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What I Learned Eating on $29.40 for One Week


The official Jewish community Food Stamp Challenge took place Dec 1 through Dec 7.  As someone who writes on a regular basis about people experiencing hunger, but who does not experience this herself, I decided to take the challenge.  The rules of the annual, nationwide challenge, organized by The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and MAZON among others are:  Don't supplement with existing groceries in your home; don't go over your budget of $29.40 for one week, the average food stamp benefit; don't accept free meals or snacks; and be sure to include any dining out in your budget.


The first thing I learned was that shopping on a strict budget means careful planning and compromise.  Eating out was not an option.  Nearly every item I bought was on sale or the cheapest brand.  I weighed my apples and bananas and used a calculator before checking out; it made me feel self-conscious.  To afford coffee and organic turkey, I bought less substantial meals.  I could not give in to impulse purchases.  The food I was able to buy lacked nutrition and variety overall.  I had ramen for lunch so I would have a hot meal that filled me up.  I also ate the same identical meals every morning, noon and night.  Imagine having no choice but to do that week after week or month after month.   


A hard part for me, beyond not being able to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, was not being able to enjoy the satisfying experience of a meal with others.  On two separate occasions, I was invited out to eat.  Once I ate my lunch beforehand and just ordered hot water.  Once I fished some sliced apples out of my purse.  My son was concerned.  "Mom, aren't you going to eat with us?"  It made me feel alone.  By the end of the week, I was cranky and tired, including being tired about constantly thinking about my food restrictions. 


What I also learned was that while many people were supportive of my week-long challenge, some questioned the validity of the SNAP (food stamps) program and whether its participants deserve or need its support.  Going into the challenge, I recognized that these attitudes persisted, but to see them up close was sobering.  For me, taking the challenge was about committing myself further to this important human issue.  At my son's future school (he is four), some families rely on food boxes donated by a local non-profit to supplement their children's meals.  That could happen to me.  And if it did, I would be grateful there were people and resources out there to help me.  That's what it means to have a community safety net.


To learn more about anti-hunger advocacy in 2015, contact Colleen Hathaway, Grants Manager, at colleen@jfcs-portland.org.

Able Act Passes!

The US government recently approved the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, or the ABLE Act, which establishes tax-exempt savings accounts to assist individuals with a disability to save for qualified disability expenses.  This includes savings for education, a primary residence, transportation, obtaining and maintaining employment, health and wellness, and other personal disability-related expenses. The ABLE account allows up to $100,000 without affecting public benefits such as SSI or SSDI and allows up to $14,000 to be added annually.  This is an important change since previously recipients of such benefits were not permitted to have more than $2,000 in their name.  The ABLE account is non-taxable and can be opened by any person whose qualifying diagnosis was made prior to age 26. Each state will set up ABLE accounts prior to the end of 2015.

Find additional information here.


Kehillah House Anniversary

It's been an exciting time at Kehillah Housing!  In November, we celebrated the first anniversary of Kehillah Housing with David Fuks, CEO of Cedar Sinai Park, presiding over the festivities.  It was terrific to see community partners and supporters, donors, residents, and their families celebrating together.  Kehillah Housing, which features 14 individual apartments for residents and an on-site manager's unit, is designed for people with developmental disabilities. 


In December, Kehillah residents and Tikvah, a social group of Jewish Family & Child Service's TASK Program for people with disabilities, members celebrated Hanukkah together, with a massive production of sizzling latkes, Hanukkah songs, lighting of the Hanukkiot, dreidel games, and a synopses of the story of Hanukkah presented by Kehillah resident Ben.  With parents, residents, and Tikvah members together, we all had a good time.


For more information about Kehillah Housing or TASK, contact Corinne Spiegel, Disabilities Inclusion Specialist, at 503-226-7079 x155 or corinne@jfcs-portland.org.


Café Europa Annual Hanukkah Luncheon


JFCS's Café Europa hosted its annual Hanukkah Luncheon on December 17.  Holocaust survivors enjoyed a beautiful kosher lunch at Congregation Shaarie Torah with music by the incredibly talented Beth Hamon.  Rabbi Rose welcomed survivors and provided a blessing before the meal.  Small gift bags were given to all attendees, which included gelt, a dreidel and other goodies to celebrate both Hanukkah and a wonderful year of many Café Europa events.


For more information about JFCS's Holocaust Survivor Services, please contact Brian Fallon, Lifeline Services Program Manager, at 503-226-7079 x121 or brianfallon@jfcs-portland.org.



Our annual Adopt-a-Family campaign was a success! On December 14, volunteers wrapped holiday gifts that were delivered to low-income families.  JFCS was able to serve 66 families, a 15% increase over last year.  This increase was made possible by the generosity of donors, sponsors, and volunteers.  Thank you to everyone who was involved, with a special thanks to our partners Congregation Shaarie Torah, Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland Jewish Academy, and Portland Mitzvah Network. 


Social Security Changes


Starting January 1, 2015, the federal government will implement a 1.7% cost of living increase to Social Security.  While this represents an increase in the Social Security tax for employees and self-employed persons, it also results in a corresponding increase to disability income accrual and income-based assistance. 


Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is federal financial assistance, has increased to $733 per month for eligible individuals, and $1,100 per month for eligible couples.  For Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), which is based on a person's ability to earn wages, the monthly wage threshold for a person to remain eligible for SSDI has increased to $1,090, and to $780 during the person's Trial Work Period.  The increase to SSI payments will begin immediately upon January 1, while SSDI changes will go into effect reflective upon the individual's earnings in January 2015. 


To apply for, or ask questions about, your benefits, contact your local Social Security Office.  A list of locations can be found at  www.socialsecurity.gov.


For more information, contact Stacy Buckley, Partners Program Manager, at 503-226-7079 x111 or stacy@jfcs-portland.org.


Winter Warming Stations

The housing crisis remains a huge challenge for many.  On any given night approximately 2,870 people are homeless and an estimated 1,570 more are living in transitional housing in Portland.   As we have been experiencing and anticipate additional cold spells we want everyone to know where to go to stay warm both day and night.


Unfortunately, these resources often fill to capacity and this is the time of year when JFCS will experience a surge in individuals and families seeking emergency assistance. 



For more information about the Emergency Aid Program, please contact Maria Rehbach, Emergency Aid Program Coordinator, at 503-226-7079 x128 or maria@jfcs-portland.org.



Jewish Family & Child Service provides social services that improve the lives of adults, families and children in the Jewish and general communities.


Our Programs: 

Counseling | Homemaker Assistance | Emergency Aid | Disability Support Services

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