The Hunger Challenge Continues…


This week is Hunger Action Week. To educate the public about the issue of hunger in communities, two organizations, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley, issued a challenge for people to try to eat on $4.50 a day, the average amount that those on Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as “food stamps”) receive. I decided to take the challenge and blog about it. See the previous entries to find out how I prepared for the challenge, and how I fared each day.

I won’t lie, I’m relieved the “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge is over for me. Officially the challenge ends on Saturday, when Hunger Action Week concludes. But I had a commitment today that precluded being able to actually eat on $4.50 for the entire day, so I chose to only take it for four days. And I am glad, because I was hungry most of the time all four days.

But while I get to end the challenge and my self-imposed budget diet, thousands of my neighbors in this area don’t get to end it right now, because for them the challenge is a day-to-day reality. I’m glad I took the challenge. It made me think about hunger and what people on SNAP must go through. It made me appreciate my food better. It made me look at my pantry and fridge in new ways. My household of three has a lot of food around that we take for granted.

Here are a few of my conclusions:

  • We don’t think about hunger enough in this country. It somehow exists in the shadows for many of us who are not hungry on a regular basis. We’re aware it’s going on, but we don’t see it (don’t want to see it?). We watch food programs on TV almost endlessly, but millions of our fellow citizens are without enough food to be healthy and happy.
  • Related to the above, every elected politician at every level should be required to take this challenge at least once.
  • $4.50 is not enough money to feed a person every day. If you expect people to live on oatmeal and rice and beans, sure it’s fine. But it’s not enough to get in all the calories and nutrients needed to be healthy long-term. It’s extremely important people can afford good, quality produce on a regular basis. This amount doesn’t always allow for that.
  • For the long-term health of our country, we need to figure out (fast) how to feed children in this country. We’re collectively doing a really bad job. Too many kids live in households where food insecurity is a severe issue. Being food insecure can actually lead to high obesity rates. Not only will people eat the wrong things (like cheap fast food), when they have food they will overeat because they may not get anything to eat for an unknown period of time in the near future. It sets into motion a cycle that is tough to break. If we can’t raise healthy kids, we endanger our future.

There’s so much more to this issue, and thankfully there are people like Second Harvest Food Bank and others who think about this every day and work hard to get the rest of us to think about it, too.

Day 3 of the Challenge


This week is Hunger Action Week. To educate the public about the issue of hunger in communities, two organizations, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley, issued a challenge for people to try to eat on $4.50 a day, the average amount that those on Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as “food stamps”) receive. I decided to take the challenge and blog about it. See the previous three entries to find out how I prepared, and how I’ve been doing on the challenge.

I was definitely grumpy by yesterday afternoon. The challenge of eating on only $4.50 a day is wearing on me, and I am glad today is my last day. I’ll be writing more tomorrow about some of my conclusions from conducting this experiment, but for now I will say I don’t think this is enough money to keep someone from being hungry, or to keep them healthy. And the fact that the majority of households on SNAP include children, is disturbing.

I’m ending the challenge tonight because of a commitment I’ve got this weekend starting tomorrow, but it officially runs through Saturday and you can still participate, if only for a day. I know I’ve been complaining about being hungry and grumpy, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve always been someone who considered herself to have compassion for the poor, the hungry and the homeless, but this made me think about their situation in a more concrete way. If you’re interested, go to

Here’s what I’m eating today:

Breakfast: cereal, milk, soy breakfast patty and a banana, $1.15

Lunch: leftover rice and beans, a nectarine, $1.14

Dinner: Tuna and White Bean Salad, rice

Tuna                                               .74

Beans                                             .44

Hard boiled Egg                           .20

Chopped Veggies                         .20

Brown Rice                                    .12

Total                                               1.58

With my leftover money I snacked on a rice cake with a little bit of peanut butter, and a hard boiled egg.

Day 2 of the Challenge


This week is Hunger Action Week. To educate the public about the issue of hunger in communities, two organizations, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley, issued a challenge for people to try to eat on $4.50 a day, the average amount that those on Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as “food stamps”) receive. I decided to take the challenge and blog about it. See the previous two entries to find out how I prepared, and how I fared on Day 1.

