Day Eighteen

Peanut butter cookies make this experiment a tad more pleasant.

Peanut butter cookies make this experiment a tad more pleasant.

With the country in a shaky financial position after the events on Wall Street this week, the presidential election could very well come down to the economy. Yet in all the talk about financial reform, Obama’s tax cuts for the middle class and McCain’s bitterness about “greedy folks on Wall Street”, I can’t help but wonder why neither of them is talking about the poor.

John Edwards was the champion of the poor in his campaign, but since he left the race the concern for those in poverty has all but disappeared. Those who know me are aware that I’m not aligned with any political party; but I care greatly about the issues, and the need to have a dialogue about poverty is long overdue.

This experiment has me thinking about people in poverty more than ever before. The hunger. The feelings of desire that go unfulfilled. The exhaustion. All of these are things that I have limited experience with. I can’t begin to imagine the hopelessness people feel from having little to no choice about where their next meal is coming from. Many people I know would say something like, “Everyone has a choice, those people could turn it around if….” and then they end the sentence with something like, “they were determined”, “they went to college”, etc.

However, I have trouble believing that people in poverty are doing little to change their situation. Indeed, determination can take you far, but it takes more than that. Just ask Hillary Clinton. It also takes more than education. While those things help, the context of a person’s life largely determines the options they have to begin with. I came from hard working parents who are white and traditionally middle-upper class. I was born into a position of privilege that by nature of my birth granted me an easier path to success than the those who are without that privilege.

I have students who are working full time, one who is on his own while still in high school. I can’t imagine what I would have done in that situation; what options would have been available to me. So while some may intone that “they need to work for it, not be given handouts,” I ask: Who are you talking about? Who do you know in a desperate situation that is not working hard to move out of poverty? Who do you know that is hungry and is just looking to take advantage of others?

In the off chance that they know one of these “free-loaders”, I wonder to myself how people of such privilege can pretend to have any idea about what it’s like to be disadvantaged. The poor people I have met are the hardest working people I know.

Please consider finding an organization in your area that is concerned with poverty. Consider sponsoring that organization. Donate your time as a volunteer. See if your company can sponsor a local effort that helps those in need. There’s a reason why Mother Theresa, Caesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and innumerable others devoted their lives to helping others. They knew that by bringing others out of the darkness, their own lives were improved. So if not for others, do it for yourself. I promise that you will find parts of your own inner landscape you never knew existed, and that you will be forever changed; not to mention the lives you touch along the way.

– Christopher

Daily Totals:

Breakfast: Oatmeal – $0.05 (less than a cup cooked)

Lunch: Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich – $0.31, 1/2 an Orange – $0.09

Dinner: Salad – $0.15 (1/4 carrot – $0.03, 1/6 heart of romaine – $0.08, TBSP Garbanzo beans-$0.04), 2 tbsp dressing – $0.06 (Kerri had one), Polenta – $0.09, Marinara Sauce – $0 .13

Dessert: 1 peanut butter cookie – $0.06, 7 oz. of Tang – $0.06

Christopher Total: $1.00

Kerri Total: $1.00

Donation Total: $622


NOTE: If you think what we’re doing is interesting, inspiring, or just plain nutty, consider SPONSORING our efforts. Simply enter in an amount, click “update total” and follow the prompting. If you don’t have PayPal, it will let you use a credit card. At the end of the of the month all proceeds will go to the Community Resource Center (here in Encinitas, CA). We will post evidence of donations at the end.



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14 responses to “Day Eighteen

  1. AJ!

    Amen. This is one of the reasons I give and buy stuff from Goodwill. In Orlando (I used to work for a former State Senator from there) they had a job placement rate of 99% and gave services – education, clothing for job interviews – to everyone who came to them for help. You are very correct about the dialogue dying, and it kills me, especially now that I live in L.A. and walk my dog every morning past cars with people sleeping in them. Ridiculous that anyone has to live like that, and you are not alone in working to change it (but we can always use help from more people!).

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Cattie

    This deserves an AMEN. Something that completely breaks my heart is when I’m with someone who, when we spot a homeless person on the street, drives right by and if I suggest giving them some money or picking up some dinner for them, they say “they’ll just spend it on alcohol or something.”

    This project deeply touches my heart. My mother is a single mom and she’s always struggled to make our ends meet – because of her, I’ve never gone hungry, never been without shelter, never been without clothes. But I know the pain of the inbetween, of not knowing if you’re going to have the money to pay all your bills and still eat, of the heat breaking on Christmas Eve and being cold until you can get the money to fix it. It has been hard, but my mom has always seemed to find a way to work things out. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be not to be able to do that, to try all that you can and still not be able to feed your children.

