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This week, WHNT News 19’s Greg Screws, Clarissa McClain and producer Alicia Esteban will try to live on $1.50 a day.  It’s the U.S. equivalent of the extreme poverty line.

Live Below the Line is a challenge for everyday people to live on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for five days.  It is an initiative of The Global Poverty Project, whose mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action against extreme poverty.

Friday, May 3

Clarissa McClain
Clarissa McClain

By Clarissa McClain

I’m feeling so many emotions as the eating challenge comes to an end — hungry, drained, a little light-headed, forgetful (probably because of the hunger), irritable… But most of all, I’m feeling grateful.

I’m grateful that I’m able to afford to eat and eat well on a daily basis. I’m grateful for this experience so that I will never take that for granted again.  I’m grateful for the people I met who work every day in this community to feed those in need. I’m grateful for the people who saw the value in this story and will now evaluate how they spend money on food. I’m also grateful for the criticism we received, because it made me realize how truly unaware and under-informed people are about this issue, which gave me even more motivation to keep going. I’m grateful for the increased compassion I now have for people in poverty.

I will be doing more to help those in need. I have $7.50 that I can give to the Food Bank of North Alabama, which will provide just over 40 meals. I can commit 30 minutes of my time to volunteer at Manna House and serve food. I REALLY hope you do too!

Another thing I wasn’t expecting: I’m not craving junk food now. I would kill for a piece of fresh fruit. Anything fresh, really! Being deprived of it made me really appreciate it so much more.

My final meal of the challenge: mashed sweet potatoes with rice and vegetables.

Greg Screws
Greg Screws

By Greg Screws

“A hungry man is not a free man.”- Adlai Stevenson

I envisioned my Friday blog about Live Below the Line being all tough. It was not as hard as I thought.

Below the Line was all mental.

I would eat on $1.50 a day and like it.  I was wrong.  I’m glad it’s over.  It’s worn me out.

Limited food.  Unhealthy food.

Tomorrow I will have a salad big enough to cover a small dog.

But for those who are “food insecure,” the challenge will continue.  Live Below the Line is a campaign for me.

Live Below the Line is, and will be, a reality for a huge number people in the Tennessee Valley.  Many of them are children.  Many of them are elderly.  Many of them work.  Many of them work two jobs.

Many of them work, and do not quality for any government aid.  If they do qualify, it’s for a very small amount.

Here is what I would like to leave you with…

If you doubt there are hungry people,  volunteer at Manna House and then find me in 30 days.  Volunteer your time.  Volunteer your money.

If you think this doesn’t apply to you, think again.  You work next to hungry people.  Your kids go to school with hungry children.  You shop at stores where hungry people work.  Some of them may work for you.

“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave
me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; I was sick and you
took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… I tell you whenever you do
these things for the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for
me.”  — Matthew 25:35-40

Alicia Esteban
Alicia Esteban

By Alicia Esteban

In the beginning of the week I honestly did not think I would feel this bad. I thought I had plenty of food, I was going to be able to have 3 meals a day, but somehow I was still always hungry.

When I woke up this morning, apart from not having energy, I would get lightheaded every time I would stand up or make a fast movement. I also looked pale, and even though I wasn’t as hungry, I still had a headache all day. Food wouldn’t help it go away.

I was so hungry, and worried about my health I had to finish the challenge early. Before the 9pm newscast, I ordered my own 12-inch pizza so I could enjoy it after. Well, that’s exactly what I did. As soon as I was done, I went back to my desk and announced to the rest of the newsroom, “I’m done!” And proceeded to devouring the pizza.

Being involved with this challenge reminded me of the hardships of poverty. I’ve been out of touch ever since I moved back to the U.S. Even though I enjoy volunteering, this has helped me realize how hard it is for people here as well, even if they can afford Ramen Noodles.

