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Home > Interpreter Magazine > The Real World > ‘Poverty diet’ creates empathy for food stamp recipients

‘Poverty diet’ creates empathy for food stamp recipients

Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Virginia Conference shops for food that will fit in a budget of $2.55 a day, the average food stamp benefit in Virginia.
Yogurt, apples, fresh vegetables, soda, coffee and fish were some of the things usually well-fed people missed most when they spent only $2.55 a day for food — the average food-stamp benefit in Virginia.

United Methodists were among the participants last fall in a three-day poverty diet program developed by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. The Virginia Annual Conference passed a resolution in 2004 encouraging United Methodists to experience the challenges of living on a poverty diet.

“We began to have a sense of what it was like to live with hunger,” said Doug Smith, executive director of the interfaith center. A curriculum is available on the center’s Web site,

The poverty diet program was a “hard sell,” but several members of Blacksburg (Va.) United Methodist Church participated, said the Rev. Jeanne Finley, who attends the church and serves in an extension ministry called Collegial Communications.

She’s glad that she and her husband tried the diet. “I think it forced me to do the math about how hard it is to live on food stamps,” Finley said. “The problem is not having enough quantity – like rice – but the hardest thing is to try to get nutrition. The food that is highest in fat and highest in sodium is the cheapest.”

The Rev. Charles Swadley, senior pastor of Lakeside United Methodist Church in Richmond, Va., and several members of his Wednesday evening Bible study group also tried the diet. “It raised our awareness of what we take for granted,” he said. “It was a beginning step for our church and one on which we need to build.”

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