NORTH ADAMS -- A dozen eggs or oatmeal? That was one of the questions contemplated by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, Monday morning as she began shopping for the SNAP Challenge.
Cariddi, along with the rest of the Berkshire legislative delegation, is participating in the challenge this week -- living for seven days on a food budget equivalent to the average weekly per-person federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) benefit of $31.50.
"I'm going to see if I can afford eggs this week. Depending on how expensive they are, I'm also considering oatmeal," she said, as she started her grocery shopping at Price Chopper in North Adams. "My take on this challenge may be a bit easier than it is for others. I'm not a big meat eater. I eat a lot of fresh and frozen vegetables and produce."
Nevertheless, she said the challenge is an important tool to help herself and others understand the struggles and choices many in the 1st Berkshire District and countywide are faced with on a daily basis.
"In the 1st Berkshire District -- North Adams, Adams, Williamstown, Cheshire and Lanesborough -- the number of people receiving SNAP benefits it's rather alarming," Cariddi said. "There are 3,700 families and abut 4,800 individuals receiving SNAP benefits on a monthly basis, bringing $700,000 into the district."
Countywide, the number of SNAP beneficiaries includes over 10,000 families and over 18,000 individuals, with monthly benefits
"It's something that has been on the increase since the recession in 2008. SNAP benefits have increased over 40 percent in our area, because we've been hardest hit by it," she said. "We don't have a lot of jobs or growth in that area, which is one of the things I'm constantly looking at. What we need to work on more is more and better jobs in the area. There is a huge amount of food insecurity [in the county]. You just see people of all ages struggling to make sure they have enough food to eat."
After comparing the prices of a carton of eggs to that of a small container of oatmeal, she opted for the oatmeal -- choosing a brand that was 10 cents more expensive than the lowest priced on the shelf.
"It's a little more expensive, but it has more volume," Cariddi said. "Going to the grocery store is like going to the library for me. I do a lot of reading of labels."
As she began shopping, Cariddi said she wasn't starting off with the entire budget of $31.50. She had already deducted the half-of-a-share she purchases from the Many Forks Farm CSA in Clarksburg.
"A half-share is about $11. I figured that if I purchased it at the farmers market with the SNAP X2 program [which doubles the value of SNAP benefits], I'd be spending about $6 on it," she said. "I'll receive my share on Wednesday."
Other purchases included; apples, an onion, carrots, canned tomatoes, kidney and Garbanzo beans, frozen green beans, bow-tie pasta, two varieties of tea and salad dressing.
After making her purchases -- a total of $23.90 -- Cariddi said she was pleased with the shopping trip.
"I think I've done pretty well. I think I've got enough to mix in with my CSA items," she said. "I've got some protein items. The only thing I think I'm really missing in the whole looking at all of the purchases is probably wheat products. I didn't get a bread item or crackers -- which it didn't look like I could afford."
She added, "I was struggling too. I was thinking about what mixes with this and what mixes with that. I think that's got to be the greatest challenge, other than the monetary amount, is to be your own best nutritionist."
Cariddi will be sharing her meals through Monday, July 15, on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gail.cariddi.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email