THE BLOG

The War on Poverty Is a War on Silence: Local Communities Must Raise Their Voices to SNAP the Silence

02/05/2013 05:48 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2013

In 1966, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., who was President Johnson's Director of the War on Poverty said, "Most wars are declared by old men but fought by the young. But our war on poverty asks everyone to get into the fight."

We are waging our own war on poverty in Montgomery County, Md., an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. More than one million residents call Montgomery County home because of our outstanding quality of life. Our highly educated workforce, world-class school system, rich cultural opportunities, and proximity to the nation's capital are just a few factors that contribute to making our county's future bright; however, more than 65,000 of our residents are dealing with food insecurity issues.

To raise awareness about this critical issue, I am working to unite partners from all corners of our community -- residents, elected officials, nonprofit leaders, religious networks, students, and local organizers -- in a collaboration that can produce not only a heightened understanding of these issues, but solutions to combat them.

This week, hundred of residents in my community will join with me in the SNAP the Silence on Poverty Challenge, which calls on individuals to experience life on federal nutrition programs by eating on a budget of $5 per day for five days. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly know as the Food Stamp Program, supports those whose wages are too low to lift them out of poverty, helping them put food on the table.

The average SNAP benefit per person is about $133 a month, or less than $1.50 per meal. While living on a SNAP budget for just a week will not come close to the struggles encountered by low-income working families, it will provide a new perspective and greater understanding for those who take part.

The momentum has already begun. We've established the nation's first food recovery effort, a collaboration among business and nonprofit leaders to develop policies and practices that will enable much of the food thrown away daily by schools, supermarkets, and restaurants to be donated to those in need.

We lobbied at the state level to increase funding for universal breakfast programs, because of those efforts next year 57,000 additional Maryland students will receive free breakfast each day at school.

We have also expanded meals for our students through the Summer Food Program, where 9,000 students receive 320,000 meals at 100 locations throughout the county. A dozen of these locations are walk-in sites where students do not have to be engaged in other programs to receive a meal.

We are investing in community gardens and helping local farmers markets get registered to accept SNAP benefits.

And yet, there is so much more work to do. I spoke recently to one of the state leaders of a national nonprofit that combats childhood hunger, and was humbled by his story of only very recently ending his dependence on SNAP benefits and moving out of his car.

As we continue to work in our community, we look to other cities and towns for innovative ideas, programs, and strategies. We hope to share our successes and develop new partnerships. Join our Challenge. Or start your own. Holistic solutions to poverty must begin at the local level, but need not remain there. It will be a network of communities working together that will give us the edge in the war on poverty.

To learn more about the SNAP the Silence Challenge, visit tinyurl.com/snapthesilence.