I’ve always liked rice and beans. But yesterday, I loved rice and beans.

I spent most of the day hungry, as I had on Monday, the first day of the “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge. Despite two healthy meals and an apple at around 3:30 p.m., By 5 p.m. yesterday I was feeling a little out of it. Then came dinner. I sauted a chopped onion, some garlic, and a chopped red pepper, then added a fresh chopped tomato, salt, pepper, oregano, a can of red kidney beans, and about four cups of cooked brown rice. When it was ready I divided it into four portions – that’s how I did the math when figuring out my menu and budget – and realized I was getting nearly two cups of food! Plus a salad! I enjoyed every bite, and when I was done, my stomach felt satisfied for the first time in nearly two days.

The amazing part was, I estimated that a serving of the rice and bean dish cost around .64. That’s using canned beans; I’m sure I could have lowered the cost using dried beans. And it’s vegetarian, and it’s full of good-for-you-fiber and vitamins.

Day 3 Menu

Here’s what I’m eating today.

Breakfast: same as yesterday; $1.15

Lunch: leftover rice and beans and some steamed broccoli, $1.14

Dinner: Taco Salad

Soy Taco “Meat”                                                                             .58

Cheese                                                                                               .24

Avocado   (Trader Joe’s packaged – one serving)                   .11

Tomato                                                                                              .25

Onion                                                                                                .10

Homemade Salsa                                                                           .20

Olives                                                                                                 .17

Chips                                                                                                  .21

Lettuce                                                                                               .25

Total                                                                                                 $2.11

Only leaves about .10 for a snack. Maybe a few carrot sticks. Fortunately I’m eating rice and beans for lunch!

By the way, it’s not too late to take the challenge yourself! Take it just for one day. Go to to find out how.

Day 1 of The Challenge


This week is Hunger Action Week. To educate the public about the issue of hunger in communities, two organizations, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley, issued a challenge for people to try to eat on $4.50 a day, the average amount that those on Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as “food stamps”) receive. I decided to take the challenge and blog about it. Yesterday I posted about the preparation. Today is Day 1, and my Day 2 menu.

I completed Day 1 of the “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge, and all I can say is: I was hungry. At the end of the day I tallied the calories I consumed, and they came out to right around 1,500, which is the same amount I use when losing weight. Good news: if I continue on this challenge I will lose weight, which is something I need to do anyway. Bad news: according to the American Heart Association (AHA), most women my age who are moderately active (and not trying to lose weight) need 2,000 calories a day. Men need between 2,400 and 2,600 a day. I suppose one could argue that most Americans are overweight and could use to lose some pounds, but at some point 1,500 calories is not enough, especially if you’re an active guy.

Is it enough for children?

And what about children? Of the nearly one million households in California that receive SNAP,  71 percent benefits include children. A daily caloric intake of 1,500 per day is in the ballpark for children under 9, but as kids grow and become teens, the need for calories go up.

Because my protein sources were non-meat yesterday, I realized that my calorie results could be skewed, so I looked up the meat equivalents for the breakfast sausage patty and the meatballs. The difference was 179 calories, which means had I eaten meat, I would have consumed around 1,680 calories, which is still under teen and adult needs, but gets kids 9-13 closer to a recommended amount. I also looked up milk calories, since I drink nonfat milk. Lowfat added 32 calories, whole milk, 60.

I knew I was going to feel hungry during the challenge anyway, because I do better on three meals and two small snacks a day. But to make the $4.50 a day budget, I had to forgo one snack. I decided to ditch the mid-morning snack, because the time between lunch and dinner tends to be longer for me. I got through the morning OK, taking a walk at one point, which diverted my attention. At one point I mentally kicked myself, because I realized that had I gone with oatmeal for breakfast on the challenge, I could have afforded to eat more of it compared to my bran cereal, and it might have given me a little more fiber to help me feel full a longer amount of time.

