KLTV 7's Molly Reuter takes on the food stamp challenge

$21 a week...$1 per meal - that's all a person living on food stamps is allowed to spend on food. Doesn't seem like that much, does it?

Well, this month you have the chance to personally experience and understand what thousands of children, seniors and working families are facing everyday.

This week, our very own Molly Reuter has decided to take on what's being called 'The Food Stamp Challenge.'

The East Texas Food Bank is offering the challenge during Hunger Action Month. What the organization is hoping is people like you and me will take the Food Stamp Challenge and bring awareness to a program that is underused.

These days, more and more people are watching what they spend at the grocery store, but you know that item you like to splurge on? Well, when it comes to feeding your family, you may have to drop it from your diet.

"You have 21 dollars, 21 dollars, which is a dollar a meal, and it's for seven days."

Before officially signing up for the Food Stamp Challenge this morning, Robert Bush, the executive director of the East Texas Food Bank, briefed me on the rules.

"You can't take free coffee, free food," said Bush. No gift cards, no handouts - just $21.

It may seem impossible, but then you think about the 400,000 East Texans who live at or below the poverty line - families who would go hungry without the food stamp program.

"Only about 50 percent of those who are eligible for food stamps participate, and so we want to one, raise awareness about food stamps and two, increase the participation in the program," said Bush.

"So, I've officially signed up for the Food Stamp Challenge. It's time now to get my 21 dollars for the week."

With my cash in hand and shopping list ready to go, I headed to Super 1 foods.

"Peanut butter...I wonder if this is the cheap kind..."

"Oh look at this...Macaroni and cheese dinners for only 39 cents!"

"I don't know if I'm going to be able to afford chicken..."

What I quickly discover is I can't get exactly what I want.

"So, here is my dilemma. Coffee is two dollars and 60 cents, I can get a lot of food for 2 dollars and 60 cents, so do I want to waste my money on coffee. What do you think?"

Patricia Rodriguez of Tyler is on her last day of the challenge.

"I think most people have no idea."

She says she missed the freedom to eat what she wanted.

"I've missed coffee, and I've missed fruit. I can't tell you the last time I was really looking forward to a grapefruit, but that was something that didn't fit in the budget, and you don't know what you are missing until you can't have it," said Rodriguez.

No coffee for me - for now, just the basics.

"I still have like 7 dollars left over."

We'll just have to wait and see how far this food goes.

Molly will be keeping a blog of her experiences while she lives on $21 this week. You can find that blog at the East Texas' Food Bank Hunger Action Month blog.

Molly Reuter, reporting. mreuter@kltv.com