Sandra Lee and Other Celebs Reveal What It Was Like to Grow Up on Food Assistance

Well-known Americans share their stories for a new Share Our Strength PSA that aims to keep the Farm Bill's SNAP funding.

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

“Today I have cooking shows, but when I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I needed food stamps to survive,” says Food Network star Sandra Lee.

“Today I am a congressman, but as a young veteran, food stamps helped me feed my family,” says Joe Baca (D-CA).

And WNBA star Ruth Riley says that as a child, food stamps gave her the energy she needed to play basketball and study.

All three appear in a brief but powerful public service announcement—produced by the anti-hunger group Share Our Strength (SOS)—which calls on viewers to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. Why the heartfelt plea? Because in less than a week, the current Farm Bill, which establishes funding for the SNAP program, expires. And Speaker John Boehner has made it clear that lawmakers won’t take up this political hot potato until after the November elections.

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“Many regular, everyday people have relied on federal programs like SNAP (food stamps) at some point in their lives,” writes SOS founder Billy Shore. “There’s a common misconception that once you’re on SNAP, you stay on it for life. But that’s simply not true. In fact, the average amount of time families spend on SNAP is 9 months.”

He points to Lee, Baca, and Riley as poignant examples of one-time SNAP recipients who are now success stories, and it’s a powerful message.

Nor was it difficult to find well-known people to share their stories, says Christy Felling, spokesperson for SOS, tells TakePart. “These programs helped them survive during tough times earlier in their lives.  

“We're working with many, many other people who are sharing their own stories. Some are well-know like the people in our PSA. Others are our friends and neighbors—people we know from our schools, churches and Little League games. Their stories are all powerful—we're collecting them here.”

Share Our Strength’s PSA comes at a time when more people rely on the SNAP program than ever before. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), there were 46.6 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits in June, up nearly 1.5 million from one year ago. One in seven Americans, nearly half of them children, rely on SNAP to get food on the table.

Those on the front lines of childhood hunger are concerned the proposed SNAP cuts in the current Farm Bill ($16 billion proposed by lawmakers in the House vs. $4.5 billion in the Senate version) could bring devastating results to an already fragile segment of the population and are calling on voters to protect the SNAP program.

Whatever your stance on how much funding the SNAP program should get, one thing is clear: “Children in families receiving SNAP were significantly more likely to be classified as ‘well’ than young children whose families were eligible but did not receive SNAP,” says the report from FRAC. We think that’s more than enough proof in the American pudding.

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