The SNAP Challenge

September 02, 2016

  • The SNAP Challenge written by Oliver P. Balboa Co-Founder

    When I was registering for classes in the spring of my freshman year, I never knew that I would be signing up for a class that would change my life.

    Professor Gower is an upbeat, respectful, kind and brutally honest person. She is an incredible teacher and her class has changed the way I see this world (sorry for the clichés). As she explained in the first class that she had her differences with the way the average educator goes about force feeding slideshows and textbooks to it’s students, I knew I was in for something new, something special.

    About a few weeks into the course, the class was introduced to the topic of SNAP.

    SNAP is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and formerly known as Food Stamps. Receiving my education in the suburbs of Richmond, VA, I was only a ten-minute drive from some of the worst food deserts in the country. The City of Richmond hosts a community of over twenty thousand households that rely on SNAP programming everyday. Nationwide, slightly fewer than 50 million Americans rely on these services too. Generally speaking that is around 15% of America. These facts are hard to swallow, when you understand what they really mean. My professor didn’t want our class to just learn these upsetting statistics; she wanted us to live them. Enter the SNAP Challenge…

    The SNAP Challenge allows you to experience the strenuous life of living off food stamps. My classmates and I were challenged to a full week with a budget of $28, that being $4 per day. I documented my escapade on a personal blog, writing entries whenever I thought there was something to be said; which happened to be very often.

    Now that it has been some time since I participated in the challenge, I have come to grasp an understanding of why Professor Gower questioned our ability to empathize. A friend once told me, the best knowledge is knowing that you know nothing at all. I had no idea at all what it was like to be truly hungry; I thought I did. And this is a problem amongst our country.

    My week’s food consisted of a budgeted selection of processed foods and one large bag of rice (which became my best friend). All of the foods that could be afforded were packed with empty calories and sugar, not exactly what the human body needs. I could not pay for vegetables or fruit, as they were just plainly too expensive. The US government currently supports a nutritional system called “Choose My Plate”, updated from the recent Food Pyramid. The plate’s top two food groups are of course, you guessed it, fruits and vegetables. Even though I considered the option of purchasing something from these food groups, many impoverished areas in this country do not even have this liberty, struggling to find these important foods for miles. After I had purchased my weeks fill on a slim budget, I figured that I had enough food to make it through, I figured that my only challenge was to swallow the mechanically made produce.

    Each morning I woke up pissed off, tired and hungry. Waking up too early would be a big mistake as I found refuge in the hours that my eyes were closed and I wasn’t consciously thinking about my stomach. I quickly learned that hunger is an all-controlling pain. It is ALWAYS on your mind. Students of this generation have a hard enough time paying attention within the classroom, but with an empty stomach it is near impossible. This should bring no surprise to why so many children in underprivileged areas have such a difficult time passing their grades. I found myself easily irritated, even by some of my closest friends that I never had a bad word with. Focus, forget it. As I tried preparing for an accounting exam, I could not read through one page of my notes without giving thought to the idea of my next bite of food. I thought heavily, trying to think of loop holes that would allow me an extra meal or an extra snack. During exercise, I frequently became very lightheaded, needing to sit down. Hunger seemed to follow me everywhere. I just kept thinking throughout the week, this is not ok; how do millions of people do this everyday, not knowing when an end is coming? Here is a brief excerpt from my blog:

    “Resources are starting to be depleted which is making it hard satisfy my killing hunger. To add on top of that the general group atmosphere is terrible. Everyone is mad and considering exceptions. Even I am considering how nice it would be to eat a nice burrito and I thought I was easily going to tough out this challenge. I don't care how tough you think you are or how easy you think this challenge is; plain and simple this is not easy. Being hungry for lack of a better word (my brain is exhausted) stinks.  

    I just finished my Mount Everest of an economics assignment and I am just so pissed off. I didn't perform poorly on my online homework so I was wondering why I am so angry. All clues point in one direction. My stomach.”

    So, did I pass the SNAP Challenge? Yes. Did I experience the life of the 50 million Americans? No.

    Although I immersed myself in a challenge that questioned my ability to fight hunger and cope with the side affects throughout my daily life, I did not face the everyday anxieties that the true victims of hunger do. I was a college student that attended classes, participated in clubs and sports and most importantly, had the privilege of eating food (if the situation was dire) and setting an end date to the challenge. I experienced the direct stresses and pains that came with hunger nevertheless I was not coupled with worrisome circumstances that put me in that situation. For one week, I was miserable. Just one week. Imagine if this is your life, what it would be like if you are younger than me, if you don’t have a support system, if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if you don’t know where you are going to sleep tonight. These are realities. We need to help our struggling and suffering neighbors, and much of this battle begins with a little empathy. There is a reason that so many people have asked our lawmakers to experience this very hunger. My journey through the SNAP Challenge has caused me to never look at my food the same way, knowing that there is someone else that wants needs it so much more. So, I have a question for you. Can you do the SNAP challenge?



    Oliver strives to bring his passion for fighting America's hunger problem to the forefront in everything he does. His hands on experience supporting hunger initiatives has allowed him to garner a unique perspective on life and all it has to offer. To learn more about Oliver and other's in the Balboa family check out our
    family page


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