David Davenport–Food Stamp Challenge Champion

Ever done the Food Stamp Challenge?  Limit your budget to $25 a week–what a single SNAP (formerly food stamps) recipient is allocated. I did it for a week in 2009, and reported on it here. I’m a cook and have time to cook. I was a professional musician early in life, and learned to live sparsely. So I had a few tools in my toolbox. But I was still really glad to reach the end of the one week to which I committed.

Several local, state and national elected officials have done the Food Stamp Challenge. Unfortunately, the ones who’ve done it aren’t usually the ones who should be doing it.  I’ll leave it at that.

David Davenport, executive director of The Second Harvest Community Food Bank in St. Joseph, Missouri, is nearing the completion of the second month-long commitment he’s made to the challenge. David’s a great American, and an exemplary hunger fighter, who truly walks the talk.  I was able to ask him a few questions about his experience with the challenge this time.

(Q) Why are you doing the challenge now?    (A)    I will throw everything I can muster at the challenge of hunger and food insecurity in the communities that make up our Missouri and Kansas service territory. To me the obvious starting place is investing time and effort to better understand the challenges our clients face on a daily basis.

(Q) Any notable differences and/or similarities in doing it for the second time from the first? Have recent rises in food costs been noticeable?  (A) Interestingly the last time I took on a month long Food Stamp Challenge was during the summer of 2008. Gas prices had jumped to over $4/gallon and food prices followed. The biggest difference is my health has improved dramatically and I have more flexibility in my diet. Last time around I lost so much weight my doctors demanded I stop the process early. That conclusion was very frustrating and emotional.

(Q) I’m thinking anyone who’s done this—especially for a month—can probably speak credibly to the assertion by some who’ve been advocates of SNAP funding cuts that the program promotes a “cycle of dependency.” What would you say to these and the other arguments being used to defend proposed cuts in SNAP funding?   (A) I have a sign in my office that reads “When I feed the poor they call me a saint, When I ask why the poor are hungry they call me a communist” (Dom Helder Camera) – nutrition assistance programs don’t create dependency – communities, organizations and local leaders that fail to empower systems that empower people create dependency by never offering a way up for those in need. Advocates for a hunger-free nation, state or community do a disservice if they never embrace or demand solutions beyond just feeding the hunger line. Cutting funding for programs such as SNAP, WIC, and Summer Food Service is tantamount to stopping a blood transfusion to an injured person because nobody is treating the wound. The idea that the only way the patient will recover (or be inspired to recover) is to make the situation worse is short sighted and immoral.

(Q) You’ve made no secret of the fact you’re an organ transplant recipient. I’m assuming you have to be particularly careful about nutrition. How does this kind of restricted budget impact someone with special nutritional needs?   (A) My dietary restrictions are similar to a diabetic or person with mild heart disease. According to the Hunger in America 2010 Study, nearly 40% of the households served by Second Harvest Community Food Bank have one or more members in poor health. My health challenges provide me an opportunity to explore the challenges surrounding eating a healthy diet on a limited budget. I am thankful for the suggestions and advice provided by the many folks that have followed me. Some of the best recipes have come directly from our clients including an amazing bean soup.

(Q) You’ve managed to create a tremendous amount of awareness (several media stories) in a community to which you’re relatively new. Any advice to those working in hunger relief around the country who might want to undergo the Food Stamp Challenge to create awareness in their own communities?    (A)  Yes, be authentic and go right after the issue full speed knowing that what is missing in the current debate around domestic hunger is “moral imagination” or the ability to feel the fear, frustration and pain felt by children, families and seniors in our local communities. Invest the time to sit in line on a freezing cold day for hours to receive a small bag of food that may last two days and on the bus ride home try and figure out a way to make it last a week. Bring those around you into that experience. Demand people follow your lead and embrace the core belief that Hunger is Unacceptable and act on that belief as an advocate, donor and/or volunteer. Finally, reach out and connect with others – if you care to bring about change there are many out there that share your passion.

David is also an excellent communicator, a longtime user of social tools to connect and engage with key communities. You can see how by following his Twitter account.

Thanks, David, and Godspeed.