Surviving on $4.72 a Day for Food - The SF Food Bank Hunger Challenge

September 13, 2011

By: Victoria Holliday

I am extremely fortunate in that I’ve never been hungry a day in my life. Living on $4.72 a day for the SF Food Bank Hunger Challenge is far from my daily reality. But 1 in 5 of my neighbors struggle to put food on the table everyday, with only $4.72 a day in food stamps. That’s why I signed up for the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge.

I hope this experience will help me gain a fuller understanding of the struggles of 41,743 San Franciscans who rely on food stamps. And beyond that, I hope it will inspire others to make a donation to the San Francisco Food Bank here

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The Digital Divide Makes Shopping Even Harder

The biggest challenge so far has been the mental work and stress around meal planning and budgeting – it’s all-consuming and exhausting. I start the challenge off by searching grocery store websites, comparison-shopping and looking through Safeway circulars for deals and coupons. I clip coupons in the circular and search the Internet for even more coupons. As I do so, I realize that many on food stamps are also likely suffering from the digital divide and thus unable to use the Internet to comparison shop and clip coupons like I am right now. In fact, only 50% of low-income households in San Francisco have access to a home computer or Internet.

I meticulously put together meal plans and recipes then track the items I need at various stores’ websites to see who has the items for cheapest. I enter all this into an Excel sheet - penny by penny - to make sure I am staying within budget. Then I head to the store. As I pick up items on my list I weigh all produce to make sure it's within budget – sometimes I even have to put larger apples or potatoes back because they are a few cents over my limit.

The Safeway Club Card was a huge help in saving money, and any shopper can get one for free. With the card, all my coupons and in-store deals combined, I am able to get some "splurge" items like dark chocolate granola bars - a box of 12 for just $1.77.

My week’s worth of food includes oatmeal, eggs, lentils, peanut butter, beans, cheese, granola bars and various produce. My Sunday night feast is a country vegetable soup with potato, broccoli, carrot, onion and celery. It isn’t much, but it’s hearty and easy to pack for lunches, which I did today. The pot pictured is 4 servings worth of food at a cost of $1.09 a serving.

You can read the official rules of the Hunger Challenge here, and please consider making a donation to the San Francisco food bank here. Stay tuned as I continue to post my experiences this week.


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