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November 26, 2019

What Thanksgiving is Like for People Living on Food Stamps

A few years back, I did a seven-day SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) challenge. I lived on $4.46 worth of food stamps a day. Though it was a humbling experience, man, it was tough! 

I remember on my last day I felt so much relief I was done. 

Then I remembered, being done with SNAP was quite the luxury. People in real poverty don’t know when it’s over. Even after hard work and education, it can take years to get out! 

Living on food stamps every day for seven days is hard, but living on food stamps every day without seeing the end is the real challenge.

The holiday season makes being poor even harder. 

People on SNAP can’t afford basic food necessities, let alone a full spread of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, fresh veggies, pies, and drinks. Many rely on the charity of nonprofits and soup kitchens to eat a holiday meal since food stamps simply don’t cover the cost. 

By discussing what it’s like for people on food stamps to cobble together a holiday meal, you can see that poverty is more than a statistic. People deserve to have some dignity around family bonding and breaking bread. Not necessarily over an extravagant meal, but a decent spread that’s celebratory on Thanksgiving.  

Thus, when we remember the people with less, we can be encouraged to do more for others around the holidays, and practice what’s really important — gratitude and giving. 

People Tradeoff Days Worth of Food For Thanksgiving 

SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their own resources on food. For a family of four, that’s $8K a year or $22 per day on meals. The typical 15-pound fresh turkey costs $22.65 — a whole day’s budget without anything else. Thanksgiving easily costs two to four days of a food allowance. Since SNAP benefits don’t budget for excess spending on Thanksgiving, it’s unlikely for families to afford a holiday meal in addition to food for the whole month.  

People Use Tremendous Willpower to Make Tough Choices 

Doing a seven-day SNAP challenge required an intense amount of discipline to stay within budget. Imagine doing one for 30 days plus a holiday! When it comes to making tough choices to balance food necessities, transportation, and health care, Thanksgiving dinner is immediately out of the question. Choosing to stay within budget during a holiday is so difficult, people who splurge even a little take a financial hit on their basic needs. 

People Sacrifice Nutrition and Flavor

People on SNAP eat for the bare minimum for fuel, not for enjoyment. Forget cooking Thanksgiving dinner meal with fresh veggies and flavor. Meals are typically donated canned goods and boxed fixings from non-profits. SNAP benefits are not enough to feed any family a nutrient-dense diet at any time of year, let alone Thanksgiving. A healthy diet is so important for high-energy, yet people on food stamps are so nutrient drained they lack the energy to give to themselves, raise a loving family, and get out of poverty. 

People Miss Out on Family Bonding

Thanksgiving is all about celebrating with family over good food and conversation. Since food stamps don’t budget for special occasions, people simply can’t put a Thanksgiving meal on the table. Breaking bread together is incredibly powerful for creating familial bonds, but without a meal, families don’t get together. During a holiday that’s all about getting together with the people you love, there is a lot of shame, depression, and loneliness for the people who can’t spend time with their loved ones.

Thinking about celebrating Thanksgiving dinner on $22 is heavy.

The empathy I feel for the people who can’t afford Thanksgiving meals is intense, but it drives me to give back even more during the holidays. If you feel the same way I do, I encourage you to start a Thanksgiving tradition of giving or Seva. You’ll feel a deep sense of gratitude and help a family in need to enjoy a real Thanksgiving meal. A big win-win. 

Your Thanksgiving Seva Tradition

Seva, or “service” in Hindi, is one of the best ways to elevate karma and live at your highest potential. Practicing year-long Seva is your goal, but Thanksgiving (and other holidays) are great places to start. 

I understand holiday seasons are typically busier for everybody, but if you have the day off work, I believe Seva is totally doable. Plus, I’ve found a simple three-step method to break down the “no time” narrative so you can give back in an easy way: 

1. Schedule in Time for Reflection on Thanksgiving

Block off 30 minutes for quiet meditation and self-reflection on Thanksgiving day. If you have kids, do it before they wake up, during nap time, or plop them down with their favorite game or TV show. Make the time to sit and ask yourself, what are you grateful for? Focus on feeling gratitude and contentment with all the abundance in your life and the things that matter most. 

2. Buy Extra Groceries When You Go Shopping

While you’re at the store shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner, add some of these vegetarian items into your cart: 

  • Boxed Mashed Potatoes
  • Boxed Stuffing
  • Canned Vegetables
  • Canned Yams
  • Canned Fruit
  • Canned Pumpkin
  • Canned Gravy
  • Canned Cranberry Sauce

After shopping, take your goods to a donation shelter, and that’s it! 

3. Do More If You’re Called 

I know the holidays are crazy times for people, but if you have even an extra hour in your day and you’re really vibing with what I’m saying, then take the extra time to do more than donate food. 

Here’s a list of great opportunities to enrich your Thanksgiving Seva and spread holiday love: 

  • Deliver meals to people in need
  • Serve dinner at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter
  • Volunteer to feed people in hospice 
  • Share a meal with people without family in convalescent homes
  • Walk or run in a turkey trot that supports a charity

When I spoke with Josh Geppelt from the Denver Rescue Mission about their Great Thanksgiving Banquet, he said, “We serve 600+ guests at our Great Thanksgiving Banquet. 600+ helpings of turkey, stuffing, and pies. 600+ warm “hellos” from our volunteers. 600+ gift bags filled with scarves, hats, and gloves. Our hope is that all of our guests felt that little piece of love and family that we all yearn for so much.”

I guarantee being a part of a community of givers like Denver’s Rescue Mission will instantly lift your vibe and make you feel deep fulfillment in helping others. 

Fam, living without food scarcity is such a privilege that I want us to be consciously grateful and actively giving to underserved communities, not just on Thanksgiving and holidays, but every day. 

Treat every day as if it was a year-long Thanksgiving fam, and you’ll feel more joy for the great abundance the vital essentials like good food and clean water bring into your life. 

This Thanksgiving fam, send me pics of all the dank food you’re donating or how you celebrate Thanksgiving Seva. 


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