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Can you spend just $28 for a week's food and beverages? 'Food stamp' challenge issued

Published: Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 3:15 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Call it food for thought.

Then again, $28 for a week's worth of food and beverages — $1.35 a meal — probably won't stretch very far.

And that's precisely the point of Utahns Against Hunger's coming Utah Food Stamp Challenge, Nov. 8-14.

The nonprofit organization is encouraging Utahns to sign up for the challenge and to share their experiences at www.uah.org.

"This is an opportunity to talk about how challenging it is when you have such limited resources. If your entire food budget is food stamps, you have to be really thoughtful how you spend your dollars," said Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger.

Under the guidelines for the challenge, participants are asked to only eat food they purchase for the challenge. Food they already own is off limits, although spices and condiments are exempt.

The $28 limit for the week should include all food purchased and eaten during the challenge week, including fast food and dining out.

Participants are asked to avoid accepting free food from friends, family or at work, including receptions or briefings.

In the past, some prominent Utahns and elected officials have taken part in the challenge. Average Utahns are encouraged to participate, too.

About 80 percent of monthly food stamp benefits are spent within two weeks, studies show. "This is a good experience in having people think about how much they spend on food," Cornia said.

In Utah, the average monthly food stamp benefit in the 2011 fiscal year was $125, approximately $4 a day or $1.35 a meal.

The challenge does not precisely replicate the experiences of food-stamp recipients because everyone has different tools in the toolboxes. Some people have the time and know-how to cook at home. Others may not have transportation to shop at stores where they may find the best buys on food. Still others may be disabled or elderly, which may limit their physical mobility.

"Everyone has their own story. That's what makes it so interesting," Cornia said.

Food stamp usage in Utah has increased 112 percent since 2007, Cornia said. In May 2011, more than 274,000 low-income Utahns accessed the food stamp program.

"Folks who used to have a middle-class income may be the people who are now on food stamps," she said.

The federal Food Stamp Program is intended to be a safety net to ensure people have food during difficult times. More than half of food stamp recipient are children while 8 percent are over 60 years of age. However, most people leave the program within nine months.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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