By Earline Middleton, Vice President of Agency Services and Programs

In preparation for the FNS Challenge, I carefully planned my meals and shopped for only $4.06 worth of food for each day. I kept my meals simple and stayed under budget.

Until my refrigerator broke.

The thing about living on such a tight budget is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for unexpected life events such as your car breaking down or an unplanned medical expense. A failed refrigerator of course would affect us all and cause us to drastically alter our eating habits for a while. For us, this is an annoying inconvenience to be sure, and yes, it will cost money outside of our planned budget to have it repaired. But we have options: We can eat out, we can perhaps use a second fridge we have at home, or we can quickly fix the appliance.

But for so many of the families we serve who must rely on FNS benefits, a broken fridge is more than an inconvenience. Many of them do not have the extra dollars for an unplanned expense, and it can put such a strain on their finances that they’re forced to use money budgeted elsewhere to pay to fix it and to replace any food they lost, and as a result, must visit an emergency food assistance center such as a food pantry or soup kitchen. Because even though your fridge is broken, life goes on and your family still needs to eat.

My broken refrigerator forced me to plan my meals differently, relying much more on non-perishable products. I’ve even taken to smelling my food, making sure it hasn’t spoiled. This has added extra stress to an already challenging week, and yet it has demonstrated that this Challenge is about so much more than eating rice and beans for lunch every day. It’s about the big picture, the full struggle that 651,000 people in our service area live with every day, and how precious $121.85 in FNS benefits truly is to them.

Earline is one of over 30 Food Bank staff and community members who are taking the FNS Challenge this week. Read below for more reflections from participants and follow #406ADay on Twitter:

Thrifty Office Furniture, Food Bank Social Media AmbassadorEffects and reflections on Day 4

Greg Ng, Food Bank Social Media Ambassador: Why I don’t take free food during the FNS Challenge

Triangle Localista, local blogger: Food is Everywhere and Social Media is Not My Friend