by Rabbi Batsheva Appel
According to a report issued recently by the USDA, almost 15% of US households were food insecure in 2011. We already know that more people are using SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program = Food Stamps] than ever before. There are many misconceptions about who receives SNAP benefits [almost half are children and another third are elderly or disabled] or how much the benefit actually gives a recipient [$134.85/person/month]. Yet even as this vital program keeps people from starving in our great country, there are calls to cut the program in order to save money.
I am taking the Food Stamp Challenge this autumn to bring attention to this important program. The challenge is to live for one week on $1.50/meal for a total of $31.50. I will be donating the amount that I would usually spend on food to the Chicago Greater Food Depository. In addition, I am raising money to combat hunger. If you go to this page, you can help me meet my goal of raising $1,134.
Our tradition speaks of how to balance the needs of the poor and how to support them:
If two poor people approach you, and one is hungry for bread and one needs clothing, you first feed the hungry person and then clothe the naked one…But if a man is seeking food and the woman clothing, we first feed the man because physical pain is worse than shame… [Translation by AJWS][ Aruch HaShulchan, Laws of Tzedakah, 251:10]
Physical pain is worse than shame. Our shame is that there are too many of us who do not understand the reality of families that run out of food with a week and a half left in the month, who go to Wal-mart at 11 pm on the last day of the month so that they can begin buying groceries at 12:01 am on the first day of the month. There are too many of us who do not understand who we are really helping with SNAP. And there are too many of us who do not understand how close many of us are to needing the help.
Rabbi Appel is the senior rabbi of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago.