This past week my college daughter participated in the SNAP Challenge for her Civil Justice class. (You can read about her journey here.)
As her mom, I had mixed emotions. I was so proud of her for wanting to understand one of our country’s biggest challenges — food insecurity. However, Maggie is hyperglycemic – to the point that even in her adult life I carry snacks for her when we are together. She can devolve from healthy and vibrant to pale, weak and confused in a matter of minutes. She’s also battling chronic lyme disease; this means she takes an enormous number of drugs that need to be taken with food, there is a special diet she must follow, and deviations from protocol are potentially disastrous to her long term health. I strongly protested her participation in the challenge – knowing she would respond with the requisite, “yes mom” and plow forward.
Why participate? To better understand what we, as a society, put vulnerable populations through when they are at their lowest point. I’m not arguing whether social programs need an overhaul nor am I willing to debate whether or not the 45.4 million Americans on SNAP could change their stars. Given that most of these recipients are children, I am appalled at how cavalier we can sometimes be in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.
My daughter was challenged to blog about her experience every day, and it caused me to think about the parental frame of mind when participating in SNAP or other food assistance programs. What is it like for parents who love their children as much as you and I, but are humbly sending their child(ren) to school and/or bed hungry? I’ve worried about Maggie all week! I had to stop reading her daily blog posts after she shared an experience of nearly fainting at a formal event; I was sick to my stomach. You see, last April I slept for four nights in a chair by her hospital bedside because of pancreatitis activated by her lyme disease. A major digestive organ in her body is compromised — and SNAP, even for a week, was a potential detonator for her. Daily, I waited for that call. Daily, I knew she was not herself. Daily, I knew she was causing hidden damage to her body.
I began to wonder how moms and dads who participate in SNAP cope with these same or similar concerns? I knew this would be over in a week. I prayed, I distracted myself from thinking about it — I had the blessing of knowing this experiment was temporary AND could rest in the comfort of knowing I provide a meal plan and lifestyle that would allow my daughter to recover. I also knew that my job would allow me, in the worst scenario, to take time to nurse her back to health should that be necessary, without fear of missing a mortgage payment or losing my job. Not only do families on SNAP have to deal with childhood illnesses that food could heal or help, but many more illnesses are created by the limited food choices SNAP affords.
This week my heart was with the scores of moms and dads who don’t have the luxury of providing 3 square meals a day, much less providing snacks for their kids. Parents who have to bypass the fresh fruits and veggies in favor of high protein (like beans) or high carb foods. Parents who have to hear from educators that their children are underperforming (because they are hungry or malnourished) or have to worry that their child may never be well because their little body is in a constant state of crisis.
Those of us who are able, take comfort in donating canned goods and peanut butter to food pantries. But having volunteered in these facilities, it always broke my heart that I couldn’t offer the clients something fresh or even more — a balanced and nutritious selection of foods. Don’t get me wrong. That can of peaches — way better than nothing. That jar of peanut butter — life saving for someone. But my SNAP challenge, to be a part of the solution that brings healthy food to the communities and food deserts where it’s most needed. I wish that no child be hungry, and that no parent have to carry the burden of knowing their child is ill-nourished.