Cathy Coons has been passionate about fighting hunger since she was a teenager in Westchester County, N.Y.
It was there that she first joined in a fast to raise money for Save the Children, the well-known charitable organization for children in need in the United States and around the world.
Since moving to Greensboro in 2004, Coons has continued to take part in a variety of volunteer initiatives to alleviate hunger and poverty, primarily through Starmount Presbyterian Church, where — as a member of the mission committee — she is actively involved in such local ministries as senior meals, refugee resettlement, backpack feeding programs, the church’s community garden, and Family Promise, to name just a few.
But she has never again attempted to experience firsthand the pain of hunger, at least not until now.
Coons said that when Stamount’s mission committee recently approved the church’s participation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, Nov. 17-23 — in which families and individuals pledge to use the average food stamp benefit as their total budget for groceries for seven days — she said there were few takers.
“Since I volunteer with working poor families who live on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funds every day,” said Coons, “I thought I would give it a try.”
She said that she had no specific expectations, except that she would be hungry.
“For the past 10 years I have been reluctant to identify with those struggling with hunger by fasting or doing without,” Coons said. “The reason I came to feel that way is because of my interactions with those who deal with food insecurity. Whenever I have spoken with them about fasts or other deprivation programs, they don't always understand why someone would do this.”
Ruth Farrell, coordinator of the national Presbyterian Hunger Program, explains that the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge is a discipline to draw attention to the gross injustice of poverty and hunger in the U.S. and to open new opportunities for education, understanding, compassion and solidarity.
“This challenge is not only a call to hunger and poverty awareness, but also a call to action,” Farrell said. “We are called by God to be in the world and to seek to make it a better place. Changing hearts and minds is the starting point of building a movement and improving policy.”
Members of the key leadership bodies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — including Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency — will also be taking part in the challenge. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), based in Louisville, Ky., comprises more than 1.9 million members in more than 11,000 congregations, answering Christ’s call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world.
“By joining in the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge — and intentionally living within these allowances together — we pray that awareness will be raised, consciences stirred, and actions taken so that all people have access to life’s basic necessities,” said Valentine.
Kevin Kattmann, who chairs Starmount’s mission committee, said that hunger can be hard to understand.
“The media report how many people in the U.S. go hungry every day,” Kattmann said. “Then the next night they will report how obesity is fast becoming the number one health challenge in the country. Hunger here doesn’t look like hunger in other countries.”
As Kattmann, Coons, and other Starmount members prepare to spend only $4.39 per person per day on everything that they eat in the coming week, Kattmann said that most people don’t think it is really that hard. “No better way to know that than to try,” he said.
Starmount’s pastor, John Odom, will also be joining the challenge.