For one week, all nine members of the Montgomery County Council each will attempt to eat on just $5 per day.
In an effort to raise awareness of poverty and unite the community in understanding food security issues, Councilwoman Valerie Ervin challenged the council members as well as the community to SNAP the Silence of Poverty by eating on $5 — what she said is all some residents have — per day.
From Feb. 4 to Feb. 8, those who take the challenge are asked to spend no more than $5 per day, or $25 that week, on food. So far about 200 have signed up to take the challenge.
While Montgomery County is known for its affluence, about 72,000 of its residents live in poverty and about a third, or 49,300, of its students qualify for free and reduced meals, Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said.
While her challenge seeks to raise public awareness, it also aims to change people and help leaders when they craft county policies, she said.
“Until you walk a mile in their shoes, you can’t appreciate their challenges,” she said.
Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said he took a cursory trip through the grocery store, and he was astonished at just how little $5 a day would buy him.
One thing was clear: “No coffee.”
Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said Monday her week likely will involve eating a lot of ramen noodles.
Recalling how her mother could maximize her family’s food budget growing up, Ervin said she hopes to draw inspiration from her mother and cook casseroles, soups and other foods that can be eaten for more than one meal.
C. Marie Henderson, executive director of Interfaith Works, who has experience helping those with limited resources make their food dollars go further, suggested buying two bags of beans, three bags of frozen vegetables — off-brand — pasta, pasta sauce, one pound of meat and a chicken to get the most out of the $25.
But for many of the county’s working poor, even the money they receive from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, or SNAP, is not enough to meet their needs.
Quierra Chaney of Germantown and her two girls, Ashira McCook, 7, and Amaris Chaney, 3, often have to turn to the county’s safety net and groups like Nourish Now for food at the end of the month when her SNAP benefits are spent and to groups like Women Who Care Ministries for snacks over the weekend, Chaney said.
“I am glad there are organizations like Nourish Now to help out families like mine,” she said.
Together with many of those organizations, on Tuesday Ervin proclaimed January as Poverty in America Awareness Month.