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Religious leaders spend week eating on $4 a day

Ellen Abbott
A week's worth of food for $29.40

The food budget for individuals receiving federal food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), comes down to $29.40 a week, $4.20 a day. Members of the Religious Roundtable of Interfaith Works of Central New York are in the midst of a one-week SNAP challenge, only eating what that amount of money will buy.  

Temple Concord Rabbi Daniel Fellman says this kind of budget limits people to a carbohydrate-heavy, highly processed diet.

"That carb stuff weighs you down; sort of a sluggish feel," he said,  "it’s a much more carb-heavy diet than I’m used to and you do feel it after a while... you have to be careful not to let it get out of hand.”

For the Reverend Tiffany Steinwert, Dean of Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel, it means decisions she usually doesn’t have to make.

"I had to eat things I’m not normally eating. So butter was more expensive than margarine,so I chose margarine. Par-boiled rice was more expensive than whole grain brown rice, so I chose that," she said.

Fellman says, while he may not be hungry, he’s not eating healthy foods, which is an issue for many of those who rely on the SNAP program.

“In addition to all the other problems that one faces with poverty, you face the challenge of how to break free from a poor diet and embrace something better," he said.

For Fellman, this is his second year of the challenge.

"The problem still exists," he said, "until it goes away, we’ve got to do something.”

To help solve the problem of hunger in local communities, the faith leaders are encouraging central New Yorkers to take part in hunger relief programs or lobby lawmakers to keep SNAP benefits from dropping.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.