Savoring Every Bite

When I finally made my lunch, I made sure I was getting every ounce of food I was paying for, so I used the full serving size of two tablespoons of peanut butter, when normally I only use one. I also leaned on the rule that you can use condiments you already own, dipping my carrots and celery into some lebnah, a Lebanese yogurt cheese, left over from a dinner a few nights before. Finally, I ate the lunch much more slowly than I normally do, savoring every bite. Lunch is usually a rushed thing for me, in between meetings and items on my to do list. Yesterday I took my time, even sitting near a window to enjoy the view to the backyard as I ate.

By mid-afternoon, I was really hungry and ready for my second apple of the day. Because I still had a few more pennies left over in my budget, I threw in a little more celery (and dipped into a little more lebnah). I finished the snack (eating slowly again), and was still hungry. I was also missing my usual beverages of two diet lemon Snapples every day and two or more cans of Minutemaid Lite Lemonade. I also drink plenty of  water, but during the challenge my budget allows for nothing but water.

For dinner I made a very simple sauce from whole canned tomatoes from a recipe I learned from PBS TV chef Lidia Bastianich a couple of years ago. Once I learned this recipe, I stopped buying expensive jar sauces. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it tastes better than any commercial sauce. It’s olive oil, garlic, some red pepper flakes, whole canned tomatoes I crush myself (I tried diced tomatoes and even crushed, somehow the sauce is better when the tomatoes start out whole), basil (fresh is best), some water, and salt. Cook it covered for about 20 minutes, and uncovered for about 10 minutes more. For the rest of my dinner last night I made whole wheat pasta, the meatless meatballs, and a salad. Normally I eat a green vegetable on the side, and I sprinkle freshly grated Italian cheeses on the pasta.

As the evening continued, it was difficult to walk by my full pantry and full refrigerator when I really wanted to eat. It wasn’t lost on me that I have a full pantry and full refrigerator, when there are many in our communities who do not.

Day 2 Menu

Here’s what I’m eating today.

Breakfast: same as yesterday, at a cost of $1.15

Lunch: leftovers from last night, $1.83


Rice and Beans with Veggies: estimated cost, .64

Salad: .50

Total: 1.14

Snack: an apple, .25

The Challenge Begins


As I wrote in my last post, I’m taking the “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge, thrown down by Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley. This isBreakfast Hunger Action Week, and the hope is that people like me who don’t have to struggle to survive will get an idea of how those who do exist on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (the new term for “food stamps”). The average benefit is about $4.50 a day per person.

Following the Spirit of the Rules

There are certain rules to the challenge, but I decided pretty quickly that I would need to adhere to the spirit, not the letter, of the rules. For example, from checking out the Hunger Action Week blog, I could see that some participants were taking their budget total for the week, and spending only up to that amount. Since I’m only taking the challenge for four days, and I’m the only one in my household of three people taking part, my budget is only $18.00. No way could I buy a box of cereal, a loaf of bread or a carton of eggs, since that would send me over the budget. I decided I would break down my purchases by cost per serving. My reasoning was that if I really were receiving SNAP, I would be getting my benefits for a month, not four days, so buying and consuming the items within the month would work. Besides, if my husband and son were taking the challenge, the larger items would have fit neatly within the $54.00 budget we would have been allowed.

One rule I strictly adhered to: I will be eating healthy food, including a lot of fresh produce.

Blessed to Make Certain Choices

Adding to the challenge for me was the fact that I am a pescetarian – a vegetarian who eats fish. I had to see if my normal sources of protein would fit within the budget. I’m well aware that my lifestyle choice – made partly for environmental and ethical reasons, and partly for health reasons – is something I am blessed to make as someone whose family is well above the poverty line (and yes, I know fish isn’t always the best environmental and ethical choice; it’s one of those trade-offs I made for a wider choice of proteins, and I try to be careful about what I buy). That being said, it’s likely there are people on SNAP who cannot eat meat or certain foods due to religious or health reasons.

Lesson Learned

Here’s one thing I learned from this exercise: paying attention to every penny takes time. Between meal and budget planning, and shopping, it took me almost three hours. I shopped at Trader Joe’s and a produce market next door in the same center, and made one additional stop at Whole Foods for my favorite bread, soy taco meat and cereal. That amount of time would be rough if I still had young children, or if I had a job with inflexible hours. Rougher still if I had no car and had to walk or depend on public transit.

