Could you live on $29.40 worth of groceries per week?
This week, local clergy members and some people in our community are trying to see if they can live within those means to raise awareness about hunger.
Through Sunday, members of the Religious Roundtable of Interfaith Works of Central New York have pledged to live on a food budget of $29.40, which is what individuals who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) put toward their food budgets each week.
In Syracuse alone, nearly 40,000 people rely on these benefits; and in some cases, that's all the money they have to go grocery shopping.
"The program was meant to be a supplement - supplemental nutrition program - but we know the price of food has gone up, so much that is, and the way the benefits have worked, they've been cut so much that in fact this is the only amount of money people have to spend on food," said Tiffany Steinwert, Dean of Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University and Co-Chair of the SNAP Challenge.
Last year at this time, recipients of SNAP benefits received $33.60 to put toward their groceries, but in November, benefits were slashed by ten percent, reducing the amount down to $29.40 a person.
Steinwert says she felt that $4.20 difference when she went grocery shopping for the challenge on Sunday. The increase in price of certain foods meant she had to prioritize.
"I had to make hard decisions. I love coffee, I rely on my coffee. I couldn't buy coffee. I had to decide, was I going to get cheese or was I going to buy yogurt? I only had one dairy product I could choose from," she said. She also traded her butter for margarine, and chose vegetables like carrots over fruits.
"I had to go in with a calculator and make sure that everything I had was under $29.40. With two kids trying to manage, 'What am I putting in my cart? What are they putting in my cart? What am I going to make?' And having the calculator, it was really stressful," she said.
76 percent of households that receive SNAP benefits are also feeding children, or someone who is elderly.
The Religious Roundtable of Interfaith Works of Central New York says it will take the challenge every year until it's no longer needed. Members want to "be in solidarity" with those who depend on the SNAP benefits.
The SNAP Challenge ends with a food and monetary drive at the Carrier Dome, ahead of Syracuse University's basketball game Saturday afternoon. Donations will benefit the Food Bank of Central New York.