‘It’s Up to Us’: How We Can All Make a Difference


Santa-Clara-County-Assessment-Carole-Leigh-Hutton-United-Way-Silicon-ValleyIf real and lasting change is going to happen for Silicon Valley residents, it’s going to have to come from them. That was one of the conclusions drawn from the 2012 Santa Clara County Assessment Project.

One of the phrases interviewers heard from residents surveyed last fall was, “It’s up to us.” The residents knew that in order to create a more cohesive community where those who are struggling are helped, the residents themselves were going to have to be more involved. They are no longer looking to government and institutions to do the job for them.

Yesterday I applauded United Way Silicon Valley President and CEO Carole Leigh Hutton for outlining in the Mercury News how her organization is going to change its focus toward fostering more community involvement.

Today I’m sharing the first part of the excellent action list that was included in the executive summary of the assessment. Tomorrow I’ll share the second part. To see the full list, including what institutions and policy makers can do, go to the United Way website page about the project, and click on the picture of the report.

What You Can Do
Around Your Home

  • Interact with your neighbors. Share fruits, vegetables or baked goods from your home. Make a point to welcome new residents. Invite your neighbors to join you in a walking group.
  • Say “hello” to young people in your neighborhood. Get to know them by name. Ask them for help with yard work or bringing in trash cans when you’re away. For very young children, keep chalk handy near your front yard and offer it for sidewalk art.
  •  Keep your front yard tidy. A clean appearance is inviting to neighbors and promotes community pride. [Read more…]

‘It’s Up to Us’ to Create Postive Change in Silicon Valley


Santa-Clara-County-Assessment-Carole-Leigh-Hutton-United-Way-Silicon-ValleyThree cheers to Carole Leigh Hutton, president and CEO of United Way Silicon Valley, for the new focus of her organization on helping community members “actively engage in improving their lives.”

In a commentary published in Monday’s print edition of the Mercury News, Hutton outlined results from the 2012 Santa Clara County Community Assessment, which concluded in part that positive change in the lives of county residents must come from the residents themselves.

“There is little trust in institutions—government, nonprofits, faith-based—to solve community challenges. There is a strong sense that only residents themselves can create change,” she wrote.

In an executive summary of the report, one phrase heard from residents stood out: “It’s up to us.” [Read more…]

MLK Day of Service Events Around The Valley


Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. Visit MLKDay.gov.

Although Monday, Jan. 16, is a national holiday and for many a day off, the National Day of Service organization is encouraging us to make  it a “day on” by volunteering to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are several organized volunteer events around Silicon Valley on Monday—or create your own service event right in your own neighborhood. Even something as small as picking up trash, or performing an act of kindness for a neighbor or stranger, can be your own way of remembering Dr. King.

Below is list of organized events we’ve heard about. Use our contact form or comments section if you’ve heard of other events. And if you do your own act of service, share that with us, too!

United Way Silicon Valley – San Jose

Would you like to help local children get a quality education? Want to help teachers? [Read more…]

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 www.450adaychallenge.org.

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 www.450adaychallenge.org 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.

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, http://450adaychallenge.org/. 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.