Thursday, May 2

Clarissa McClain
Clarissa McClain

By Clarissa McClain
I never paid attention to how much food I threw away. Today, when I was preparing the one sweet potato I could afford on my $1.50 a day budget, I peeled the skins off and they were sitting on the cutting board. I was about to trash them and then I thought, “Could I eat these?”
After I made two mashed servings (one for today, one for tomorrow) using the potato, a quick Google search led to me to a recipe for the skins. So, I toasted the skins in the oven and sprinkled them with another salt & pepper packet I found at work and took home. I felt so resourceful knowing that I’d managed to find a way to eat EVERY part of that potato! :-)
Here’s a picture of what I made:
sweet potato

Side note: The skins on the left I made for my mom and grandmother who are visiting me this week in Huntsville. Those skins had olive oil, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper on it…BUT since I couldn’t afford to buy any of those seasonings, I ate the ones on the right with only the salt and pepper.  I was also able to take advantage of my earlier thinking to freeze the bananas and I ate that for breakfast with some peanut butter.

I saved the remaining soup broth from last night, so I will probably add some more noodles to it today for lunch.  For dinner, I plan to eat the mashed sweet potato with frozen vegetables.  I’m hanging in there.

Greg Screws
Greg Screws

By Greg Screws
The Thursday menu…

Two more eggs.  Two more bologna sandwiches.  Will eat chicken noodle soup tonight.

“Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.”-Norman B. Rice

If you think that all hungry people are lazy and poor, if you think the stories you hear about hungry people in the Tennessee Valley are just rumors, and if you question the work ethic of the economically challenged, Manna House Executive Director Fran Fluhler has an offer for you.

“Just come down here for 30 minutes and you will see people who look just like you and me standing in that line. It’s really hard if you’ve never had to have help. People are working one and two jobs and they come to Manna House just to make ends me. Just come down here and volunteer for 30 minutes.”

They distribute food Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  Rumor is sometimes they open early.  Fact is, they normally stay late.  No one is turned away.

Angels among us.

The Live Below the Line Challenge is a five-day exercise.  It’s a public relations campaign that will hopefully pay off in a big way to help hungry and economically challenged people.

But for those who have empty cabinets and refrigerators, hunger is 24/7/365.

Today, a co-worker asked Clarissa and I what we’re eating first on Saturday.  I have a date with an omelet the size of a Chicago phonebook.

But I also have a date with Manna House.  I think Manna House and the Food Bank of North Alabama will see more of me now.

In a pop culture driven by social media, the voices of whom struggle and fight for food get drowned in the noise of… nothing.

Maybe it’s time we turned off the phone, the iPad, and the TV for a brief time, and volunteered somewhere to help. Maybe it’s your church. Maybe it’s those who help with food. Pick a mission that nourishes your soul.

Looking at the wall of food and the assembly line about to leap into motion to help people, I asked Fran Fluhler where “all this” comes from.

“It comes from God. Because people in the community give. Because they are care about people they will never meet. They are willing to give and it pleases my heart.  The community is so compassionate.”

Manna House is located at 2110 South Memorial Parkway. Food distribution is Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” – William James

By Alicia Esteban

Alicia Esteban
Alicia Esteban

First, I’m going to start with last night, and how hard it was. On Monday I had mentioned the amounts of food coworkers bring to work to share, well last night wasn’t an exception. Between smelling Steak-Out and pizza, I couldn’t stop thinking about food and how hungry I was. Therefore, I decided to warm up my frozen meal.

At first I thought it would be a great, complete dinner. It had chicken, corn, and smashed potatoes. I take it out of the freezer, put it in the microwave for the first 3 minutes, and it didn’t seem too bad. After stirring some of the food (as instructions said), I proceeded in warming it up 3 more minutes. I take out the platter from the microwave, take a quick look at the chicken, and this is what I find:


Is this even chicken? This is when I decided to eat the potatoes and corn, then throw away the chicken. How could people eat it? Is it even healthy? I thought it would be better to wait until I got back home and, once again, eat more noodles.