Which reminds me of another aspect of this challenge: because I have a car and can afford to put gas in it, I can drive myself to stores with a large array of quality and economical food choices. I live in a part of the valley where within minutes I can buy inexpensive produce, or get good deals on many healthy food items. Some neighborhoods have been classified as “food deserts” by hunger agencies, because there are no supermarkets located there. These deserts may have smaller markets with limited choices and little or no fresh produce, and usually poor quality, but cheap, fast food restaurants.

Day 1 Menu

Here’s what $4.50 buys me today.


Smart Bran Cereal                        .39

Banana                                            .19

Non-fat Milk                                  .18

Soy Breakfast Patty                       .39

Total                                                1.15


Whole Wheat Bread                       .39

Peanut Butter                                    .21

Apricot Jam                                      .12

Apple                                                  .25

Carrots and Celery                          .15 (approx.)

Total                                                  1.11


Whole Wheat Pasta                    .16

Homemade Sauce                        .52

Meatless Meatballs                     .65

Salad                                               .50

Total                                                1.83

I have .31 left over for a snack! Maybe I’ll have another apple.

You’ll notice there’s no beverages in the budget. Also, on the website it said we could use spices and condiments we already have, and I took advantage of that. I also did not factor in the olive oil I use to cook with.

Tomorrow I’ll post how I did today, plus the Tuesday menu.

A Church at the Center of Tragedy Reaching Out to Help Neighbors



Prayer shawls sent by another church after the September 9 San Bruno explosion rest on the communion table at Bethany Presbyterian Church. Prayer shawls are created by knitters who pray into the shawls as they knit. They are also prayed over by a group before giving the shawls to those needing comfort in times of stress.

When they heard the natural gas pipeline blast that rocked the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood on September 9, the pastor and members of Bethany Presbyterian Church sprang into action, not knowing that soon they’d be at the forefront of caring for victims.

Since the explosion and resulting fires that killed seven people, injured dozens more and destroyed 37 homes, the church and its national denomination have become emotional and spiritual caregivers to the community. They plan on offering support to the community for more than a year, as residents try to rebuild their homes and lives.

For Bethany, the tragedy became very personal when it was discovered that three of the seven killed – three generations of one family – were long-time members of the church.

The small church, only a half-mile away from where the pipeline exploded, was packed on the first Sunday after the tragedy, less than three days later. The congregation surrounded Sue and Janine Bullis, the mother and daughter who were still waiting at that time for official confirmation of the fate of three family members. Missing – but now declared deceased – were Sue’s husband, Greg Bullis, 50, their son William, 17, and Greg’s mother, Lavonne, 85.

At worship one week later, congregation members continued to support Sue and Janine, offering hugs and warm remembrances of Greg, “Willy”, and Lavonne. Lavonne, described by one congregation member as “the grandma who never said ‘no,’” had been a member for more than 40 years. Greg and Sue met at Bethany.

“We’ve always been a really close church,” Janine Bullis said after the service. Sue Bullis was quick to add the word “family” to the description.

Church Family Members Hear the Explosion

Some in that extended “family” were at the church on Thursday, September 9, just after 6 p.m., when they heard the explosion.

“We didn’t know what it was; we thought maybe it was a plane,” Interim Pastor Don Smith said. The church sits perched on a hill overlooking San Francisco International Airport, less than 10 miles from the area.

From the direction of the noise, they knew there might be congregation members who were affected, and they begin calling those members. Smith could not reach the Bullis home, but he was able to reach Sue Bullis, who was at work as a nurse. After a lot of frantic calls and searching it became clear that Greg, William and Lavonne were missing.

A Call for Help

Smith and some members of the congregation began visiting local hospitals to see if the three could be found among the burn victims. In the meantime, officials from the Presbytery of San Francisco, a regional governing body for the church, contacted national headquarters of the PDA, asking for help.

