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Poor on purpose: Group attemps eating on $3.68 a day

Four members of the Hunger and Homelessness committee hosted a food stamp challenge to the community to live on a food stamp budget for a day or week. Shown left, organizer Beth Warrick, residents Steve and Kathy Schmit, organizers, Kirk Kartsten, Kelly Jo Zellman and Sandy Hennum work on a food budget using grocery store flyers for the Schmiit's.

BEMIDJI -- Over the river and through the woods to the local food shelf we go. While most Minnesotans are thinking ahead to a Thanksgiving feast, 26.1 percent of residents are living below the poverty line.

Prompting people to truly be thankful this season, the Hunger and Homelessness committee of Bemidji is challenging community members to take the "Food Stamp Challenge."

During National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (HAHAW), Nov.17 through 23, the committee is asking people who don't already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly knows as food stamps, to live on what an average daily food allowance is for low income Minnesotans -- $3.68.

Six people attended a kick-off event at Lueken's Village Foods North on Tuesday afternoon.

"This is just our first attempt at the challenge," said Sandy Hennum with Village of Hope Homeless Shelter. "I can see the (HAHAW) group growing and expanding."

Beth Warrick with HAHAW said she heard a lot of people are taking the challenge independently.

Nutrition consultant Kelly Jo Zellermann was on-hand Tuesday to educate the group on how to stretch food dollars and offer help with choosing wholesome meals.

"My family's taking the challenge," Zellermann said. She developed a week-long meal plan for her family that includes three boys ages 3, 7 and 9. "My 3-year-old will eat anything. The other boys might be more challenging. It's really about planning."

Zellerman said by planning meals one week at a time people can save time, energy and money. Zellerman advises not shopping while hungry, shop alone, stick to a list, buy in bulk and compare stores.

The group looked over Lueken's Village Foods flyers and planned meals that included oatmeal, beans and rice. HAHAW will congregate at United Methodist Church during the church's annual chicken dinner and silent auction on Tuesday, Nov. 19 to share their experiences on the SNAP diet.

The challenge guidelines include excluding existing food already purchased at home and eating and drinking only what a person can afford on the SNAP budget.

"What I like about taking the challenge is it's more efficient," said Kirk Karstens with Bi-County Community Action Program. Karstens teaches classes on financial literacy and self-sufficiency.

St. Bartholomew's Rev. Steve Schmit and his wife Kathy are taking the challenge too.

"I've pushed my congregation to participate," Rev. Schmit said.

No doubt some people in Schmit's congregation are likely using SNAP benefits to get by. In Beltrami County, 6,065 people are eligible for SNAP benefits -- 2,234 of those people are children. A total comprising 13 percent of the county and 1.4 percent of the state.

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approaching, people on SNAP may need a little extra help. The Bemidji Community Food Shelf offers assistance to people who have exhausted their food supply.

"Around Thanksgiving and Christmas we're very busy," said Jack Judkins, Bemidji Community Food Shelf coordinator. "But that's nothing unprecedented, we're busy all the time now."

People interested in donating to the food shelf are encouraged to do so during regular business hours or by calling ahead. The food shelf is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and until 5 p.m. on the third Monday of every month.

"When we're open there's always someone here to accept your donation," Judkins said.

The food shelf is in need of canned fruit, peanut butter, soup and personal care items. Judkins said they used to refer to Stuff-a-Truck as "clean out your cupboard" week.

"Anything in a can, you can't go wrong," Judkins said.

The 22nd Stuff-a-Truck food drive began on Nov. 4 and will conclude on Nov. 23.

Nine non-profit organizations including the Bemidji Community Food Shelf have partnered to spread consciousness during Hunger And Homeless Awareness Week in the Bemidji area: Bi-County CAP, Churches United, Community Resource Connections, Evergreen Youth & Family Services, Northwoods Habitat for Humanity, Village of Hope Homeless Shelter and Bemidji School District 31.

The Bemidji Community Food Shelf is located at 1260 Industrial Park Drive SE and can be reached by calling (218) 444-6580. HAHAW reported the food shelf served 24,244 people between January and August of 2013.

Tickets to the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Chicken Dinner cost $7.50 for adults and $5 for children and can be acquired by calling (218) 333-6856. The church has been hosting the dinner for more than 20 years and anticipates 300 attendees. This year's event will be from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19 at United Methodist Church on 9th Street NW and Beltrami Avenue. All proceeds will be distributed evenly among the HAHAW group and applied directly to support services.

SNAP Stats

Statewide: 554,002 people were eligible

Beltrami County: 6,065 people are eligible (2,234 are children)

Cass County: 4,100 people are eligible (1,691 are children)

Hubbard County: 2,439 people are eligible (979 are children)

Impoverished Population

26.1 percent of Minnesotans

41.3 percent of Beltrami County residents

39 percent of Cass County residents

32.9 percent of Hubbard County residents

As of 2012, data provided by Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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