    This project of yours makes me aware of how privileged even we are – yes, we barely have enough to cover our needs, but we do manage to meet them. And I do want to reach out more to those who have needs that aren’t met – maybe I can’t donate a ton of money, but I can go through my closet and give away those clothes I haven’t worn in forever. I can volunteer my time with my church when they deliver clothes and food to people who need them. Even though I’m not rich, I actually have things I can give to those in need, and that is something I need to look into.

    Keep on keepin’ on – thanks for doing something so helpful and thought-provoking.

  3. gunner

    I make what I call “1 peanut butter cookies”

    1 cup of peanut butter
    1 cup of sugar
    1 table spoon of vanilla
    1 egg

    350 for 15 odd minutes and done.

    Would love to get your potato/brocolli soup recipe

  4. Holly

    Cattie’s blog on September 19,2008. That could have been me she’s describing – not knowiing how we’re going to pay bills and eat. I work fullt-time and work hard. I can go without but not able to feed my children. At times when it it is right before the next payday and the groceries have not been able to stretch I’ve made arrangements so they can stay with an aunt or grandma during the evening (I tell them I am working late) because I knew they would get fed that night.

  5. Christy

    Even the poorest sometimes find that they can give something. The daughter of one of my professors was raising money to go work with a church group in El Salvador, and she received permission to speak at a homeless church in Los Angeles. She never expected them to give to her, but they dug stray change out of their pockets and gave up aluminum cans they could have gotten money for. They told her they had all they needed, with their church giving them a meal a day. After that they decided that they would support her at $50/month. Proportionally speaking, they probably gave more for her work than anyone else.

  6. I have been reading through your blog from the beginning today, and I am feeling more inspired…To explain: My sister and I are both married with families and live only a few minutes apart and are constantly bouncing ideas off each other about how to save money – Where to buy the best produce and the best cost, where to find the best coupons, which bulk retailer is better, etc.
    We are both completely exhausted with it and about to give up- only we can’t. We HAVE to save money. We have no choice.
    Reading about your journey has helped me see that every little item you throw in your cart counts (something I knew, but wouldn’t admit). Eating healthy and at a low cost is possible, and I can’t give up now!
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Sara

    I actually know quite a few freeloaders that whine about not having enough money to eat, pay rent etc. One of them I know quiet personally, my cousin.

    She is fully capable of working, has opportunity, and yet chooses not to. She has mastered the art of manipulation, backstabbing, and lying to get what she wants without having to work for it. She is in her 30s and has worked little more than a year in her whole life and yet, the way she talks, she’s worked “lots” of jobs. By some fluke, her ex died and still had her on his benefits so she collects SS from him, as much as he made, which was pretty good wage for the local area. She always complained about being able to afford food for her and her son, and because of that was able to get even more money from other people, her truck paid for, expensive saddles. Somehow she managed to buy a trailer and keep 10 horses and two dogs, as well.

    Myself, on the hand, HAVE worked hard, so I understand the other side of it. But I don’t begrudge the people born to opportunity (because, even so, at least most of them DO still work) as much as I do someone like her.

    I know what it’s like, though, to struggle and try to get ahead of where you’re at. My parents both had degrees, but I still grew up poor because choices they made based on their beliefs. I mowed lawns when I was 10, and worked for any extras I got as a teen. Bought my own car at 18 from money I had save up over the years. Wasn’t fabulous, but it worked. I worked factory jobs that were hard on your body and treated you like a machine and paid little. At 18, I had to afford minimum coverage insurance which was over $100/mo because I wasn’t under my parents coverage. Gas and rent and food ate up the rest. I had to be on food stamps to help with the food portion. My car broke down often, and usually drained what minimal savings I was able to manage at that point. There was a period of time I lived in my car.

    I got tired of living from paycheck to paycheck, and working crappy jobs. I applied for college aide, went to college. Made good grades, graduated with honors. While I went to school, I worked fast food, managed to get to Assistant Manager position (not much better than crew pay, but also pretty good for the area). I made less than half what my cousin made off of her social security when I was working full time, and managed to pay MORE for an apartment, pay my bills, was able (at the time–couldn’t do it no) to live off of $80/food a month and still be fairly healthy.

    AND there were a lot of people in the poverty situation that I met that COULD have done better, if not be able to have all the opportunities as someone born better off. Most of them spent most their energy trying to figure out how to get on disability so they didn’t have to work, even though they weren’t disabled. And a lot of them (that I knew) would sit there and whine and complain about not having money for food and how they “deserved this or that” and the government (aka taxpayers) should give them this and that. In the meantime, they were spending their money on booze and expensive, non-nutritive name-brand pop.

