Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, the Jewish Educational Center’s Associate Dean, is among the New Jersey politicians and community leaders who are taking on the challenge to live off a food budget of $30 for a full week- from September 8-14, 2014.
The object of the Food Stamp Challenge is to experience what it is like to subsist for one week on the same food budget as a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program) recipient, currently $30 on average. The purpose of the challenge is to raise awareness of and sensitivity to the plight of those dependent on this program.
What motivated Rabbi Teitz to take on the Food Stamp Challenge?
“At the JEC, we are blessed with wonderfully committed parents, parents who want their children to receive an excellent Jewish day school education, and who pay great sums of money for that opportunity,” says Rabbi Teitz.
“For over 40% of our families, there is a gap between what they pay and what it costs to educate their children. Of these families, a number are in such dire need that they receive SNAP benefits (what used to be called food stamps) from the Federal government.
“I feel strongly that as the person charged with deciding how much tuition a family in such financial straits should pay, that it is appropriate for me to step into their shoes and experience if for only one week what their daily existence is year after year. It is certainly not easy.”
Twelve NJ Senators and Assembly members are taking part as well, but the challenge takes on a unique dimension when you have to factor in the higher cost of kosher food and Shabbos. Rabbi Teitz spent $25.85 on his groceries for the week, leaving him with $4.15 to buy meat for Shabbos.
Recent cuts in the federal budget for food assistance programs have made New Jersey one of the hardest-hit states for food insecurity. More than 1 million New Jerseyans suffer from hunger and food insecurity, nearly half of them children.
The challenge kicked off of a Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest-led year-long campaign to reduce hunger. Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest are partnered in this initiative.
“As Jews, we have a particular sensitivity to the less fortunate among us because the mitzvot of the Torah command us to take care of their needs,” Rabbi Teitz says. “This challenge in particular sensitized me, and through writing about it, I hope to sensitize others, to how desperate the need of some of the families in the Jewish community truly is.”