bags of fresh potatoes and onions. Sacramento's Loaves & Fishes has an online list of the groceries they need for their Thanksgiving meal, which includes several vegan items.
• Increase the purchasing power of Sacramento families receiving CalFresh (California's food stamp program) benefits by contributing to Alchemist Community Development Corporation's Market Match program. This program provides an incentive for families to shop at participating farmer's markets by giving them extra funds in the form of vouchers to spend on fresh produce and nuts. If they spend at least $10 with their benefits, they get $5 extra in Market Match vouchers.
• Help Harvest Sacramento glean fruit from neighborhood trees and orchards, which will then be donated to local food assistance agencies. As an added bonus, volunteers are allowed to take some of the fruit home to their families.
• Consider sending an e-mail to your Representative in Congress to let him or her know that you are opposed to cuts in SNAP benefits. You can find your Representative by entering your zip code at this link: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.
While private charity can't fill the gap created by the reduction in SNAP benefits, it can still help to make the situation less dire. Mother Teresa once said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." Your donations of time, money, or vegan groceries can make a difference in the lives of those facing hunger in our community.