    That’s from having lived amongst them. I DO feel for the people that work hard and just can’t seem to make it. I’m one of them. Even though I have a education now (and also a HUGE burden of student loans), I have not been able to get a job. Between the economy, being too honest in interviews (that I’ve come to find out is a downfall), and being told “you don’t have enough experience”, I can’t get a good job. I can’t even get an average joe job. I’ve been turned down now because I am “too educated, and I’ll just leave”. I’ve been out of work so long that now I’m getting “why haven’t you worked so long” to which my tongue would like to respond “because no one has hired me yet”. They probably think there’s something wrong with me.

    The only reason I’m not out on the street starving now is because I had met my husband while in college who had busted his butt for years in the military and risks his life in recent years to make a living that wouldn’t compare to what he’d get as a civilian. I’m kind of a “kept” woman now, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed that no matter how hard I work towards helping myself, something always seems to happen. Some people are just lucky, some people are underhanded.

    Then there are the people like myself, and those others who work hard, yet never seem to get ahead no matter what. It’s the latter that I feel for. Not the underhanded moochers, nor the middle-class or rich that during hard economic times say “gee, wonder how I’m going to afford retirement AND college for my children” (let them afford college on their own so they might value it rather than party it away like some?).

    I don’t think we should be a socialist society and force people to pay for others. But I do think people should be charitable of their own free will, and understand that it isn’t ALWAYS the fault of those who are more unfortunate. Sometimes, but not always.

  8. I spent a few weeks hanging out with the “homeless” kids in Berkeley a few years ago. 90% of them were there by choice, and the rest had some sort of mental illness. The real tragedy there is the sad state of mental health in the country, and lack of treatment for those who can’t afford it.

    But don’t feel bad for the rest. They’re there by choice. They’d rather “spange” for a few hours (enough for $20-30) and go spend it on fast food and drugs. A good number of them had houses in the hills they could go stay at, as well (parents, relatives, etc.)

  9. Tim

    I live here in Phoenix, and I see a certain portion of the homeless here who are making conscious choices to remain in their position.

    I have a relative who feeds a small group in her home. She helps them with paperwork, gets them clothing, lets the men use her shower to clean up, gives them short Bible studies, tries to give them meals that might remind them of home, encourages them to work, save, and make better choices. She contacts family and keeps them updated and celebrates their birthdays.

    Some of them do try to change. Others have it way too easy, with everything provided to them. It’s a lifestyle, with daily routines… middays at the big central library to get out of the sun, then over to the park to hang (and sometimes drink), then this church or that church depending on what meal is being served. These are usually single men, often able bodied, but often with alcohol issues. (That they refuse to get treatment for). Some even work for a day or two, and then buy booze with the income.

    So a true distinction has to be made about who is truly homeless, and truly needy. I think that often begins with mothers and children. And despite the poeple who are scamming, or unwilling to change, we should all have the posture of being willing to help those in need. Some will go wasted, but that willingness will also hit the person who needs the help as well.

    Interesting blog and experiment!

  10. Cecilia

    Reading this actually makes me count my blessings. I’m worse off than most, but better off than some. I’m a divorced mother of two, I work full time AND go to college. But I can’t make ends meet. Christmas being less than two weeks away, I wonder how I’m going to provide presents for my kids (5 and 6 yrs old). I cross my fingers that they won’t shut my water off before my next paycheck. BUT… my dad lets me live in his duplex rent free and my mom takes me to the grocery store once a month. Even though I don’t have nice clothes or a new car, I’m well taken care of by the people that love me. I’m able to scrape together the change in my pocket for the salvation army buckets, and when my kids grow out of their clothes (as they so often do…), I donate them to others who have little.

    Don’t begrudge the poor, and there are so many of us out there. While some take advantage of the system or don’t aspire to greater heights, there are some of us who bust our butts to support ourselves. Sometimes it just seems so hopeless…

  11. Allyson

    Having spent most of my life in a big city~ Chicago, I experienced the plight of the homeless first hand on a daily basis. Since I walked everywhere and used public transportation, there was nary a place I would go without seeing people living on the street, just trying to survive. It broke my heart. For a long time I carried change in my pocket ( as struggling I was as a young person) and gave who I could a bit of money~ but I couldn’t help everyone and would become depressed that in this country we have people who have no place to go, living in squalor on the streets~ in freezing or sweltering Chicago temperatures. Right there on Michigan Avenure while Ladies who Lunch run around in their Gucci slippers carrying Chanel bags…

    Even when the newspaper Streetwise came out and gave homeless folks a chance to earn income ( it was a help but a mere drop in the bucket…) there were still countless people on the streets looking for change for something to eat, much less a bed to sleep in at night. I didn’t have to see it to know it was happening ~ not just in Chicago, bien sur, but all over the country. I have always been very mindful of the hunger and homeless problem in this rich nation- and sickened that it is allowed to exist.

