Saturday, February 2, 2013

A SNAP experience


Waiting in line at the grocery store today, I noticed that the family (Mom, 2 kids plus an adult who appeared to be Mom's brother) were doing a huge stock up-2 carts worth. Being the first weekend of the month, I assumed that this was a food stamp family. The groceries selected were mostly processed foods, nothing fresh in sight. Things like 8 boxes of Rice-a-roni, 12 cans various Chef Boy-ar-dee pasta, triple pack white bread, fzn pizzas, fzn pancake and waffles, about 12 pouches of noodle mix, canned chicken noodle soup,large jars of prepared spaghetti sauce etc. Total came to $422-Mom says, "EBT card." and swipes the Credit card machine, stating that she'll come back sometime this week for the "healthy stuff" as she can't get it when the kids are with her. Huh? Shopping for family groceries is an opportunity to teach children how to make choices, that you can't get everything you want (but don't totally deprive yourself either, limit it to one treat per kid or whatever system works for you) The kids in question were approx. 6 and 9 years old.

College boy was here tonight having dinner and I recounted what I saw. What was most frustrating was that for MUCH less money, this family can be eating the same menu meals PLUS the "healthy stuff." Put back the 12 cans of Chef-boy ardee @ $1.59/can, and take advantage of the 88/lb box of Stop and Shop pasta on sale this week. Ragu sauce is pricey unless on sale plus a large coupon. Do I keep a few in my pantry for emergency meals in a hurry? Absolutley. Saves over ordering out. My point is that if Mom selected a 99 cent, 29 oz can of plain tomato puree, added some Ital spices, there would be a basic marinara on hand and then she would be able to add a simple green salad, steamed vegetable (fresh or fzn depending upon price and season), if not canned. There was no dairy, meat other than fzn prepared stuff, produce. A 99 cent/lb roaster can be stretched over many days, ultimately ending up as soup for a few more. This frees up monies for other items in the grocery cart.

I take no issue with those needing a temporary hand up out of a financial situation, but there needs to be some restrictions such as mandatory home economics classes/workshops where store ads are compared, coupon use is discussed, eating seasonally, home gardening (even if only in planters), using farmers markets/pick your own farms, comparing preparation methods and their impact on final cost to the consumer (buy a whole butternut squash, vs buying pre-peeled and cubed fresh, vs pre-peeled and cubed fzn, vs fzn puree). Based on what I saw, this is a family that either really doesn't know how to cook or chooses not to. First tip would have been to cross the street and head over to Aldi's.

Prepared to put my flame suit on.


Mary Lou said...

I volunteered at a food pantry for some 20+ years and the people that are regular "clients" do not want to cook nor do most of them have to cook. Many of them do not know how to cook a turkey and directions would have to be supplied for many items.

It's actually a sad situation, but when you are given that kind of money to "shop" you don't worry about cooking.

I no longer volunteer because you do burn out with that population. I prefer to go to the soup kitchen because those people appreciate their meals and some are homeless and have no other way to get their meals.

j udy said...

I have always believed that classes should be given with food stamp benefits. We used to hold a class at our church on budgeting and making your food stamps stretch. Some didn't know you could use coupons and some really wanted to learn to cook and make healthy food but some could have cared less.

Those that wanted to learn did wonderful and sometimes I see them and they tell me how they are doing. But some just could't be bothered. I think a class on budgeting, healthy eating, and cooking should be a requirement. But that just my opinion

Debbie said...

Why would you have to put your flame suit on?? We are all adults with an open mind. With that being said, there should be classes held at the social services office to assist folks with managing their food stamp benefit. They should be taught how to shop to extend the benefit into the last week of the month. I know that families have the right to buy "what they choose", but seriously, there is a need for education. The frozen pancakes and waffles can be made so much cheaper at home (if there is a waffle iron present), and come on....pancakes are a piece of cake. Not to mention more for the money spent, and you can freeze the rest for another meal. Maybe there is a reason that she has felt that the packaged groceries are needed for here family. Maybe she is working in the evening or at night, and the brother doesn't know how to cook. Or something along those lines. I agree with your thought process, as I've seen the same when I go to the grocery store. I don't see too many families at Aldi (I only shop twice a month) when I'm there, but I do see lots of folks with EBT at Sharp Shopper (an outlet), and lets just say that in pizza alone, they can keep the store in business.

Nancy said...

I completely agree with you Carol. If the government can direct the nutritional content and serving size in the school lunch program they can easily mandate classes in nutrition and getting the most bang for our buck with the EBT cards. I'd have to guess that more childhood obesity is caused by purchases made with EBT cards than by eating in the school cafeteria.

CTMOM said...

Many schools no longer have home ec programs. Fortunately, the school system where I work, DOES and they even have a culinary program that the students work in for a semester. My own children's school does have a cooking room, but it is only used by SPED for life skills and OT. At least special needs boy will benefit.