This morning, as always, I had a bowl of oatmeal. Greg was nice and shared a cracker with peanut butter. Later I’ll be having boiled eggs, pudding, and more noodles. So far, I’ve had noodles every night, but at least it’s curving my appetite a little.

Wednesday, May 1

Clarissa McClain
Clarissa McClain

By Clarissa McClain

Hunger woke me up about 1:00 this morning. I couldn’t go back to sleep.  So, this is what I ate:  Mashed up bananas with peanut butter and a glass of water. I remember laboring over the decision to eat another banana because I wondered if that would leave me short one for the rest of the week.

banana and peanut butter
I am so saddened that this is the reality some people are living every day – skipping meals, being hungry, sleeping hungry, seeing their kids hungry and not being able to immediately change it.
I had the opportunity to interview Kathryn Strickland, the Executive Director of the Food Bank of North Alabama. She shared some alarming statistics with me. This one really stood out to me.
The Food Bank’s 2012 Map the Meal Gap Study showed 52,000 children in north Alabama are food insecure, meaning they’re not getting enough meals in a day. Of that number, 46% live in households that do *not* qualify for government aid.
So, help is needed. How much could a $1.00 donation stretch??  Strickland says $1.00 allows them to provide almost six meals. I hope people will take the time to either donate money, food or time to their efforts to feed hungry members of our community. If you’d like to help, call (256) 539-2256 or click here for more information.
Kathryn was so moved by what we were doing, she she got emotional. I was able to stop her before we were all crying.  But for me, it’s definitely been an emotional journey so far.
By the way, I ate another packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast. I will skip lunch. For dinner, I had planned to eat half of a sweet potato and half of the rice and frozen vegetables meal. Then, I realized I left it at home. So, plan B was a soup with the pasta noodles (that Greg was nice enough to cook for me during his dinner break), less than half of the Ramen noodle flavoring packet.  I also used salt, pepper and a packet of soy sauce I found at work in the break room.
Noodle Soup

Greg Screws
Greg Screws

By Greg Screws

“Perhaps your station might consider a new approach to this issue – one that does not offer silly accounts of a daily eating regimen for the news anchors…”- Email from Viewer

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” – Ghandi

The line starts forming early around Manna House.  Appropriately enough, it’s to the right of The Rock near Governors Drive here in Huntsville.

“She is close to her [college] degree and works one full-time and one part-time job.  She gets food for her children from us.”

Just one of the many stories we hear from Manna House Director Fran Fluhler and she keeps them coming.

Manna House has more volunteers moving in more directions than shoppers at a mall at Christmas.  Fluhler directs those donating time, while those in need of food move through the line to get what they can’t afford.

In the Live Below The Line challenge, you are restricted to $1.50 a day.  Anything that goes in your mouth has a dollar figure attached to it.  It rules out veggies, fruit, and pretty much anything healthy.

But, that is the beauty of Manna House.

A person in need can go in and get all the food they need that is not covered by their financial ability.

For my $7.50, I got seven items.  Most of what I bought was loaded with sodium and not exactly overflowing with good nutrition.

But at Manna House, here is what those who need food can get.

Broccoli, squash, pears, corn, potatoes, beans, wheat bread, chicken and rice casserole and sandwiches were available.

In another room, volunteers were filling backpacks for children with little food at home.  When those backpacks go home on a weekend, what they are filled with is what the child has to eat ALL weekend.

Manna House is a place of grace.  Frankly, it was all I could do to keep from crying walking through the bustling combination of volunteers and those whose pain will be eased for a day with the food they bring home.

The people in the line represent many societal roles.

Many are members of the fastest growing group of people who find themselves in need of food – the elderly.

Not exactly the demonized poor we hear about from those who pander to ears eager for stereotypes to assail.

Many have low paying jobs that cover rent and utilities, but no food.  Many have worked for years, find themselves unemployed, and now can’t find a job.  Some are disabled.

But no matter whom they are, Fran and the Manna House crew feed them.

My food today:

Breakfast was two more eggs.  Lunch was more bologna.  Dinner will be tomato soup.

