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D.C. Resident Takes On Food Stamp Challenge

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Caryn Sweeney, a  D.C. resident, is trying out living on the maximum amount given for food stamps during the month leading up to Thanksgiving.
Jessica Gould
Caryn Sweeney, a D.C. resident, is trying out living on the maximum amount given for food stamps during the month leading up to Thanksgiving.

By Jessica Gould

More than 100,000 D.C. residents receive assistance through the federal food stamps program. One Washington woman spent the last month trying to find out what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes.

On the day before Thanksgiving, many people are stocking their refrigerators. But not Caryn Sweeney. She's emptying her fridge and making a frittata with whatever she finds. "I'm going to saute the onions with the potatoes and a few frozen vegetables with butter," says Sweeney.

For the last month, Sweeney has challenged herself to spend no more than $200 on food, the maximum allowance a single person can receive on food stamps.

"It just seemed to fit the theme of getting ready for Thanksgiving and being thankful for all the things I have," says Sweeney. Plus, Sweeney wanted to find out whether it was possible to eat healthy meals on a limited budget.

"It was a challenge to myself and to the idea that when receiving that kind of assistance, you have to eat bread, pasta and ramen," says Sweeney. "I set out to prove that you can eat pretty well, eat well-made nutritious things without a lot of empty calories."

Sweeney says she's going to make it. She's even lost eight pounds along the way. And she says she's learned a lot from the experience.

"It's really easy for people to judge and make comments when they've never tried to do it," says Sweeney. "And now, I've tried to do it, I can tell you it's really hard."

Sweeney's challenge ends on Thanksgiving. But after that, she says, she intends to resume the challenge, and this time, she won't eat all the best stuff at the beginning.


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