It started out as a lunch between colleagues.

Norman Transcript reporter Carol Cole and myself were dining the other day and she mentioned that she, along with several other city officials were going to participate in a challenge to see if they could manage for a week on $21 worth of groceries.

By the time lunch was over I’d agreed to the challenge, too.

The rules were simple: You have $21 to purchase a week’s worth of groceries. That’s — in theory — three meals per day for seven days.

Twenty-one meals. $21.

Or, the grand sum of $1 per meal.

This is the amount a single person receiving food stamps would have for one week.

Now, if case you haven’t been to the grocery store in the past decade, I regret to inform you that $21 doesn’t go very far.

Take, for example, the price of milk. If you’re lucky you can find it at $3.19 per gallon. If not, it’s even more.

Add in taxes and you’ve already burned more than one day’s allocation on a single item.

Include bread, pasta and maybe a little meat, and quickly, your cash is gone.

Further, you probably won’t be able to buy fruits or vegetables, and you can bet your next copy of Gourmet magazine that all your purchases will fit in one grocery bag.

Another point: Despite your best efforts, you’re probably not going to have a balanced meal; and no way are you going to meet the USDA’s food pyramid standards.

The week wasn’t easy.

I skipped several meals throughout the seven days I participated and stayed hungry.

Peanut butter, beans and a small amount of chicken comprised most of my diet.

I also got a taste — forgive the metaphor — of what it’s like to live well below the poverty line.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the efforts to feed those who would otherwise go hungry. And I appreciate all that the program does.

But you really can’t eat on $21 per week.

Years ago, I had a priest tell me that poverty wasn’t just an economic condition — it was a state of mind. And when a person is locked into that type of state, it’s almost impossible to get out.

When he was president LBJ declared war on poverty. And over the course of the 40-plus years since President Johnson was in office, our country has continued to fight that war.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re losing.

Here, just in Oklahoma County alone, one of every four children goes to bed hungry.

That’s 25 percent of all the kids.

Your neighbors. Your friends. The family down the street.

Poverty and hunger are all around you.

Oh, I know, there’s something to the argument that “the Lord helps those who help themselves.”

And no, I don’t believe strong, able-bodied people should be able to sit around and just collect governmental assistance.

I’m talking about kids.

Little ones.

I don’t care where they come from, no child — no matter what its race, creed or immigration status — should go to bed hungry in Oklahoma.

It’s time to get serious about hunger and poverty here in the Sooner State.

Because that $21 is going to keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

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