After my visit to Manna House, I’m looking forward to my tomato soup and will feel grateful.

“Feel what it’s like to truly starve, and I guarantee that you’ll forever think twice before wasting food.”―Criss Jami

Alicia Esteban
Alicia Esteban

By Alicia Esteban

I have to admit, I completely skipped lunch yesterday. This time it was only because I completely forgot since I was busy with work.  However, it got me thinking. How often do people skip meals? Is it better than eating some pasta for example?

Growing up as an athlete, I’ve always had the mentality of having to eat often. Something is always better than nothing. Coaches and nutritionists would remind us every day to eat, eat, eat. But, what if you can’t afford eating that often? What would be better? Skipping a meal or eating anything even though it’s unhealthy?

Since I was surprisingly not hungry during the day, I ended up eating two boiled eggs, and pudding for dinner. I decided I would try staying up late, and ended up eating another bowl of Ramen past midnight. When I woke up this morning, again I wasn’t hungry. I had to force myself to have a bowl of oatmeal. Hopefully today, I won’t be missing meals again.

Tuesday, April 30
By Greg Screws

Greg Screws
Greg Screws

“So, you aren’t eating any fruits and vegetables are you?”

“Lord no. I’m not.”

That is how the conversation started today with a pro in the field of feeding hungry people.

She thanked us for the Below the Line stories.

Some people aren’t so charitable.

Some people don’t want to hear it.

David emailed with this….

“I don’t think all of these people who are blessed with their success ‘Living below the Line’ for a week helps the people that do it every day. What big feast do the three of you have planned after this week? What do you really spend each week on food? Are you giving that difference to charity? Can you really look someone who lives in poverty in the face and say I know how you feel; “for a week?'”

It’s something you get used to in a hurry when you work in the news business. Attack the messenger when the message hurts is ingrained into the American approach to debating an issue.

Most of the time, I hit delete and move on.

But we are inviting input here. So here you go, David….

We never, at any point, have said “we understand what it’s like to be hungry.” To do that would be disrespectful and shallow. What hungry people go through every day is something I can’t imagine. What I can do is use the “big mouthpiece” of the TV station to heighten awareness of what hungry people face every day

Do I give the difference to charity? David wants to know.

I put cash and time behind many missions in this community. I give money to one church where I’m not a member because they did good work on April 27, 2011. Recently, I did a fundraiser for Merrimack Hall where they raised about $1,500. I wish I could do more but I have a new grandson and I’m buying a bunch of formula from Costco.

Do all these people blessed with success “Living Below the Line” for five days help the people that live Below the Line every day?  These high profile people doing this proves what?

David wants to know.

As of this writing, the Live Below The Line website says almost $300,000 has been raised to support groups that fight hunger and poverty.  In our example, we ran a story on WHNT NEWS 19 at 9 on WHNT2 about Ben Affleck participating in Below the Line. After seeing it, we decided to participate as well.

High profile people nationally or locally can bring attention to causes.

And finally, he asked the question that usually people include in an email because they won’t say it to your face. David wants to know where our “feast” is going to be after the week is over.

Right now, the “feast” is going to be at Blue Plate on Governors Drive on Saturday morning. Not exactly extravagant.

In your honor David, I will make a donation in your name to Manna House.

Back to the pro who asked me about the fruits and veggies?

She robustly thanked me, Clarissa, Alicia, and the station for doing the Below the Line stories.

“Thank you so much for making people aware of the need right here in our community. People have no idea.”

When her doors opened at 2 p.m. on Monday for those who need food, they had a line at the door.

An old man told her he couldn’t remember the last strawberry he had eaten.  She told him to take all the wanted.

He said, “No, there are a lot of people behind me.”

And, he took just a few.

Here is what I have eaten today.

Breakfast on Tuesday:  Two scrambled eggs.
Lunch on Tuesday: Two (more) bologna sandwiches.
Snacks on Tuesday: Four crackers with peanut butter.
Dinner on Tuesday:  More peanut butter sandwiches planned. Might eat chicken noodle soup.

