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.

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.