Stretching the Food Dollar

Brandy with a food box from the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma.

Brandy is the proud mother of three girls ages 21, 15 and 16. The two youngest are on the honor roll at Erwin High School, “I hang up their Honor Awards on the wall, so they can see it every day,” she says with a smile on her face.

Brandy comes in to the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE) to get an occasional food box, but also to help out. She has come in to clean the center and organize the clothing closet. She has donated clothes her children have outgrown, and was thrilled when she walked into the center and saw some of her donated items hanging up as part of homemade holiday costumes. “I donated these scarves!” she exclaims.

Brandy hasn’t been into the FRCE to pick up a supplemental food box in a few months, but recently she had her food benefits cut and needs extra help from the FRCE food pantry to make her food budget stretch.

“I have teenagers, and they can eat!” she says with a laugh. “But seriously, I had $36 dollars cut from my food benefits, and that doesn’t seem like much, but that is what I would spend on meat to last for two weeks.”

Brandy is experiencing what millions of families are experiencing- a cut in their food benefits. According to an article from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits ends on November 1, 2013, resulting in a benefit cut for every SNAP household.  For families of three, the cut will be $29 a month — a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014, the remaining months of fiscal year 2014.  That’s a serious loss, especially in light of the very low amount of basic SNAP benefits.  Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. 

Brandy mentions that it is tough for everyone. She has a family member who has had her full-time job for over 30 years, who is struggling as well.

“No one is safe from the rising costs of food and rents,” she says.

Brandy is savvy in trying to make her food dollar stretch. “I feel so guilty when I can’t give my kids snacks to take to school.” So she takes the 6 pack of muffins and adds extra water to make 12 muffins, that way they get three muffins each “and they are happy!”

She shops at the dollar store instead of the grocery store, and gets the supplemental food boxes from the Children First/CIS FRCE. “I am so glad ya’ll are here. I just wish you had more support, so you could help even more people.”

In 2012, a record breaking 47,791,996 people received food stamps (compared to 17,194,000 in 2000). Now that these families are facing cuts to their benefits, food pantries like the one at the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center are instrumental in helping families avoid food insecurity.

One way Brandy is hoping her children will avoid the struggles she faces today is through education. “I want them to accomplish more than I have. They come up to me and say, ‘Why is math important? Why is science important?’ and I tell them it’s so you can keep your grades up and get a scholarship to college.”

Recently, Brandy’s daughter went on a college tour and was thrilled by being on the campus. Brandy has high hopes for her children to make a good life for themselves, without some of the struggles she has gone through.

When asked what she wants for the future, she says she wants to see families struggle less. “Even the ones with the good paying jobs are struggling,” she says. “I want to see our community progress and see the FRCE get help.” 

Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County. For more information on the program, visit childrenfirstbc.org or call 786-2072.

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