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Living on $9 a day: Philadelphia nonprofit founder's SNAP challenge

The benefit amount has doubled since the last time Margaux Murphy did this, but so have food prices.

Before giving a presentation to the medical community about the challenges facing people who struggle to afford nutritious food, Margaux Murphy wanted to remember what it feels like, so she undertook her second SNAP challenge.

“I wanted the experience fresh in my mind,” said Murphy, founder of the Sunday Love Project, a nonprofit that gives warm meals and fresh groceries to Philadelphians in need.

“I want to really impress upon those in the medical field the importance of food and its relation to health,” she told Billy Penn. “When people cannot afford nutritious food, they are more likely to develop diabetes and other health issues.”

Murphy had done the SNAP challenge before, in 2016. When she previously tried living on the amount provided by the federal government via the program formerly known as “food stamps,” her maximum daily spend was $4.50.

Seven years later, the daily allocation is slightly higher — it comes out to $9 per day — but because of inflation, the money didn’t go much further, she discovered.

It’s a topic she’s very familiar with, which is why Murphy was asked to give that talk to aspiring medical professionals at Jefferson University. She’s a semi-finalist for the 2023 Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge, and last year received the esteemed Philadelphia Award for her commitment to feeding people experiencing homelessness. In 2021, the Sunday Love Project delivered over 3,000 grocery boxes and served over 70,000 meals. 

Where did it all begin?

Murphy’s journey to launching her nonprofit started back in 2014, when she overslept one day and missed out on volunteering at a church over the holidays. She bought meals from Boston Market and served people living on the street in her neighborhood to make up for it.

It was a light bulb moment, and soon thereafter, she started the Sunday Love Project. The goal: to serve hot meals to the homeless in Center City and Kensington. She quickly gained support from various donors, but she ran into a dichotomy.

“People were very divided,” Murphy told Billy Penn. “They wanted to feed people in Center City, but not people who lived in Kensington.” 

Some financial supporters were alarmed at the number of people in addiction in Kensington, and did not want their donations to go to a community of “junkies”.

“The biggest challenge I met when I started The Sunday LOVE Project was convincing people that food is a basic human right,” Murphy wrote. “And that those who are struggling with a substance use disorder deserve the same as everyone else.”

In addition to serving over 2,000 hot meals every week, the Sunday Love Project also operates a free grocery store. It opened Greater Goods in August 2022 with the support of the community, Acme Markets, and The Greenfield Foundation. Located in the center of Kensington, the store’s only requirement for customers is to bring an ID and a bag for groceries.

This Year’s SNAP Challenge

For a week Murphy lived on $9/day for food. She acknowledged the advantages she had over SNAP recipients.

“As a single person with full kitchen accessibility and transportation to the store, it was not difficult financially,” she wrote in a Sept. 17th Facebook post. 

Due to SNAP restrictions on hot meals and the cost of “on-the-go” food items, she did have to plan out her meals. She also exercised less and drank coffee to suppress her hunger.

Here are Murphy’s tips for SNAP challenge first-timers.

  • Try to limit meat consumption.
  • Get ready to eat lots of rice and beans.
  • Buy discount veggies (taste the same as regular when steamed or roasted).
  • Drink mainly water.
  • For snacks, eat popcorn! (cheap and relatively healthy)

If you’re thinking about taking up the SNAP Challenge, you should know that SNAP benefits are changing beginning October 1st as a result of a cost of living adjustment by the USDA. Recipients will see a 12.5% increase in payments.

Specifically, a single-person household will now be allotted a maximum $291 in benefits, or about $9.35/day. A family of four will be allotted a maximum $973. This boost will remain effective through Sept. 30th, 2024.

Ways to help food insecurity in your local community

Though many of us can’t commit enough of our time to running a successful nonprofit, simply showing up to volunteer at one is enough to spread awareness, according to Murphy.

The following are additional ways an everyday person can help combat food insecurity in their local community.

  • Food and money donations to local food pantries.
  • Support local food banks, like Small Things Philly (the main source for pantries in Philly).
  • Discover what food your community needs and hold a food drive.

Murphy believes that when we all play our part in the community things do get better, even if by a little. And she has strong advice for those who point at the issue and wait for someone else to make a change.

“BE that someone,” she wrote, “…find a way to get involved in being part of a solution, even if it only helps someone on that particular day.”

Original Article

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