The 3SquaresVT challenge, underway this week, is asking participants to stick to a very tight food budget. People taking part will be asked to buy a lunch for $1.72 or less. That is the average figure 3SquaresVT recipients have to spend through the program formally known as food stamps; known nationally as SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Sarah Weisman, a full-time software consultant in Williston, Vermont, took the challenge. Weisman said she would typically spend about $7 on lunch, often running out of the office for a hearty sandwich. Thursday, she instead bought a yogurt, a banana, and a small bag of sunflower seeds from the bulk section at the Healthy Living Market in South Burlington, Vermont.
Weisman's total expenditure on lunch Thursday was precisely the $1.72 of her own money she was attempting to spend on lunch during the challenge. "You can't get a little piece of candy to go after your lunch, or a soda, or a juice," Weisman observed.
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In the style of this summer's Ice Bucket Challenge, Weisman even recruited a coworker to join her. It wasn't hard to convince Stacy Bressette, who told New England Cable News she grew up in a food insecure household.
"We didn't have a lot growing up," Bressette remembered. "When you're a kid, you understand there's not a lot of money, so you stop asking for things, including lunch money."
Bressette said she hoped if more Vermonters learned about the 3SquaresVT challenge, they may take away a greater sense of the need in communities around hunger issues.
Similar challenges are issued annually, during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. About one in seven Vermonters currently receives 3SquaresVT benefits, according to the hunger fighters at the non-profit Hunger Free Vermont.
"I'm worried," said Marissa Parisi of Hunger Free Vermont. "We really care about and need strong nutrition programs for everyone."
Parisi said she expects a tough fight for nutrition programs in Washington, D.C. when the new Congress convenes next year. Food assistance programs have long been eyed for cuts in this era of federal budget belt-tightening.
"And I'd also like to see Congress working really hard at making sure we have adequate wages and jobs available for families so they're not in a situation where they're worried about food security," Parisi told NECN.
Weisman said her experience of buying lunch each day this week for $1.72 will remind her of how much she has to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. "Being hungry all week has really made me reflect on how fortunate we are and how fortunate my kids are," she said.