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Stefanie’s 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge

Stefanie Cruz is taking part in the Sacramento Hunger Coalition’s “7-Day Food Stamp Challenge.”

She will only spend $4.90 on food each day.

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Imagine one week on food stamps or $4.90 a day. One hundred fifty people took on the challenge including me and a Sacramento City Council Member.

The goal: bring awareness to a problem millions of Americans face every day.

“We take it for granted,” said Isaac Gonzalez. “Where our food comes from.”

Gonzalez spent seven days living mainly on potatoes. He made it work spending just $34.17.

He says it was an eye-opening experience.

“Usually it’s a passive thing. If I’m hungry I get food. There’s never a conflict in that consideration. You just go and do it. To actually go what’s my next meal and what’s my next meal going to be,” said Gonzalez.

Two hundred fifty thousand people in Sacramento County are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

That means food banks like River City are working overtime to help a growing number of needs, especially during the holidays.

“It is really appropriate for our community to remind each other that not everyone is going to have a happy day,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said at a news conference.

To drive the point home Sacramento City Council Member Kevin McCarty’s family of four lived on $19 for one day. It was enough to make an impact.

“I was a single dad with two kids three days this week. My wife was out of town. It was a challenge buying food for them let alone doing it for myself,” McCarty said.

I also took on the challenge. I ate oatmeal, tortillas, cheese, beans and chicken.

Thank you all for your comments about my Food Stamp Challenge. I want to clarify first of all that I am not actually on food stamps. Those of us who are participating are asked to live on the same amount. Yesterday I went to Taco Bell to see what I could buy for leftover cash I had after budgeting well the first two days. Taco Bell does not accept EBT but I did this to illustrate how tough it is to buy healthy food, even at cheaper restaurants. I love the Cantina Bowl. It’s a rice/salad mix and a healthier option there. Unfortunately I could not afford it with $4.86. The bowl was $4.99. I had to head to the Value Menu and ended up buying three healthy Mex tacos for $1.09 each. Another adjustment I had to make was that I couldn’t have the chicken option. That would have cost more. Ultimately, I was able to buy the three tacos but no drink. Again, just an illustration of what you can and can’t buy on a limited budget.

Stefanie Cruz looks into what it takes to eat right at a fast food place while living on $4.90 a day.

If I had to sum up my biggest complaint about living on a limited budget, it would be the lack of variety. I had the same thing for lunch and dinner. I had coffee at work and water.

Here’s what I made:

Breakfast:  Oatmeal   (25 cents)

Lunch:        Corn tortilla, black beans, shredded mozzarella cheese, chicken ($1.17)

                     Egg    (18 cents)

                     Snack:        Half Cliff bar (50 cents)

Dinner:      Corn tortilla, black beans, shredded mozzarella cheese, chicken   ($1.17)

                   Egg   (18 cents)

TOTAL: $3.45

   I was about a $1.50 under budget. So I did reserve that for a Diet Coke.

What I bought for $19.60.

So I made it under my allotted amount of $19.60 for four days.

For about $17.60 I was able to buy: package of chicken thighs(cheaper than breast), 2 cans of black beans, 1 pkg of shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 pkg of corn tortillas, 1 box of instant oatmeal, 2 Cliff Bars and 12 eggs.

I am trying to eat as close to what I normally have. I think the food will last but I am eating smaller servings and I was not able to buy drinks or produce. I have 2 bucks left in case I want a cup of coffee, Diet Coke or apple.

I also shopped in a discount store to get the best prices. I could have absolutely bought a lot more but it wouldn’t have been as healthy. Canned soup was a dollar per can. Ramen is about 40 cents. Both are high in sodium and not very nutritious.

On my first day I found out how much harder it is to eat healthy on a $4.90 a day diet.

For four days starting Monday, November 12, I’ll be taking on the Food Stamp Challenge.

Hopefully, most of us will never be forced to rely only on just food stamps. The reality is a record 46 million Americans were on food stamps in June. 200,000 people in Sacramento County don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

The Hunger Coalition kicked off the challenge to raise awareness about hunger. For the challenge, I’ll be living on $4.90 a day.

Think about how much a latte costs or a soda, for that matter. Doesn’t sound so easy now, does it? For me, this isn’t a political statement or a call to change policies. This is a matter of trying to understand the challenge facing the people who we call our neighbors and even our friends.

I know this can be a life-changing experience. I’ll be honest. I walk into stores and even restaurants and I don’t think about what I’m buying. I often toss out food that rots in my fridge or leftovers that we are tired of eating.

I welcome the lesson I’ll be learning and I hope it gives me a better understanding and more compassion. If you’d like to join the challenge do it by living on $4.90 a day.

Watch my reports on FOX40 News at 10 to see what it takes.