“We actually arrived before some of the houses were cooled off enough to search,” said Rick Turner, of the PDA. Turner, from South Carolina, and fellow team member Suzanne Malloy, from Southern California, arrived Saturday morning. The two volunteers met with church members and let local authorities know they were prepared to help.

The PDA is a mostly volunteer organization of the Presbyterian Church (USA) funded by donations from churches and individuals. Teams respond to events from church fires all the way up to nationally declared disasters. The main goals of the organization are to complement, not duplicate, efforts already underway through governmental and volunteer agencies, according to Turner and Malloy. Another goal is provide support to a congregation and the surrounding community over a long period of time – sometimes a year or more.

“It looks like our main responsibility (in San Bruno) is going to be emotional and spiritual care,” Turner said. He and Malloy said they expect they and other PDA volunteers will be returning to San Bruno over the next year to extend help as the community rebuilds.

Emotional and Spiritual Support

While PDA can supply resources such as monies, supplies, and volunteers, teams can also be called on to be the emotional and spiritual support for communities. In San Bruno, other agencies handling immediate physical needs and have asked PDA to specifically focus on those less tangible, but necessary, needs.

For example, Turner and Malloy said that Red Cross officials asked them to help plan the memorial service for the Bullis family, not something they usually do after a disaster. But in this case, between 1,500 and 1,900 mourners are expected. Greg Bullis was a nurse and former Marine, William was a senior at Mills High School, and Lavonne was an active community member. The pastor of a larger nearby church, First Presbyterian of Burlingame, offered to host the September 24 memorial.

“The response of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has really been remarkable,” Smith said.

The overall community response has been remarkable, with numerous agencies, organizations and other church denominations coming together to help residents. Turner and Malloy said they could see that at a community meeting on their first day in San Bruno.

“It was amazing watching everybody working together,” Turner said.

To help, go to the Bethany Presbyterian website for more information.

Take the “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge During Hunger Action Week


Could you eat on only $4.50 a day? That’s what Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and United Way Silicon Valley are asking of people in Silicon Valley. Next week is Hunger Action Week (September 20-25, 2010) to raise awareness of the hunger problem in the community. To drive the point home, the two agencies have issued  an “Eat on $4.50 a Day” Challenge. The amount represents about how much local  food stamp recipients receive (the food stamp program is now called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). I learned about the challenge at the recent Santa Clara County Hunger Issues Forum: Hunger, Sustainablity, and Access to Nutritious Food. Organizers encouraged all of us to try to eat nutritious meals on the relatively small amount of money for all or part of the week.

I tend to get competitive with a challenge, not necessarily with other people, but with myself. The more I thought about the eating challenge, the more I got curious about whether I could make it through several days eating on only $4.50 per day. I started trying to mentally price each part of my breakfast, and then quickly realized I probably couldn’t snack at all during the week, since each meal could only total $1.50. I can already hear my stomach growling.

The challenge gets even more tricky, I learned at the website, The $4.50 is for food and beverages, and must include any fast food or eating out in the total spending for the week. It does not include food you already own (not including spices and condiments), which means you have to go out and purchase all the ingredients you are going to use during the week. You are not supposed to accept free food or drink from family or coworkers, including at receptions and meetings. And you are supposed to include fresh produce and healthy protein each day. Participants are also encouraged to keep track of receipts and share experiences on the site’s blog.

So, could you eat on $4.50 a day? Will you for all or part of next week? Let me know if you’re willing to take the challenge with me. I’ll be posting how I fare through the week.

Helping Others Around the World Becomes Life’s Work for One Woman



Nearly 30 years ago, Donna Baranski-Walker took a stand to change the world by helping oppressed people in far-off

Communist Poland. What she didn’t realize then was that changing the world would become the focus of her life.

From helping people living under Communist rule, to advocating for peace in times of war, to now helping rebuild communities torn apart by war, Redwood City resident Baranski-Walker has always worked in one form or another for peace.

Baranski-Walker’s first efforts were recognized August, 31, 2010, when she was awarded the Medal of Gratitude from the Euporean Solidarity Committee. Nobel Laureate and former president of Poland, Lech Walesa, presented her the medal in front of a crowd of approximately 25,000. Poland celebrated the 30thanniversary of the creation of the Solidarity Movement that week.