    A few years ago I met a family who were living on food stamps and WIC aid. I helped them by giving them clothing and linens and what ever else we had that we could help them with. I was a friend. They had a few children and continued to have more children and collected more aid. They didn’t seem to think that it was a problem to continue to have more children even tho they could barely take care of the children they already had- unless the government helped them. It’s not that they had more children to get more money but they were somewhat enabled by having so many people and agencies take care of them that they didn’t really seem to worry about how they were going to afford to raise more humans. Like most families, like my own family would have to consider their resources before adding to their families.

    At the parting of our friendship, they were taking in $900+ a month in food stamps and were able to buy all organic food for their household as they could afford it. Our family- quite lower middle class would love to be able to afford to eat as well as they did. And one of the reasons the husband never really pursued a more full time job was in part due to how much aid they received and how they were able to eat so much better when they were receiving aid. If they brought in more income the aid would be reduced or taken away and the organic foods would be verboten.

    I’m just telling this story as part of my experience~ I know I want people to be helped but i don’t want to read ( as I’ve read in the comments) that there are people who make too much money to get food stamps struggling to live on a few dollars a day and then there are those who don’t help themselves and are allowed to eat much better than working 2 income families can afford. And I want those other hard working people to have a little easier time and be able to afford to feed their families fresh and healthy foods.

  12. MrTim29

    “John Edwards is the champion of the poor…” He is also the champion of cheaters!

    How about America’s so-called “poor” (which are living like royalty compared to the REAL poor people of the world), start prioritizing… getting their crap together… and be responsible for themselves?

    If you want FREEDOM…. then people need to take responsibility for their choices. If you want someone else (ie. government) to take responsibility for people’s poor choices (ie. not living a healthy lifestyle, not prioritizing things like health insurance) then you want GOVERNMENT TYRANNY.

    So… FREEDOM… or John Edwards-like Government tyranny taking from those who act responsible and gives to those who do not?

    With your $30 a month food experience, you are proving that people can make different choices that will help them achieve other goals. No BIG government necessary!

  13. Maple

    My what a lively discussion! It’s great.

    My heart and great respect went out to Cattie and Holly and others who are working as hard as they can to meet minimum needs.

    In reading both views of the poor, those who freeload and those who don’t, we all know that both are true. Yet, although we can resent those who take advantage, it can’t allow us to punish those who try or who are sick. Unless you’re an addict, it’s hard to understand what the alcoholic is going through and what an enormous internal and physical battle it is to go through treatment. I’m not simply making excuses or saying that they shouldn’t try, but that it’s all too easy to judge and condemn without understanding. Picture quitting whatever pleasure you have, one that seems to make your life bearable, and multiply it by 10,000. Could we permanently give up coffee, all sugar, books, TV, or other thing that we take for granted?

    I’ve a friend with 3 kids who is on disability. Through her, I’ve learned that the gov’t is not as easy a handout as we choose to think. They consistently lose her records, drop her claim, take months to reinstate her, don’t answer phone calls, are slow to meet her needs, and more. I’m not condemning the social workers, either (at least not most of them). They’re grossly overworked and underpaid. Yet, it leaves my friend in a constant state of anxiety over what will happen next. She’d gladly work if she could find a job that would allow her to pay for childcare and job expenses, just so that she could have family health care. But, that would require a job that pays 55k a year, and hard as she’s tried, she can’t find one. She finally concluded that, even if she’s poor on gov’t assistance, at least she’s not living in a box. I can’t fault her for that. It’s not a free and easy life and she works really hard to take care of her family and raise her kids. To know that my taxes go to help her and those like her makes me glad.

    We often become self righteously indignant about the poor and indigent taking advantage of taxpayers and milking “the system.” However, the wealthy do the same in at least the same proportions. We may rant against the rich, but taking away their tax benefits wouldn’t put them on the street.

    If an Olympic runner were to say to me, “If you only tried harder and were disciplined, you could do what I do.” I’d scoff. Because, the truth is that we’re not all given the same talents and abilities. That doesn’t mean that we’re not all of equal worth. At the very least, those that are the most frustrating give us the most opportunity to develop compassion.

    I’m so inspired by this project, enough to try it myself. Enough to give up my coffee and candy bars to put aside for a food pantry.

    Yet, the irony doesn’t escape me that, despite the poor and destitute around us, it requires a relative sacrifice from 2 middle-class, educated people with a comfortable home and income to illustrate the plight of the poor and move us to act.

  14. Robbie

    well said, Maple.

    A world in which some people have riches beyond imagining while a billion don’t know where their next meal is coming from is not “freedom.” That kind of “freedom” is exploitation for the sake of self-interest. None of us asked to be born on this earth. Every one has a right to live here and to have the basis sustenance of life. Those who subscribe to the Protestant work ethic frequently forget that “Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights {from God} is worthy of all else from you.”

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