Poverty challenge: Day 1


As explained last week, I undertook a weeklong challenge to understand what those living in poverty face every day in Riley County. I was limited to $28.05 for groceries, the average SNAP benefits received by a single person in Kansas. I could not access my car nor use the Internet at home.

Day 1 – Sunday

Distance walked: 7.1 miles

Weight: 241

Nervous enthusiasm is the best word to describe my first day.

I experienced homelessness during part of my senior year in high school, but that somehow felt different. I had my mom and one of my sisters there with me and friends who offered a place to shower or an occasional meal.

The 3.5-mile walk to work was an hour and 15 minute trip. Although Riley County has a bus service, it doesn’t operate on Sundays. After work, I was lucky enough to get a ride from a coworker to a grocery store near where I live. Not everyone has such generous coworkers, though.

The grocery store I went to probably wasn’t the cheapest in town, but it was the closest. I could have gone to another store on the other side of Manhattan, but it was already after dark and I didn’t feel comfortable walking that far.

I spent a total of $25.27, buying food I hoped would last the week: a bag of potatoes, pasta, canned vegetables, bread, peanut butter and jelly. Everything purchased was either generic or on sale.

Leaving the store, the next challenge was clear: walking another 3.5 miles back home while carrying a week’s worth of groceries at about 8:45 p.m. With four bags in each hand, I made the arduous walk back home, frequently adjusting the load as soon as the circulation to my fingers began to cut off.

Residential streets in Manhattan are dark. Sure, you’ll find Anderson and Poyntz lit up well enough at night, but when you go to a side street, however, street lights become a rare commodity. It was in the darkness, about four blocks from home, when it happened.

I didn’t see the plastic bag handle dangling toward the ground until it was too late.

Cans began rolling down the street. Placing the bags on some grass, I hoped they wouldn’t be stolen as I chased down the errant groceries.

Dignity and ego took a backseat to the rolling cans of corn and peas, not that anyone was around to see the situation unfold.

The difficulties represented just one day of the challenge. How many others are out there facing the same difficulties by themselves? There was no family to share in the burden and no friends to offer a hand on that poorly lit road leading to home.

Poverty is loneliness. That’s what I learned on day one.