Baranski-Walker was 25 and a newly graduated electrical engineer when she stood up at a university lecture in Chicago and proposed forming the group Support of Solidarity (SOS) – Chicago. The group supported the Solidarity Movement during the years it was outlawed by the Communist government in Poland. The non-violent movement contributed to the collapse of Communism in Europe in 1989.

Now executive director of the Rebuilding Alliance, a San Mateo non-profit dedicated to rebuilding war-torn communities, Baranski-Walker has continued to work for peace and reconciliation throughout her life.

“I didn’t realize when I was right out of college that this would become my life’s work,” she said the day before leaving for Poland last week.

Baranski-Walker is a second-generation Polish-American who spent her junior year with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying in Communist Poland. She said she thought she was going to learn language and art, but instead her professors risked arrest by explaining to the foreign students why the Polish society was collapsing around them.

Soon after her studies in Poland ended, Walesa and others famously declared a strike in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Leaders of the strike created the first independent union in a Soviet-bloc country, which went on to become an anti-communist, non-violent social movement of an estimated 10 million members.

In 1981, martial law was declared in Poland, and the union was outlawed. There were widespread arrests of leaders and supporters throughout Poland.

Back in Chicago, where Baranski-Walker was in her first engineering job, she was invited by a friend to a lecture at the University of Chicago about the events in Poland. Sitting around the room were doctors, engineers, professors and mathematicians. Baranski-Walker said it was a very academic conversation, but no one was talking about possible solutions.

That is until she stood up to speak. While the young woman could have been intimidated by her older, more experienced colleagues, she instead urged the group to organize in support of Solidarity.

“It really felt right,” she said of the moment. “The right people were in the room.” SOS – Chicago was born, and Baranski-Walker found herself organizing weekly meetings and raising money in her spare time. “It was just amazing to work with these people.”

The group sent funds and care packages to dissidents in Poland, they also smuggled shortwave radio communications equipment to the underground Solidarity network. In addition, the group advocated for U.S. policy change in favor of the movement, and even influenced a major world mathematicians’ conference to change the venue from Poland to elsewhere. By 1986 SOS – Chicago had more than 2,000 members.

Baranski-Walker left Chicago and the committee to earn her masters in agricultural engineering from the University of Hawaii, completing her research in Mainland China. She and her family returned to the Continental U.S., where she pursued an engineering career. Her efforts to pursue peace continued as a volunteer.

In 1990 she organized an effort to promote peace during the build-up to the first Iraq War. Using an idea from the Solidarity Movement during the Czech Velvet Revolution, Baranski-Walker encouraged people to light candles in their windows at night as a message of peace. Radio and TV news people came to her home in New Hampshire to interview her, and the New York Times published her essay, “Small Lights in the Darkness”, on Christmas Eve.

Finally, after years of what she called her “after my babies went to sleep” peace work, she left engineering in 1999 to pursue peacemaking full-time. She founded Rebuilding Alliance in 2003.

According to the organization’s website, Rebuilding Alliance is “dedicated to rebuilding war-torn communities and making them safe. Its vision is a just and enduring peace in Israel and Palestine, founded upon equal value, security, and opportunity for all.” Group organizers raise funds, organize details of rebuilding projects, advocate policy changes, and have even taken cases before the Israeli High Court. Current projects of Rebuilding Alliance include working with other organizations to build a second playground on the West Bank, helping to install lights for a soccer field in Gaza in time for a tournament, and helping to create a birthing center in a rural village.

Baranski-Walker said her work almost 30 years ago to help Poland taught her that local problems can be helped by others at a distance.

“There are models to draw upon that really make a difference in finding solutions to intractable challenges,” she said. “When people are stuck locally, that’s when the people far away have to help out.”

Young volunteers come to the Rebuilding Alliance’s San Mateo headquarters from all over the world to work as interns. And Baranski-Walker tells them from her own experience that they can accomplish big things, despite their youth.

“I have confidence they can make a difference in our work,” she said.