At Tuesday's Burgers with Berke, I sat down with City employees who have recently gone above and beyond in serving our community.
Employees like Steve Pack, our 11th Street Garage Supervisor, who works hard everyday to lead his team and boost morale. Or Shneka Whaley, a Recreation Specialist serving as a role model for kids that frequent our YFD centers, who earned her Masters in Education just last week. And Captain Rogers and Firefighters Peterson and Williams, who were all three injured recently in the line of duty.
I am thankful for the hard work of these city employees and countless others. They are great examples of how local government can work for our citizens, and ultimately make Chattanooga a better place.
Last week, I trimmed my daily food budget down to $4.40. This is the national average for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as Food Stamps, recipients. I wanted to highlight the difficulties so many of our friends and neighbors face. Over 1.3 million Tennesseans receive SNAP benefits, and 22.8% of our State said that at some point last year they had trouble purchasing food for their family. I also think it’s important to understand, while the debate over SNAP benefits rage on, what life is really like on a very limited budget even if it’s only for a week. These last several days have taught me a lot.
Let me start with my advantages. My family has a car, so searching 3 different grocery stores for the best value wasn’t a problem. Next, I knew it was only for a week. That means the long term implications of planning meals were disregarded because I knew I would return to my regular meals once the challenge was over.
As for my experience, living off SNAP required a change in mindset. Every meal had to be planned out in advance, because $30.80 for the week must be used as effectively as possible. At the beginning of the week, you must understand exactly what you need from the grocery and plan for no waste. If I am only going to eat half of a bag of food for the week, it makes little sense to buy it. And splurges? Forget about it.
For me and my diet, I focused on eating the same foods throughout the week so I knew I’d have enough. Every day, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One day, I went ahead and had one for breakfast AND lunch. I had a few turkey sandwiches, and it was a bummer when I finished off my last bit of turkey. At night, pasta and red sauce was a staple. A six pack of ramen helped me finish the week.
To stay somewhat healthy, I have included a little fruit in my diet. Each day I eat an apple or banana or both. That fruit has helped add a little variety into a carb-heavy day.
Over the last several days, I have only drunk water. Luckily, I am not a coffee drinker, so I didn’t face the severe morning caffeine withdrawal that many in my office experienced. Buying tea or a soft drink seemed unnecessary. I would rather use that money on more food.
Thinking back over last week, participating in the SNAP challenge accomplished my goals. More people through our city are now more aware of the widespread nature of this issue and their reactions over the week were incredible.
I have been thanked by citizens who told me about the months spent on SNAP after losing their job - and the stigma they felt receiving aid. Some people told me that they were compelled to make a donation to the Chattanooga Food Bank. And still others wondered why I’d choose to live off of $4.40 a day and offered words of encouragement that I could “make it through the week”. I explained that, for me, it is just a temporary inconvenience; we should not forget that for far too many, this struggle is a daily reality.
The City of Chattanooga works hard alongside area organizations and nonprofits to alleviate food insecurity, providing meals for kids and ensuring commodity distribution for many of our most vulnerable citizens. In the years to come, I know that last week’s experience will allow me to appreciate the importance of our City’s food initiatives even more.
“This opportunity validates our place in the ever-growing world of technology. But, more importantly, it ultimately makes local government more open, accessible, and innovative,” said Mayor Andy Berke.
The CFA Fellowship initiative is an 11-month opportunity that pairs city government with the country’s top developers, designers, researchers, and product managers. Together, CFA and local governments produce open-source web apps to improve city services.
The City of Chattanooga has currently raised $250,000 in private funds from the Benwood Foundation and Lyndhurst Foundation. Several more private companies have expressed an interest in contributing to the project, including both through in-kind and monetary contributions. The Chattanooga City Council will vote on authorization for the City of Chattanooga to fund an additional $180,000 if chosen as a CFA Fellowship City.
“Initiatives like Code for America illustrate the new world of public service. By taking the brightest tech minds and focusing them on community issues, we will foster collaboration and creative problem solving in Chattanooga,” said Sarah Morgan, president of the Benwood Foundation.
If chosen for participation, CFA will also help build a relationship between City Hall and Chattanooga’s local technology talent...
This morning, Mayor Berke laid out a plan to work with Erlanger’s Administration to preserve Lincoln Park, located at Central Avenue and 3rd Street. Erlanger, which owns the approximately 5 acres of property known as Lincoln Park, will donate the land to the City of Chattanooga pending approval of their board.
“Lincoln Park is an important piece of our city’s African American history and culture,” said Mayor Berke. “Preserving the park was one of the first community development projects on our radar. I want to thank Erlanger as well as Councilman Freeman and surrounding neighbors for continuing to engage in this process.”
The Berke Administration has held several meetings with Erlanger, Councilman Freeman and members of the Lincoln Park neighborhood thus far. At last night’s Erlanger board meeting some members wanted more time to discuss the transfer. The Mayor has developed a process to make sure all remaining questions are answered prior to the next meeting to ensure an informed vote by Erlanger’s board.
“Over the next month, we will bring members of my department of Transportation and Economic and Community Development together with the Erlanger Board to answer questions and alleviate any remaining concerns regarding the transfer of this land. I am confident that we will be able to work together with Erlanger to make this transfer happen. I want to reassure everyone here today that I am 100% committed to preserving this park,” said Mayor Berke.
“We are committed to work with the City to make Lincoln Park available to all residents of our community and acknowledge the history that Lincoln Park stands for,” said Kevin M. Spiegel, FACHE, Erlanger Health Systems President & CEO.
“As a trustee of the Erlanger board I am excited about this opportunity to bring our mission of changing lives to life,” said Kim White, Erlanger Health Systems Board Member. “By working with our committed partners, the city of Chattanooga and the Lincoln Park residents, we can come together and turn this into an asset we can all be proud of.”
Members of the neighborhood were present today to show their support for this project.
“We are glad to see that the Administration is taking this so seriously,” said Lincoln Park Neighborhood President Vanice Hughley. “This park means so much to our community, and I believe that we will work together to make this project work.”
“Lincoln Park is a great example of a neighborhood working with this administration toward a common purpose. I appreciate the hard work of everyone involved in making the preservation of this land a reality,” said Councilman Freeman.
The Berke Administration began a dialogue with Erlanger in early June to discuss the future of the property.
Once the plan is approved by the board next month, the Berke Administration will pursue a partnership with The Trust for Public Land to ensure the site is preserved as a historic park.
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© 2012 Andy Berke. All Rights Reserved.
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