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I Run a Food Pantry But It’s Not Enough. We Need Funding for SNAP

I’m proud to help my neighbors. But food donations are no substitute for government nutrition programs like SNAP, which is now under threat.
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I run a food pantry. I’m proud of the work we do. But if lawmakers passed a liveable minimum wage or invested more in programs like SNAP, people wouldn’t need to rely on pantries like mine.

Pantries are a critical piece of the anti-hunger puzzle, but they’re filler pieces. Government nutrition programs — with the infrastructure and funding to get the job done — should be the centerpiece.

I grew up on food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. My mother worked hard, but her wages were too low to meet our basic needs. Sometimes we felt embarrassed pulling out the stamps at the register — I worried kids would talk about me at school. 

But the aid was a blessing. It helped keep us from hunger. Even still, food stamps weren’t designed to last the whole month. Most months, we had to travel long distances — often outside our county — to find food pantries so we could get by.

SNAP is the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, feeding nearly a quarter of all U.S. children. The program reduces hunger by about 30 percent, improves long-term educational, health, and economic outcomes for children, and helps address systemic racial disparities in poverty. 

SNAP is the first line of defense in a down economy. In fact, food insecurity fell to a record low of 10.2 percent in 2021 — in the middle of the pandemic — due to the pandemic-era boost in SNAP benefits. But now that those benefits have expired, nearly 13 percent of us experience food insecurity.

READ: This Bucks County Grandmother Raising Her Granddaughter Underscores the Need for Strengthening Our Social Safety Net

For many Americans, wages are simply too low. To meet basic needs in South Carolina, where I live, two adults with two children must earn over $21 per hour. But our state minimum wage is just $7.25.

A person would have to work 106 hours a week at that wage to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment here. Actually, the minimum wage isn’t enough to cover the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

Over 44 million Americans rely on SNAP to combat hunger. Yet some members of Congress are proposing cutting the program by a whopping $30 billion over the coming decade. South Carolina alone, which is among the top 10 states with the greatest food insecurity, would suffer $400 million in cuts.

That would be devastating for families like mine. 

I’m a single mother with three kids. At age three, one of my sons was diagnosed with autism, and I couldn’t find affordable daycare that could accommodate his needs. Every week, I had to leave work at a moment’s notice to help him or rush him home. I couldn’t sustain employment. I needed help during that challenging time, and SNAP provided it.

I now run a food pantry, Food for All, where I’ve seen that I’m far from alone. 

I listen to the stories of people who come here and share my own to ease their feelings of embarrassment. I breathe a sigh of relief with them when they tell me, “Now I can afford my medication,” “Now I can make rent,” or “Now I don’t have to choose between feeding my child and getting her new shoes.”

READ: In Bucks County, a Small Church Strives to Help the Ones Around Them

But other times, I have to watch those who’ve waited in long lines for an hour be turned away because the food has run out. I can’t possibly get enough food donations to meet the enormous need. 

But I won’t give up. None of us can. 

That’s why I continue to fight for robust funding — and against the proposed slashing — of SNAP. People shouldn’t have to rely on food pantries to feed themselves or their families. 

We know what works. We saw how hunger decreased during the pandemic when it had been forecast to skyrocket because we invested in the well-being of families. We must do that again.

This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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Carla Ventura

Carla Ventura is a mother, founder of the nonprofit Food for All, and an Expert on Poverty with RESULTS from Columbia, South Carolina.

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