In September 2010, friends of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank tried to live on an average food stamp allocation for one week. It was an exercise in empathy and a call to action to support the hunger relief organizations that help tens of thousands of families make ends meet.
But this challenge is all too real for many of our neighbors—some of whom experience the challenge of living on a food stamp budget every day.
Neighbors like Connie Williams, a former nurse visiting the food pantry at Grace Lutheran Church in Champaign on a hot August morning. She was there for the first time because she was running dangerously low on food for the month.
Connie used to love her nursing job, and would pick up overtime shifts whenever she could. Taking care of people was especially rewarding to her, though there really wasn’t anything at all she didn’t like about the job.
But 12 years ago, Connie had to stop working because she had become legally blind. As she tells her story, she affirms that she won’t cry—but her eyes were brimming with tears. “It’s just that I thought I’d be working in nursing my whole life,” she explains. “It’s real heartbreaking. I never thought I’d be here.”
Connie’s SNAP benefit is just $18 a month, though she’s quick to point out that it isn’t her only source of income—she also receives a modest disability allocation because of her blindness. Still, she says, by the time everything is paid for each month, there’s almost nothing left for food.
“I don’t have any credit cards or big expenses. It’s just plain living every day that’s hard.” Connie’s top priority for her monthly budget is her medication to control her diabetes. Household items like toilet paper, she said, are usually next on the list. Then, what’s left over is spent on food.
Connie scrapes by with the help of programs like Grace Lutheran’s food pantry and First Call for Help, which connects her with other Foodbank agencies that deliver free emergency food to her home.