Basics in budgeting (not just groceries, life expenses) is essential. THis country is in such a mess. While I understand that blanket statements are simply generalizations, there are some who battle medical bills, etc and have always been good with money but now find themselves overwhelmed.
It behooves the SNAP recipient to learn how to become (if not already) a good steward of the resources being provided.Give a man (or woman!) a fish or teach him HOW to fish issue.

While I didn't say a word to this family, my thoughts were running on about what a waste of over $400. Half of that money could have been saved if different choices were made. I am not talking a Spartan diet, just alternatives to making/serving/eating the same things as Mom was purchasing. I also was wondering just how long these prepared foods are going to last until the end of the month-then what? A can of Chef-boy-ardee feeds one-2 kids, depending on appetite. There may be other members in the family that didn't go on this shopping trip. She is receiving alot in SNAP. WHen I applied, once now X lost his job, we were a family of 6 (they wouldn't consider DD as she was college girl over 18 y.o. , so family of 5 in their minds). The max we would have been eligible for was over what I was already spending and we eat very well, with some treats tossed in.

Another item on the belt at the market, were about 12 cans Hormel chilli. Pricey; she spent at least $18 there. I buy perhaps a can or 2 a year for college boy or to top hot dogs for chilli dogs. I combine sale plus cpn to do so, still paying about $1/can. Ground beef was ON SALE (though still expensive in my book; I did buy one 3 lb pkg)@ $3.39/lb. Buy that, a bag or 2 of dried beans, an onion and/or garlic. Salt and pepper at home? no chilli packets needed-drive just next up the road to Xpect and get a Spice classics container of chilli powder for 99 cents. Done. Make it in the crockpot. I saw many at various thrift shops for $5-$10-easily available at low cost.

This family did have a car. As I returned to the parking lot, the man in the group had driven a van to the curb near the entrance and they were all loading the bags there. Transportation wasn't an issue.

CTMOM said...

Even if Mom works the second or third shift, a crockpot meal would solve that problem. Make ahead casseroles to heat up in the microwave type thing. Kids at the store were about 6 and 9, so someone has to watch them if Mom is working.

CTMOM said...

Judy-why are there no longer classes held at your church?

CTMOM said...

My county is fortunate in that we have a very active, farm to table program. Many farms (my street has a poultry and small vegetable farm on one end, an organic farm on the other)locally sell their foods to our schools. Kids gets unlimited selection of produce items. All bread/grains are whole grains. Pizza could be ww pizza with goat's cheese and spinach. Yum!
I do know that this is not the same in other parts of CT.

Belinda said...

I personally know of a family that gets $900 a month in food stamps for a family of 5. Two adults, three children ages 4, 2, and 6 months. That is a lot of money to spend every month. Rather than buy expensive foods, my pantry and freezer would be stocked up well to make the food last for perhaps a time period when they were no longer eligible for food stamps.

janie said...

I agree Carol. There definitely seems to be many ways that this Mom may cut costs and feed her family healthier.


CTMOM said...

$900, wow. Yes, my pantry would be bursting!

Marcia in rural WNY said...

The maximum food stamps for a family of 5 is $793. Still, a lot of money and plenty to feed a family.

When I worked at social services, one of the non profit agencies offered cooking, budgeting, and shopping advice in classes with voluntary attendance: in order to get people to come, they "bribed" them with full bags of groceries to take home after the classses. I doubt you will ever see mandatory classes because the intent of food stamps, or SNAP, is to supplement people's available food income---their intent is to GIVE IT OUT.
I found that I could do one on one education when I interviewed people, although now they don't even do individual interviews any more but have a group process with less time available for each individual client. I did what I could, and so did some of the other employees, but most did not. It does take extra time and there is very little extra time available to workers. At one time I had a caseload of around 340 families, and each needed to be interviewed individually at least twice a year. Advice as simple as putting canned vegetables in a strainer and rinsing them to reduce the amount of sodium, only takes a few seconds and might help. I asked a lady with hypertension if she took her pills everyday: no, if there was no food for breakfast she didn't take them, because the instructions said take after breakfast. Sad. I told her to take them anyhow----and tried to help her with buying tips also.
My own daughter is one of the non-cookers, and it annoys the heck out of me. She KNOWS how to cook but her husband prefers to make things HIS way, and he does most of the cooking. It involves a lot of frozen food, but they do eat some fresh foods also. She's good at budgeting but I'm sure she could cut her grocery bill if she tried to cook more.

Anonymous said...

I agree its not healthy and that bugs me some because she had no meats or produce but that is not for me to judge. But we do not know her story. I have a nephew who hates homemade pancakes but loves frozen store bought. He also has a problem with the acids from tomatoes but like spaghetti and the chef boyaredee are not as acidy as real sauce. Also so much emphasis is put on the Pricey IGA or how eyes are rolled when someone buys the deli meats, deli salads and such when you can get the stuff to make it right across the street at aldi's. But we should be thanking people for buying these things and not rolling our eyes. These peoples buying habbits keep jobs in our areas and choices for places to shop instead of just Walmart. The stores make big money on these kind of items which intern keeps them open and keep people employed. But we do not have to be forced to buy them or buy there/