Hope is My Middle Name

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Passover ended yesterday. Usually it's our biggest grocery shopping day of the year, gleefully restocking our shelves with all the hametz we cleared away for the week. But this year is different. Why is this year different from all other years? Because this year, my family and I, are participating in a SNAP challenge.

rabbisnapSNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and it's formerly known as food stamps. A snap challenge is when people voluntarily choose to eat on the budget of a SNAP recipient. The maximum allotment for a person on SNAP benefits, is approximately $1.50 a meal, or $4.50 a day. Since there are 3 of us at home, we have a budget of $94.50 for the family for the week, that's for 63 meals. This is just about the amount many of us pay for a nice meal out.

We did our grocery shopping for the SNAP challenge yesterday, bringing a calculator with us. We negotiated what would go in the cart what wouldn't go in and what had to come out – good bye to salmon and fresh veggies, hello to ramen and rice and beans and potatoes. Thank goodness for the BOGOs – they really helped us to supplement our budget.

We got off easy – it's a small challenge – only 1 week of a self-imposed restriction. But what about the others who live hungry day in and day out? When I was growing up, and I'm sure for many of you, my parents would say, "Finish your food, there are children starving in Africa." What we learned through the TBS Social Justice Network this year, is that there are children starving for nutrition in America too.
We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, and yet 16.4 million children in our country, the United States of America, – not Haiti or Africa or India, no right here in America, 16.4 million children go to bed hungry. And to bring this even closer to home, Florida ranks 5th worse in the country for food insecurity, with 71% of children in public schools on free or reduced lunch in Miami Dade County.

In 2013, Congress cut 8.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years from the federal budget for nutrition assistance programs like SNAP, and a critical piece of legislation called the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Program is set to expire in September. This act authorizes funding for school lunches for families who are at 130% of the poverty line or below, school breakfasts and summer food service programs.
There are those in Congress however, like Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who believe that children should learn that "there's no such thing as a free lunch." Kingston proposes that children should have to pay a nominal amount, "or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria"..."getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch."
The real myths are about those who receive benefits, but here's what we know. Many are senior citizens and children, too many are veterans. Food insecurity hits people who have lost their jobs or have become disabled. Truly, these unfortunate circumstances could happen to anyone without a safety net.

As Jews we are guided by a moral vision of how we must treat the most vulnerable members of our society. The Torah instructs us to leave the corners of our fields and our gleanings for the poor the orphan and the widow. Most of us no longer have fields, but we can translate that obligation to donating time, or money to feed the hungry.
It's not too late to sign up for the SNAP Challenge which begins today. I am proud to say that we have met our goal of raising $10,000 for Feeding South Florida, the largest local food bank, but I'm challenging us to see if we can double it.

All you have to do is go to the temple website to sign up or to sponsor one of our participants (http://www.firstgiving.com/feedingsouthflorida/tbsmbsnap).  Next Saturday, a group of temple volunteers are doing a food sorting project at Feeding South Florida and next Sunday there will be a Scavenger Hunt at 1:30 p.m.at Publix on the Bay to benefit the Kosher Food Bank. Volunteers are also needed for these projects. All the information is at tbsmb.org.

Just a week ago, we sat at our bountiful Passover tables and proclaimed, "Let all who are hungry come and eat." But we have to mean it, to work for it, and to live it. Please help us to not make these empty words of promise, but rather living words of commitment.