I’m WAY down on caffeine.  A little sluggish today.   I’m hoping to avoid the caffeine headache tomorrow.

More and more this experience reminds me of the line from the Ray Wylie Hubbard song…

“Any day where my gratitude exceeds my expectations is a really good day.”

It’s a good day. No complaints from  me.

Tomorrow, more from “The Pro” who helps feed people who don’t have food.

Clarissa McClain
Clarissa McClain

By Clarissa McClain

I’m hungry! Much hungrier than I was on day one of the challenge. I’m already having a hard time with the fact that I’ll be eat the same thing all week. I now know you don’t always get the luxury of variety when you’re on a limited budget. We’re not allowed to eat anything that we had at home prior to starting the challenge. I have to admit, it’s difficult having to see all the snacks in my pantry and not being able to eat any of them.
I did get a Facebook message from a viewer that almost brought me to tears. I won’t reveal her name since she sent it to me privately. Here’s what part of it said:
“I am a grandmother raising 3 grandchildren on my disability and one of the grandkids gets a Social Security check. It is all I can do to keep food on the table. I have to stand in food lines every week and I have to go to the dumpster and get food to feed my family of 4. If it was not for that, we would go hungry. People just don’t understand how much hunger is right here in our area. I am glad you all are doing this story and maybe people we see what it is like to try to put food on the table.”
This is the reason why we’re doing this story! I hope we’re able to really help and make a difference.

Alicia Esteban
Alicia Esteban

By Alicia Esteban

Normally, the second you walk into the newsroom you can find different types of pastries or candy. This morning, wasn’t as bad as yesterday.  I woke up late again today. I had breakfast around noon and kept drinking a lot of water. Walking into that newsroom with pastries made my hunger come back very quickly, especially since I knew I couldn’t eat it. Today, I actually planned my day out a little bit more. I boiled some eggs to bring to work, brought in some Ramen in case I get hungry before leaving.  And of course, you can’t miss the pudding for a mid-day snack.
Even though I become hungry very easily and thinking of food keeps me hungry almost all day.  It always makes me thankful that I’m not starving.
Apart from traveling a lot, I spent 10 years living in Venezuela. Yes, we were lucky to live in good areas.  But, you can never miss driving past what they called the “barrios” or slums. It wasn’t only driving by either.  It was also volunteering and taking trips to these mountains covered with brick huts. The people living there couldn’t even afford spending $1.50 a day on food. Sometimes, we would take trips to schools to donate school supplies.  But, they didn’t even have a table to write on. How could they afford food?
Many of us don’t realize these problems until we see it with our own eyes and sometimes that’s too late.  Hopefully what we’re doing helps, even a little, locally. Helping solve the problems here will eventually also help the rest of the world.

Monday, April 29

Greg Screws
Greg Screws

By Greg Screws
When Clarissa said we should do the Below the Line challenge, I agreed immediately.

According to the website, Live Below the Line is a campaign that’s challenging the way people in the U.S. think about poverty.”

Using several factors, the Below the Line Challenge figure for the United States is $1.50 a day.  $1.50 a day for food.

From April 29-May 3, you have $7.50 to spend for all your food.  This would be a challenge for me.  Most weeks, I drop $1.50 a day on the ground.

Anything that goes into your mouth has a cost.  The cost of pepper, salt, butter for a scrambled egg all has to be accounted for in your plan.

Clarissa and WHNT NEWS 19 producer Alicia Esteban are more creative and inventive than I am. They actually came up with some fruit and veggies.  My strategy was to stay full.

I spent $7.44 and bought the following:

  • 1 Loaf of bread
  • 1 Small Jar of Peanut Butter
  • A Dozen Eggs
  • 1 Package of Bologna
  • One can of Tomato Soup
  • One can of Chicken Noodle Soup
  • One box of crackers

Greg Screws' food items
Greg Screws’ food items

There were some key factors that asserted themselves real quick in the Below the Line Challenge.

