Councilmember Ervin has organized what is called the SNAP the Silence challenge. Starting today, anyone interested can try to experience life on public nutrition assistance by eating $5 per day for five days. I along with many others, have decided to take the challenge not to bring attention to ourselves but rather, to raise awareness of the struggle many low-income families face right here in our community.
According to the most recent Census, 12.4% of Wheatonites are living below the federal level of poverty. The Census also states that the median household income for Wheaton is $74,000. That might seem like a lot of money but the 2012 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Montgomery County states that a family of 4 needs a minimum of $70,000 to pay all of their bills--which turns out to be approximately $16.75/hour/adult. So you can see where many families earning between $24,000 (the federal measure of poverty) and $70,000 might actually need help in getting all of their basic needs met.
This really hit home for me as I purchased my food this morning for the week. I bought some oatmeal for breakfast, a chicken roaster along with some milk, clementines and frozen vegetables. I had to leave out bread from my purchase to meet the $25 spending limit. I don't have time to cook food tonight so I plan to eat a can of tuna with some clementines as I wait for my evening meetings.
Do you want to join the challenge? You still have time. My hope is that if you do, you too can begin to understand what your neighbor, colleague or closest friend might be experiencing. And if you do, maybe together we can try to find solutions to this problem.
Ana L. van Balen is the Mid-County Regional Services Director for Montgomery County, Md. Follow her on twitter at @anavanbalen or at Mid-County Director's Blog.