  1. Name Brands were out
  2. The off brands have high sodium counts.
  3. Daily fruits and vegetables are almost impossible
  4. You are pretty much committed to drinking water
  5. Condiments are out
  6. Desserts (geez) are out
  7. $1.50 a day is not enough to make a casserole or a big stew where you can eat off of it for two or three days.  Maybe I’m wrong on that one.
  8. Some people, and I found this one very interesting, don’t want to hear that there are people in the United States who might be hungry.

My game plan for Monday was pretty simple. Wait as long as I could before I ate two scrambled egg sandwiches.  I ate those around 11:30ish.

Monday afternoon, I had some peanut butter crackers. Monday night, I plan on two bologna sandwiches.

After Monday, I may go steal some mayonnaise from a fast food place.  But don’t worry, if I do that, I will send them a check for what I take!

The Live Below the Line Campaign reminds me of a day I will never forget when I worked for the United Way of Madison County.

Part of the “mission-selling” of the United Way was to take potential donors on tours of places they normally would not see.

We went to a public housing project here in Huntsville and we were invited into a young woman’s home.  In her home, she had one kitchen table, three folding chairs, one small television, full-sized bed, and a baby bed.

That was all.

Nothing on the walls.

No rugs.

No lamps.

No other furniture.

In the kitchen, she had a small set of mismatched plates and silverware.

A couple of United Way staff members, while the others were talking to the young lady about what was going on her life, slipped off to peek in the refrigerator.

She had…


2)Some kind of sandwich meat.


And that was all…

While so many of us worry about how Sequestration will affect us in the long haul. There are many people in the Tennessee Valley that don’t care about the long haul.

They are focused on the next meal and how to prepare it so it will last the longest.

It’s all about perspective.

Clarissa McClain
Clarissa McClain

By Clarissa McClain:

Today is the first day of the challenge and I’m feeling ok. (That could be because I ate more than I should have over the weekend in anticipation of being on such a limited diet for the next five days.)

These are the items I got at the grocery store:

  • One box of instant oatmeal (6 packets included)
  • Jar of peanut butter
  • Seven bananas
  • One sweet potato
  • One pack of ramen noodles
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Pasta
  • One frozen meal(rice and vegetables)

All of that cost me $7.44.

Clarissa McClain's food items
Clarissa McClain’s food items

After I got everything, I came up with a strategy. Here it is:

  • I don’t plan to eat until after 12:00 p.m. each day
  • I also plan to eat half of my dinner during my normal dinner time and the other half before I go to bed
  • I also plan to go to bed earlier.  I usually stay up and watch TV, but I’m afraid if I’m up late, I’ll get the munchies and I don’t have enough food for that
  • I’ll have to repeat meals
  • I won’t have the luxury of enjoying everything I eat. I’m just trying to get nutrients for the day

I hope my plan works, but every time I look at the limited number of food items I have for the next five days, I get a little nervous. We shall see!

Alicia Esteban
Alicia Esteban

By Alicia Esteban:
It’s only the first day and I have to say, I’m already starving.
Many don’t believe me when I say I eat a lot, especially since I like eating before coming to work, and after. During the day I normally stick to small snacks, unless of course, co-workers start talking about food.
I decided to do all my grocery shopping at Kroger, and ended up spending $7.23. I bought:
  • 1 box of instant oatmeal (10 packets included)
  • 5 packets of Ramen Noodles
  • 2 Banquet frozen dinners
  • 1 jar of baby food (To be clear, the baby food is for me.  I don’t have children.)
  • Chocolate pudding (4 packets included)
  • 6 eggs

Alicia Esteban's food items
Alicia Esteban’s food items

For these five days, since I stay up late, I decided to spread out my meals. So far, I’ve only had a bowl of instant oatmeal, and I’m about to have one of the dinners. Because of my sweet tooth I will be having a chocolate pudding later tonight along with some Ramen. I’m also trying to drink as much water as possible.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have my day planned out a little bit more.